Our Low Tech Commitment to High Tech Border Security

Tempted as I am to rant and rave over this latest stunning fiasco just revealed about ANOTHER failure in our national immigration security…I will spare you.  I went to the Holocaust museum today and I am drained.  But here is a brief chronology of events from the point of view of this former State Department FSO who's been pushing for biometric IDs for the last two decades:

1988- As a first tour Visa Officer in Juarez, Mexico, my boss "volunteers" me, the fraud officer, to spend a few Saturday mornings training El Paso border agents on the recognition of fraudulent entry documents.  What sounds like a real drag turns out to be quite interesting.  After the third Saturday I have a roomful of border cops who understand the concept of biometrics and agree that the only way to create secure visa documentation is to incorporated biometry into the IDs, however low (e.g.fingerprints) the technology.

1995-  A few years into private practice, I open a small office in Manila to cater to the increasing number of Filipino health care professionals my office is processing for U.S. healthcare companies.  Color copiers are just coming into corporate affordability, and I am stunned to see that in Roxas area near the U.S. embassy, a cottage industry of color-copier-armend "visa assistance" companies are flagrantly copying the complex color patterns and designs of U.S. visas.  I meet with the CG in Manila, and we agree that most airport entry officers cannot tell the difference between a real visa and a fake one painstaikingly sewed back into a passport after doctoring.  I write a few articles, the State Department ignores them, nothing happens for years until machine readable bar-coded visas emerge.  In the meantime, thousands have probably entered the U.S. illegally via the advent of the color copier.

FF to the new millenium:

2006-2008- The infamous TWIC port identification card, the first actual USE of biometry for border/port control, continues to be delayed due to a number of problems, and U.S. taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars per card issued.  As the U.S. marine industry seeks clarification from the Department of Homeland Security, DHS is so busy bragging about the incredibly cool features of the TWIC card that no one except me seems to remember that in reality we've had this technology for at least two decades, and that the TWIC program is perhaps the most bungled, expensive undertaking the U.S. has ever attempted.

And now, this just in from the Wall Street Journal:

"New U.S. border-crossing cards can be copied and remotely disabled
with off-the-shelf equipment, researchers said, the latest finding of
security weaknesses in wireless technology.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has reviewed the
findings, said it was aware of the possibility of electronic mischief
and wasn't concerned."

Basically, after millions in creating border crossing cards with private identifying information — a confidential,
10-digit ID number for each individual — it turns out that the secure data can be "remotely extracted
with equipment costing about $2,000, the researchers found, even from
more than 30 feet away." Get this:

"The ID number from crossing cards can be copied to a new card
costing about 10 cents, allowing somebody else to masquerade as the
cardholder.Reproducing a crossing card is easy in part because the government's
cards don't employ an anticopying feature, the study found, even though
a Homeland Security document issued earlier this year touted the
technique and said it would be employed."

Twenty years, folks, TWENTY YEARS…and we still don't have a clue on how to use our abundant technology to actually achieve the border control we tragically lack.  There is simply no excuse for the enrichment of federal contractors whose idea of a biometric ID card is one that costs as much as a small Korean car.