The Power of Bogus Documents

I worked for the U.S. Border Patrol in the late 1990s.  One summer day, my driver and I headed for a tiny town outside Houston to look at some above-ground fuel storage tanks.  We took a "G-ride," an unmarked Crown Victoria.

When my driver, wearing a green polo shirt with a USBP emblem over his left breast, got out of the vehicle, the complete labor force of the tank manufacturing company ran away from that green shirt.  The CEO of the company was standing on the deck as we arrived.  He turned white at the spectacle of his employees running away from us.  With arms raised as though he were being arrested, his comments were, "I swear, they all have good I-9s."  It was obvious that his employees' immigration documents were probably bogus.

The U.S. Border Patrol would dispatch "intelligence officers" to cross the border and investigate the counterfeit document mills that could be found in the Mexican border towns.  Some USBP agents or highway patrol troopers would stumble upon someone near the border who possessed multiple identity cards – driver's licenses, primarily.  The photographs were the same as the person who was stopped, but the names and birthdates were all different.  The quality of those bogus driver's licenses was amazing; if the owner hadn't been stopped with a fistful of bogus licenses, he likely would have walked or driven away with just a ticket or a warning or nothing.

During that same timeframe, the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) embarked to issue a new and improved "green card."  Gone was the paper "flimsy."  Hard and sturdy like a driver's license, with all of the "hard to counterfeit" safeguards built into the card, the Form I-551 Permanent Resident "green card" became the new standard official identity card.

I recall that it was during a Friday supervisors' meeting that we learned that the expected roll-out of the new state-of-the-art I-551 had been delayed by a week or so.  Over the weekend, U.S. Border Patrol Agents had apprehended several people with the new I-551s trying to cross the border.  An INS clerk in the U.S. who was learning to process green card applications had made up a batch of the new cards for some paying customers in Mexico. 

During my short time with the Border Patrol, I learned that most illegal aliens possess one or more counterfeit identity documents, and the Minnesota driver's license was the bogus document of choice for illegal aliens.  Someone's identity was stolen usually from a headstone in a cemetery.  I learned that counterfeit documents are big business in Mexico.  Making them is an expensive undertaking and enterprise requiring special card-making machines, official "blanks," and software.

I asked, "Who could be doing this?  Who would or could sponsor these activities?"  I suspected that some disaffected government employee from the Mexican government was behind the bogus identity cards.  U.S. Border Patrol agents informed me that it wasn't the Mexican government or the drug cartels or some civil service clerk who had infiltrated the INS.

It was the first time I had ever heard of the name George Soros. 

A few years later, I attended the Naval War College.  In one of my elective classes, we had a guest lecturer whose expertise was counterfeit documents.  He passed around two European identity cards, similar in size to today's U.S. passport card or Form I-551 or an international driver's license.  The two cards were identical in every way, and he challenged the class to determine which one was real and which one was fake.  The class was made up of military members or civil servants; none of us was trained in the manufacture or detection of counterfeit documents. 

When we all gave up, our guest speaker held up a card and said, "This is the one I made."  He dropped the card onto the wooden lectern, and it landed, as expected, with a dull, audible "click."  He then raised the other card and said, "This is the real one."  He dropped it, and when it struck the hard wooden surface, it "rang like a bell."  He admitted that he had failed to thoroughly replicate the bogus identity card and had to go back to the drawing board to determine the unique molecular characteristics of the special authentic card.

Like currencies, today's identity cards and passports employ an amazing array of incredible technologies to thwart counterfeiters and deter the use of bogus documents.

Our discussion diverted to the very real problem of government agencies – in this case, those of Afghanistan and Iraq (it was 2003, and the U.S. was in Afghanistan and had recently pushed into Baghdad) – or rogue individuals with access to the equipment to issue official government documents (passports and transit visas, primarily) to senior members of the opposition parties as well as those people with money who were fleeing American forces. 

The rank-and-file Iraqi servicemembers were generally not knowledgeable of or did not have access to such technology and the sensitive document-generating machine systems.  Bogus papers were a gap in the country's national security systems that could be easily exploited.  Baathists and Taliban leaders escaping Iraq or Afghanistan with superb counterfeit documents were able to expedite their departure, traversing border crossing points or "ports of entry."  A Marine Corps lance corporal manning a Baghdad or Kabul checkpoint and verifying the identity documents of Iraqis or Afghanis fleeing their past or their hometown is not going to know if an "official-looking" document is legitimate or not. 

