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As for good news, the new passports developed by the State Department are “more secure than older versions,” making it less likely the documents will be used fraudulently in their life span.

“State has taken a number of measures to ensure the security and quality of passports and visas, including establishing internal control standards … and initiating new visa policies and procedures,” says the GAO, although the congressional investigative arm cautions that additional measures are needed in the passport-issuance process to minimize risk.

The bad news is that the older versions of passports that have been fraudulently used in the past — “valid until 2011, of which there are more than 20 million in circulation” — remain vulnerable to alteration by such means as photo substitution.

It’s been worse

With all the concern surrounding the increase in terrorism around the world, it so happens this has not been the bloodiest decade for the United States as far as successful “terrorist” hits on U.S. ambassadors and diplomats, albeit the ring of security around the officials is markedly improved.

State Department records reveal that five U.S. ambassadors have been killed by terrorists, the last attack nearly 30 years ago. The five victims:

c AmbassadorJohn Gordon Mein, in Guatemala, on Aug. 28, 1968

c AmbassadorCleo A. NoelJr., in Sudan, on March 1, 1973

c Ambassador Rodger P. Davies, in Cyprus, on Aug. 19, 1974

c Ambassador Francis E. MeloyJr., in Lebanon, on June 16, 1976

c AmbassadorAdolph Dubs, Afghanistan, on Feb. 14, 1979.

c John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or