- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

Foreign terrorists illegally living in America have easily acquired Social Security numbers to conceal their identities because of lax Social Security Administration regulations, and the SSA has not adequately assisted law-enforcement agencies in investigating identity fraud.
According to a report by SSA Inspector General James G. Huse Jr., the agency does not have any programs "designed to assist in the detection of terrorist activity," even though the FBI, CIA and other federal security officials have said terrorists are operating in the country using false names and Social Security numbers.
"Most recently, we learned that SSNs may have been misused by members of foreign terrorist organizations to infiltrate American society while planning the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," Mr. Huse says in the report, which has not been made public and was obtained by The Washington Times.
Four persons one from the District and three from Virginia are to stand trial in the next few months on charges of helping several hijackers involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks illegally obtain Virginia identification cards and driver's licenses, which require Social Security numbers.
The report notes current "regulations prohibit the automatic disclosure of some information from SSA files to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the FBI in connection with a terrorist investigation, even if the request comes in writing from the Attorney General."
Officials with the SSA's inspector general's office were able to get authorization from acting SSA Commissioner Larry G. Massanari to expedite the release of sensitive files to help track down those responsible for the September 11 attacks, but "coordinating the necessary authorizations required an expenditure of effort and hours that delayed investigative efforts," the report states.
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, requested the inspector general's investigation on Sept. 26.
"The revelation is that the Social Security Administration never saw as its mission the responsibility to track criminal misuse of Social Security numbers," Mr. Grassley said in a statement. "Consequently the agency never developed or implemented systems and processes explicitly designed to prevent, detect and aid in prosecuting criminal SSN misuses."
A senior Republican Senate aide said the SSA "can't adapt" to a changing world in which it is required to participate in the war on terrorism.
Investigators have said they suspect 13 of the 19 terrorists who crashed planes into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and in Pennsylvania obtained Social Security numbers allowing them to obtain Florida IDs or driver's licenses.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said in late September that some of the hijackers' names may have been cases of stolen identity, in which the terrorists obtained false Social Security numbers.
Mr. Grassley also said "long before September 11, Social Security numbers were easy to get, and misuse was rampant."
The inspector general's office found that:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service expects the "number of undocumented immigrants to grow by about 275,000 individuals a year," many of whom will illegally obtain Social Security numbers without being caught, and that INS and SSA "mechanisms" to detect fraud "are not always used."
A recent audit noted that "999 of the 3,557 original SSN applications reviewed were approved based on improper evidentiary documentation" and "motivated individuals can counterfeit official documents with surprising ease and accuracy."
In fiscal 2000, only 211 of 6.5 million U.S. employers ever used a well-regarded computer system to verify a person's legal status and authenticate Social Security numbers. Employers said they did not use the system because it was "too helpful" in that they discovered "many of their employees were unauthorized citizens."
The inspector general's office asks for greater authority to access SSA files to help law-enforcement agencies, a move Mr. Massanari rejected out of fear citizens' privacy rights would be compromised, according to a letter he sent to Mr. Grassley.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide