- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

In testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security last week, Stewart Verdery, assistant secretary of homeland security, was asked whether states should issue matricula consular cards, which can easily be tampered with, to people in the United States illegally. “I am not aware that the department or the administration has taken a position on that,” Mr. Verdery replied, while asserting that the card can be reliable in “some” cases. In fact, the Treasury Department has already decided to role the dice. In a decision announced just as lawmakers were leaving town to get away from Hurricane Isabel, Treasury announced that the cards can be accepted as legal identification by financial institutions.

This comes despite the fact that administration officials have repeatedly stated on the record the security problems with the matricula consular cards. On June 26, Steve McCraw, assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration that, after extensive research, the FBI and the Justice Department “have concluded that the Matricula Consular is not a reliable form of identification, due to the non-existence of any means of identifying the true identity of the card holder.” Federal officials, Mr. McCraw added, “have discovered individuals from many different countries in possession of the Matricula Consular card. The ability of foreign nationals to use the Matricula Consular to create a well-documented, but fictitious, identity in the United States provides an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without triggering name-based watch lists that are disseminated to local police officers. It also allows them to board planes without revealing their true identity.”

In June 26 testimony before the same subcommittee, Mr. Verdery testified that the administration is concerned about misuse of the cards as “breeder documents” to more easily gain access to other documents, including drivers licenses, for purposes of creating false identities. And, in a Sept. 3 interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Verdery’s boss, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, stated that mayors and financial institutions accepting the cards do so, for now, “at their peril,” noting that they can easily be falsified.

In an interview with The Washington Times yesterday, an administration official maintained that there is no inconsistency in all of the above statements. The White House, he said, has set up an interagency group — chaired by the State Department and including representatives of the Treasury, Justice and Homeland Security departments — that has been meeting since February in an effort to decide upon a final administration policy. The problem is that, judging from the Treasury Department’s decision, it appears the policy has already begun to drift in the wrong direction. It would be intolerable to allow financial industry profits and political considerations to take precedence on such a serious security question.

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