Bogus or counterfeit documents, those that appear genuine in order to achieve some (sometimes political) goal (enter a country illicitly, establish a new identity, travel under an assumed name, underage teens to buy liquor or enter a club, convey an approved political narrative, etc.), have become something of a science project for me.  They are everywhere.  There are simple reasons Democrats do not want photo IDs to vote: bogus people with bogus papers.

When it comes to looking for counterfeit documents, you have to know what you are looking for.  In 2008, my company won a contract to run a major airport in Africa.  We trained our security employees in what to look for regarding counterfeit or stolen documents.  On our very first day of operation, we stopped 19 Chinese men from boarding a jet because of fraudulent or stolen passports.  The word got out that the airport screening process was too hard, and the number of fake passports seen dropped substantially.

Today, a good-looking passport may be the ticket out of the hellhole that is Syria, but it is still a terrorist's best way to enter a country.  Syrian refugees have been given preferential treatment to enter Europe, leading other migrants and members of ISIS to try to pass themselves off as Syrians.  Syrian passports were found near the bodies of two men responsible for the Paris attacks.  German customs officers recently seized packages containing Syrian passports.

Fake passports have become a valuable and necessary commodity.  Those with the means and wherewithal can easily acquire documents that establish a new identity, and those documents facilitate entry into a country.  In the USA, for illegal border crossers with bogus documents that establish that they are "other than Mexican," all they have to do is utter the word "asylum," and U.S. Border Patrol agents will take them before a federal magistrate, who, in turn, gives them a "notice to appear."  These asylum seekers are turned loose to find an asylum attorney within ten days.  Guess how many actually appear with a lawyer.

The problem of counterfeit passports and bogus identity documents is huge and growing.  And America has been left more vulnerable under the Obama administration.

"Extreme vetting" is really the effort to root out the fake identity documents that are freely traded on the black market and are sold to asylum seekers, refugees, and terrorist groups.  President Trump's extreme vetting executive order to keep radical Islamic terrorists from entering the United States is a good first step. 

Mark A. Hewitt is the author of the espionage thrillers Special Access, Shoot Down, and No Need to Know.

I worked for the U.S. Border Patrol in the late 1990s.  One summer day, my driver and I headed for a tiny town outside Houston to look at some above-ground fuel storage tanks.  We took a "G-ride," an unmarked Crown Victoria.

When my driver, wearing a green polo shirt with a USBP emblem over his left breast, got out of the vehicle, the complete labor force of the tank manufacturing company ran away from that green shirt.  The CEO of the company was standing on the deck as we arrived.  He turned white at the spectacle of his employees running away from us.  With arms raised as though he were being arrested, his comments were, "I swear, they all have good I-9s."  It was obvious that his employees' immigration documents were probably bogus.

The U.S. Border Patrol would dispatch "intelligence officers" to cross the border and investigate the counterfeit document mills that could be found in the Mexican border towns.  Some USBP agents or highway patrol troopers would stumble upon someone near the border who possessed multiple identity cards – driver's licenses, primarily.  The photographs were the same as the person who was stopped, but the names and birthdates were all different.  The quality of those bogus driver's licenses was amazing; if the owner hadn't been stopped with a fistful of bogus licenses, he likely would have walked or driven away with just a ticket or a warning or nothing.

During that same timeframe, the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) embarked to issue a new and improved "green card."  Gone was the paper "flimsy."  Hard and sturdy like a driver's license, with all of the "hard to counterfeit" safeguards built into the card, the Form I-551 Permanent Resident "green card" became the new standard official identity card.

I recall that it was during a Friday supervisors' meeting that we learned that the expected roll-out of the new state-of-the-art I-551 had been delayed by a week or so.  Over the weekend, U.S. Border Patrol Agents had apprehended several people with the new I-551s trying to cross the border.  An INS clerk in the U.S. who was learning to process green card applications had made up a batch of the new cards for some paying customers in Mexico. 

During my short time with the Border Patrol, I learned that most illegal aliens possess one or more counterfeit identity documents, and the Minnesota driver's license was the bogus document of choice for illegal aliens.  Someone's identity was stolen usually from a headstone in a cemetery.  I learned that counterfeit documents are big business in Mexico.  Making them is an expensive undertaking and enterprise requiring special card-making machines, official "blanks," and software.

