- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2011

Special identification cards used by maritime workers to protect the nation’s ports from terrorist infiltration can be forged or fraudulently obtained with relative ease, according to congressional investigators.

Undercover investigators covertly tested the security of the ID cards used for access to ports around the country and found “significant weaknesses” in the security of the program, stated Stephen M. Lord, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office, in prepared testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A copy of his testimony was obtained by The Washington Times.

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC card, was created by Congress in 2002 for dock workers, merchant seamen, truckers and others who work at ports.

Security at U.S. ports was stepped up following the Sept. 11 attacks amid fears terrorists would gain access to ports and carry out attacks on the essential trade links.

TWIC cards bear a digital photo that can be used for biometric facial recognition, and they carry encoded fingerprint data. Applicants for the cards undergo background checks to prove their identity. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has spent nearly $500 million on the program, and the cards have been issued to more than 1.75 million people.

But the security program, which did not get under way until 2007, is beset by problems and delays, and there is still no plan to introduce machines at ports that can read the cards’ biometric data, leaving them vulnerable to fraud and abuse of the kind carried out by the congressional testers, according to the testimony.

“During these tests at several selected ports, our investigators were successful in accessing ports using counterfeit TWICs [and] authentic TWICs acquired through fraudulent means,” Mr. Lord stated in the prepared testimony.

Mr. Lord also said there are significant internal weaknesses in the way the program is managed, how applicants are checked out and the process used for applications. As a result, the cards cannot stop terrorists or other malefactors from getting into restricted port facilities.

“Internal control weaknesses governing the enrollment, background checking and use of TWIC” cards at ports “potentially limit the program’s ability to … provide reasonable assurance that access to secure areas of [port] facilities is restricted to qualified individuals,” the testimony stated.

For instance, when the cards are issued to foreigners in the United States on a visa, a card’s validity is not limited to the length of time the visa is valid, and there is no system for checking whether a card holder is in the country legally when the card is presented during entry to a port.

Additionally, there are no mechanisms for checking whether cardholders continue to be qualified for entry once their card has been issued, Mr. Lord said.

TSA chief John Pistole’s prepared testimony states that a pilot project to test card readers for deployment to ports will be completed by the end of the month.