- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

Foreign nationals applying for admission to the United States using stolen passports have “little reason to fear being caught” and usually are admitted, even when their fraudulent documents have been posted on the government’s computerized “lookout” lists, a report said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said in a 40-page report that of the 176 foreign nationals who its investigators identified as having used a stolen passport in an attempt to enter the United States from 1998 to 2003, 136 were admitted.

“While most persons using stolen passports to enter illegally into the United States may be simply violating immigration laws, some could have more sinister intentions,” said the department’s acting inspector general, Richard L. Skinner.

The report, completed in November but made public this week, also said when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers received new reports of stolen passports, they did not routinely review existing admission records to determine whether any already had been used.

Even if there was such a procedure, the report said, CBP had no way to give the information on the stolen passports to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security’s investigative arm.

“While the 136 successful entries using stolen passports is a relatively small number, it is significant for several reasons,” Mr. Skinner said. “First, the passports were obtained by criminal acts. Second, though small, the number could and should be zero, at least for those admissions that occurred after lookouts were posted. Third, there was no law-enforcement pursuit once it was recognized an illegal entry had occurred.”

Mr. Skinner said actionable information was reported and logged in the lookout system, yet entry was accomplished, “defeating a costly apparatus established precisely to prevent such an occurrence.”

The inspector general’s probe targeted travelers from the 27 foreign countries for whom a visa is not required, including France, Germany and Britain.

Although those travelers were told in October to present either a machine-readable passport or a U.S. visa, CBP has given officials at ports of entry the discretionary authority to grant one-time exemptions in an effort to facilitate travel.

President Bush also has signed legislation delaying until October 2005 the requirement for visa-waiver countries to include biometrics in their passports.

Mr. Skinner said the “vast numbers of stolen passports available” presented a significant challenge for U.S. immigration authorities, noting that Interpol estimated last year that more than 10 million lost and stolen passports are in circulation.

CBP records show that during 2003, more than 12.7 million travelers to the United States from visa-waiver countries were inspected at ports of entry — nearly 35,000 a day — and that 4,368 fraudulent passports were intercepted. The United States had 40.4 million international visitors last year.

According to the inspector general’s report, of the 98 foreign nationals who did not have lookouts posted for their stolen passports before their attempted U.S. entry, 79 were admitted — a rate of 81 percent. Of those 78 aliens who had posted lookouts on their passports, 57 gained entry — a rate of 73 percent.

Of those 57 who gained entry despite “lookouts” on their passports, 33 did so after the September 11 attacks.

The report also said that 18 aliens whose passports had posted lookouts were referred by immigration officers to secondary inspections for more intensive interviews, but got in anyway.

“We could not determine from the secondary inspections records, the inspectors’ rationale for admitting the aliens with lookouts for the stolen passports,” Mr. Skinner said, describing the records as nonexistent or “so sketchy that they were not useful.”

Mr. Skinner’s report made several recommendations:

• Primary inspectors should refer foreign nationals to secondary inspections when their passports are the subject of a lookout.

• The inspectors should record in detail the results of the secondary inspections and justifications for any subsequent admission.

• There should be a supervisory review and approval of a decision to admit an alien who was the subject of a lookout.

• Inspectors should enter new names into the lookout database on a timely basis.

• CBP should initiate routine reviews of admission records to identify prior uses of stolen passports.

• Information on the successful use of stolen passports should be reported to ICE for investigation.

Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, who oversees CBP and ICE, said the inspector general’s report had reached “overly broad and generalized conclusions” based on a limited study.

But he said CBP agreed with the recommendations and had taken “prudent steps” to address them.

Mr. Skinner also recommended that ICE develop procedures to investigate, locate and remove from the United States foreign nationals who have used stolen passports to gain entry to the country and to report the outcomes of its investigations to CBP.

For those aliens who used stolen passports that have terrorist links, he said, ICE should investigate their activities while in the United States and determine their whereabouts.

Mr. Hutchinson said efforts were under way to ensure that ICE investigated all questionable cases.

CBP inspects the millions of foreign nationals arriving at the nation’s land, sea and air ports of entry to determine their eligibility for admission. Secondary inspections are sought when more detailed information is required. ICE is responsible for enforcing immigration law in the nation’s interior.

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