Computer Crime Research Center

License For Terror?

If you think identification checks at airports are helping to protect against another 9/11, think again.

In a matter of days, NewsChannel 4 ordered a phony New York driver's license from a Web site.

A NewsChannel 4 producer purchased the fake, submitting a picture of a man she called "John Walker," adding: "He doesn't have a driver's license number (please make one up), and also make up an address."

However, the picture the producer sent is no ordinary man looking for a license. He's Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, from the FBI's "22 Most Wanted Terrorists List." Right now, there's a $25 million reward for his whereabouts.

David Murray's company, SSE Technologies, makes software designed to check licenses for bartenders. His software said the phony license NewsChannel 4 bought was valid.

We also showed the fake to James Kallstrom, who used to run the New York office of the FBI and is now a senior security advisor to New York Governor Pataki. He said that with that license, the person could probably fly on a commercial airline, rent a car, and get across the border into the United States.

Border crossings are of particular concern since a congressional test last month in which immigration agents failed to stop any of several investigators entering the United States with fake drivers' licenses.

Several Internet sites advertise quality fakes. We're not going to say which sites NewsChannel 4 visited, but some offer a choice of Social Security cards, local community identification, and forged licenses from several states including California, Texas and New York.

When NewsChannel 4 ordered the fake, we first thought the people running the operation might have recognized him as the man indicted in a plot to blow up airliners. That's because our producer got an e-mail saying "I don't do terrorists, and this guy looks like he's from a Middle Eastern descent ... your (sic) going to have to give a detailed explanation of why he wants this ID."

The NewsChannel 4 producer messages back to him: "I think that's a little discriminatory." The forger's answer: "Look at it from my point of view. If a terrorist buys an ID from me, uses it to travel, blows up a city, and/or gets caught, it would have great personal ramifications."

Still, less than an hour later, the company's operatives send another e-mail. They say they'll send the ID, but threaten if the face on the license is ever connected to terrorism, they'll anonymously notify authorities about who bought it.

The forger writes: "I don't care if he's cashing bad checks, traveling, anything -- just so long as people aren't being killed."

Days later, a package arrives and is picked up by our producer at a private box rented by NewsChannel 4.

Inside, a replica driver's license with a picture of one of the most wanted men in the world.

The Department of Motor Vehicles' chief investigator William Devoe says not only does the cost seem low, but he's never seen security strips on the back so well duplicated at any price -- much less for $150.

"It's the first one we've seen that the bar code read and matched the information on the front of the document," Devoe said.

The availability of good fakes is more alarming, Devoe says, because it comes at a time when hundreds of people are being stopped every month from using false passports to get real licenses.

On the driver's license we got, the made up address on Maple Road in Amityville, N.Y., turns out to not be so made up. And remember the name we used, John Walker? Whoever made the fake used an address where there's -- you guessed it -- a real John Walker.

"You only pay $150, and you can be someone else -- it's amazing!" said Walker of Amityville.

"I believe fake ID is an epidemic in the world and particularly in the United States," said former FBI assistant director Kallstrom. "I mean, look at the people who came here and did this horrible thing to us (on 9/11), how easy it was for them to get identification."

Whether Khalid Mohammed or his associates try to buy an Internet ID, authorities are clearly worried that the threat is a hole in homeland security.


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