Security witness sounds alarm on fake IDs

A woman whose brother was killed in the September 11 attacks yesterday surprised top members of the House Homeland Security Committee with counterfeit Mexican matricula consular cards bearing the members’ identities and showcasing how easy it is to get valid identification to board an airplane.

Debra Burlingame, who was testifying on the Transportation Security Administration’s screening procedures for pilots and flight crews, wouldn’t reveal who made the cards, which appeared to bear the security marks of a valid card, but emphasized that they can be used to carry on daily business.

“They look exactly like what I’ve seen. The back is particularly good,” said Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and committee chairman. He recognized the photo on his card as coming from his Web site, and the address listed as his congressional district office.

Though a number of foreign consulates either issue or are considering issuing consular ID cards to their citizens living in the United States, the Mexican matricula consular card has drawn the most scrutiny. They are particularly sought after by illegal aliens.

On its Web site the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that all major airlines “accept the matricula in order to allow Mexican nationals to board planes” and that it is accepted by some banks as identification to open an account.

Miss Burlingame had someone make six counterfeit cards — one for herself, one for al Qaeda figure Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and one each for the top Democrat and Republican on the full committee and the economic security, infrastructure protection and cyber security subcommittee, which held yesterday’s hearing. Her brother was the pilot of the highjacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Groups that favor immigration restrictions say counterfeit cards are widely available and say official cards are just as easy to obtain with a false Mexican birth certificate, which is also easy to counterfeit.

Federal authorities do not accept the card as valid identification to enter a federal building, and the FBI has testified to Congress that the cards are not secure.

Committee members yesterday agreed with that assessment.

“I do not have confidence in the credibility of those documents,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican and the subcommittee chairman.

On its Web site the TSA says for a domestic flight, “passengers age 18 and over must present one form of photo identification issued by a local, state or federal government agency” and lists a passport, driver’s license or military ID as examples, or two nonphoto forms of identification.

But Amy Von Walter, a spokeswoman for TSA, said the agency is not actually responsible for checking IDs at most airports. She said the person looking at identification in the security checkpoint line is usually a worker under contract to the airline.

“It’s an airline policy that requires a photo ID,” she said. She said airlines usually require a photo ID issued by a government agency, but when someone doesn’t have an ID that meets that requirement airlines might accept consular ID cards instead.

“You need to check with the individual airlines to determine what they will accept as an alternative form of ID,” she said. “The policy does vary a bit from airline to airline.”

The law does not require identification to be shown, but if a passenger does not present ID he or she is subject to extra scrutiny. Mr. Cox said the cards can be used to avoid that extra scrutiny.

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