I asked, "Who could be doing this?  Who would or could sponsor these activities?"  I suspected that some disaffected government employee from the Mexican government was behind the bogus identity cards.  U.S. Border Patrol agents informed me that it wasn't the Mexican government or the drug cartels or some civil service clerk who had infiltrated the INS.

It was the first time I had ever heard of the name George Soros. 

A few years later, I attended the Naval War College.  In one of my elective classes, we had a guest lecturer whose expertise was counterfeit documents.  He passed around two European identity cards, similar in size to today's U.S. passport card or Form I-551 or an international driver's license.  The two cards were identical in every way, and he challenged the class to determine which one was real and which one was fake.  The class was made up of military members or civil servants; none of us was trained in the manufacture or detection of counterfeit documents. 

When we all gave up, our guest speaker held up a card and said, "This is the one I made."  He dropped the card onto the wooden lectern, and it landed, as expected, with a dull, audible "click."  He then raised the other card and said, "This is the real one."  He dropped it, and when it struck the hard wooden surface, it "rang like a bell."  He admitted that he had failed to thoroughly replicate the bogus identity card and had to go back to the drawing board to determine the unique molecular characteristics of the special authentic card.

Like currencies, today's identity cards and passports employ an amazing array of incredible technologies to thwart counterfeiters and deter the use of bogus documents.

Our discussion diverted to the very real problem of government agencies – in this case, those of Afghanistan and Iraq (it was 2003, and the U.S. was in Afghanistan and had recently pushed into Baghdad) – or rogue individuals with access to the equipment to issue official government documents (passports and transit visas, primarily) to senior members of the opposition parties as well as those people with money who were fleeing American forces. 

The rank-and-file Iraqi servicemembers were generally not knowledgeable of or did not have access to such technology and the sensitive document-generating machine systems.  Bogus papers were a gap in the country's national security systems that could be easily exploited.  Baathists and Taliban leaders escaping Iraq or Afghanistan with superb counterfeit documents were able to expedite their departure, traversing border crossing points or "ports of entry."  A Marine Corps lance corporal manning a Baghdad or Kabul checkpoint and verifying the identity documents of Iraqis or Afghanis fleeing their past or their hometown is not going to know if an "official-looking" document is legitimate or not. 

Bogus or counterfeit documents, those that appear genuine in order to achieve some (sometimes political) goal (enter a country illicitly, establish a new identity, travel under an assumed name, underage teens to buy liquor or enter a club, convey an approved political narrative, etc.), have become something of a science project for me.  They are everywhere.  There are simple reasons Democrats do not want photo IDs to vote: bogus people with bogus papers.

When it comes to looking for counterfeit documents, you have to know what you are looking for.  In 2008, my company won a contract to run a major airport in Africa.  We trained our security employees in what to look for regarding counterfeit or stolen documents.  On our very first day of operation, we stopped 19 Chinese men from boarding a jet because of fraudulent or stolen passports.  The word got out that the airport screening process was too hard, and the number of fake passports seen dropped substantially.

Today, a good-looking passport may be the ticket out of the hellhole that is Syria, but it is still a terrorist's best way to enter a country.  Syrian refugees have been given preferential treatment to enter Europe, leading other migrants and members of ISIS to try to pass themselves off as Syrians.  Syrian passports were found near the bodies of two men responsible for the Paris attacks.  German customs officers recently seized packages containing Syrian passports.

Fake passports have become a valuable and necessary commodity.  Those with the means and wherewithal can easily acquire documents that establish a new identity, and those documents facilitate entry into a country.  In the USA, for illegal border crossers with bogus documents that establish that they are "other than Mexican," all they have to do is utter the word "asylum," and U.S. Border Patrol agents will take them before a federal magistrate, who, in turn, gives them a "notice to appear."  These asylum seekers are turned loose to find an asylum attorney within ten days.  Guess how many actually appear with a lawyer.

The problem of counterfeit passports and bogus identity documents is huge and growing.  And America has been left more vulnerable under the Obama administration.

"Extreme vetting" is really the effort to root out the fake identity documents that are freely traded on the black market and are sold to asylum seekers, refugees, and terrorist groups.  President Trump's extreme vetting executive order to keep radical Islamic terrorists from entering the United States is a good first step. 

Mark A. Hewitt is the author of the espionage thrillers Special Access, Shoot Down, and No Need to Know.

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