Biometric Passports and Borders Essential to Saving Lives, Preventing Terrorist Activity

June 27, 2014 - 

Australian Jahidi’s ISIS Participation Provides More Evidence that 9/11 Commission Recommendations on Biometric Passports and Borders Essential to Saving Lives, Preventing Terrorist Activity

“Since the early 1970s numerous terrorist organizations have provided their operatives with a wide variety of spurious documents. After showing their spurious passports and papers at border control, these terrorist operatives have proceeded to hijack airplanes, plant bombs, and carry out assassination. These terrorist acts, however, can be stopped…

If we all screen travelers and check their passports, as past experience proves, terrorists will lose their ability to travel undetected, and international terrorism will come one step closer to being stopped!”

-The CIA’s Redbook (1992), as reported in the 9/11 Commission’s staff monograph, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel (August 2004)

Janice Kephart / Secure Identity & Biometrics Association – Australia’s announcement last month that they are investing $700 million to upgrade their biometric border clearance system takes on increased significance after news surfaced this past week that a known terrorist was able to slip out of Australia undetected. According to BiometricUpdate.com, the new system will include criminal watchlist checks, biometric e-gate exit system, inspection officer scheduling and identity management to mimic their SmartGate entry.

The news is more noteworthy both (1) in contrast to Australia’s swift, decisive response, the United States’ has suffered inertia in either improving border security at arrival, or deploying a 16 year requirement for a biometric exit system, since biometric borders were deployed at US arrivals ten years ago, and (2) in light of growing concern in southeast Asia after the loss of MH370 knowing that at least two individuals boarded on stolen passports, and now the news out of Australia that once more, another passport was used fraudulently, this time for known terrorist purposes.

In March SIBA issued a press release explaining why fraudulent passports should never have been part of the concern over the loss of MH370, clarifying that biometric borders would have flagged the two Iranians as not legitimate holders of the Austrian and Italian stolen passports each successfully used to board that fated flight.

However, the news out of Australia earlier this week bears repeating as a prime example of why biometric exit controls are equally as important as biometric entry controls, especially in a world growing more unstable and interdependent daily.

In 2009, Khaled Sharrouf pled guilty to the Australian Supreme Court to possessing goods in preparation for a terrorist act and was jailed for almost four years. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, confirmed that upon release from prison Sharrouf left Australia “on his brother’s [Australian] passport” and initially traveled to Syria before joining in massacres of Iraqi civilians.

The sad news is, Sharrouf could have been stopped. Fully biometric passports and readers can prevent stolen passport holders from bypassing immigration authorities. Moreover, biometric borders are now cost-effective, extremely fast, and are currently enabling countries across the globe such as New Zealand, Latvia, Colombia and Qatar to incorporate airline check-in with immigration check-out, building seamless convenience for the traveler, prevention from identity theft, safer skies and a safer world. Not all these systems incorporate checks with real time watchlists like Indonesia does, but it is not hard to do; the US does it on entry now, and via its Secure Flight system at airline check-in.

As the CIA stated in its travel document manual The Redbook in 1992, screening all travelers and their passports helps stop international terrorism. The Redbook provided detailed examples of five types of travel document fraud known to be committed by terrorists, including “genuine, unaltered passports” such as used by Sharouff in leaving Australia on his brother’s passport. By 1992, the book boasted it had already identified “200 people carrying forged passports provided by terrorist groups… before they engage[d] in terrorist acts.” That was long before today’s cyber capabilities, passport standards and biometric technologies.

The 9/11 Commission recommended biometric borders when it was determined that al Qaeda relied heavily on counterfeit and stolen passports for clandestine travel. The 9/11 Commission border team concluded that the 9/11 terrorists had engaged in a specific terrorist travel operation. In other words, not only did the four nearly simultaneous hijackings of four commercial airplanes constitute a coordinated operation, but so did the hijackers‟ travel. This coordinated operation was dubbed “terrorist travel.”

The Commission stated:

“Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack. To them, international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points. In their travels, terrorists use evasive methods, such as altered and counterfeit passports and visas, and immigration and identity fraud. These can sometimes be detected.” See 9/11 Commission Final Report at p. 384.

Today identity assumption remains possible where passports do not meet the international standards requiring inclusion of a biometric, or a country fails to implement processes to read biometrics or passports. That is certainly not the case with Australia or the United States in regard to passport issuance, or biometric capabilities at entry. Yet where these same countries fail to embed biometric or passport readers into border processes at exit, the likelihood of success for a stolen passport to be used for purchase, check-in and departure of an international flight increases substantially. That is what appears to have occurred in Australia. The fact that Australia is working to fix the problem swiftly, is commendable.

Sharrouf certainly understood that clandestine travel was imperative to his success, and what the consequences of detection would be. As the atrocities of the ruthless terrorist group ISIS invading Iraq is pushing news of genocide and civil unrest in nations such as the Ukraine, Syria, and Pakistan to the back burner, one thing remains clear: stopping the influx of foreign terrorists by controlling borders before these terrorists reach war-torn countries such as Iraq is essential.

In an increasingly dependent world, all nations bear some responsibility for not just knowing who is entering any particular nation, but who is leaving as well, and whether such travel is being conducted by terrorists. They also want to protect themselves from these terrorists returning home unnoticed to commit more atrocities.

Governments have no excuses where today’s technologies are proven effective in highly demanding environments already. Biometric exit is one relatively simple procedure that assures against at least some terrorist travel, and unnecessary loss of life, in an increasingly unstable world. The CIA had it right in 1992. Is the US going to get biometric exit done in 2014?

Interested in a copy of 9/11 and Terrorist Travel? Contact Janice Kephart at jkephart@sibassoc.org.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com blogs are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BiometricUpdate.com.

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About Janice Kephart

Janice Kephart is the founder of the Secure Identity & Biometrics Association, SIBA, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that represents innovations that secure and protect identity. Ms. Kephart has been counsel to the 9/11 Commission, the US Senate twice, testified before Congress 18 times, was a think tank director for five years, is a frequent guest on every type of media, keynoted conferences, and has her own homeland security radio show.