Saturday, April 05, 2008

Passing On Passports at the State Department

I had warned folks about this very thing when reports surfaced about how contract workers at the State Department were illegally accessing the passport records of Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama, among others. Well, it turns out there were other State Department workers who were doing just that - stealing passport information to gain new identities for illicit purposes:

Meanwhile, a State Department employee who was not identified in documents filed in U.S. District Court, was implicated in a credit-card fraud scheme after 24-year-old Lieutenant Quarles Harris Jr. told federal authorities he obtained "passport information from a co-conspirator who works for the U.S. Department of State."

The investigation began after Metropolitan Police on March 25 pulled over Mr. Harris in Southeast on suspicion that the windows of his vehicle were tinted too darkly.

After searching Mr. Harris and his vehicle, police found marijuana and 21 credit cards that were not issued in his name or the name of a female passenger with him. Police also found eight printouts of State Department passport applications, and four of the names on the applications matched four of the credit cards.

Upon questioning by agents from the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Service and State Department, Mr. Harris "admitted he obtained the passport information" from a State Department employee, court documents say.

Mr. Harris also said the fraud ring submitted credit-card applications using the names and "identifying information" of the persons listed on the passport applications, and that a postal service employee then would intercept the cards before they were delivered to the appropriate residences.

Passport application data includes details such as a person's date and place of birth, e-mail address, mailing address, Social Security number, former names and travel plans.

Mr. Harris, of Capitol Heights was initially arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and has since been charged by complaint in U.S. District Court in the District with credit-card fraud.

He was released on his own recognizance, under the condition that he not apply for or possess any passports.
Who is the individual at the State Department who handed off this information to Harris? That would seem to indicate a serious breach of confidentiality and security at State. Thus far, the head of passport services has stepped down, but I think that's insufficient.

Passport services has been a complete and utter mess. They failed miserably to handle the increased demand for passports after Congress mandated that all US citizens have passports to visit Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean. They've also since outsourced printing of passports and questions arose over the billing of same. Now, we've got an ongoing scandal about lax internal security of the very kinds of documents needed to steal the identities of US citizens to create bogus passports.

Harris may have already used those bogus documents as he's facing charges of credit-card fraud in Maryland from a September incident at a mall there; court documents show that Harris purchased 10 Nordstrom gift cards worth $1,000 each on Sept. 25 with a credit card that did not belong to him.


 


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