INTERPOL has Warned for Years that Terrorists Could Use Stolen Travel Documents

By: Anthony Kimery  03/14/2014 ( 1:28pm)


Interpol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In May 2007, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble warned the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security that countries which do not provide their border control officers at airports and other points of entry with direct access to INTERPOL’s database on Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) are leaving their citizens exposed to grave danger.Noble told US lawmakers that terrorists’ use of stolen travel documents represents a gaping hole in global security.

The INTERPOL chief — a former Department of Treasury Under Secretary for Enforcement – said “The decision therefore by [then] Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to give Customs and Border Protection [CBP] officers access to INTERPOL’s database by the end of 2007 is one which should be welcomed as a significant step forward in enhancing border security.”“Clearly,” Noble told the committee, “the next step is for all border officers at all airports and other points of entry in all countries around the world to be given access to INTERPOL’s SLTD database, and for the support network to be put in place to ensure that any country registering a hit can immediately receive any necessary follow-up information.”

More recently, Noble warned that “The bad news is that, despite being incredibly cost effective and deployable to virtually anywhere in the world, only a handful of countries are systematically using SLTD to screen travelers … The result is a major gap in our global security apparatus that is left vulnerable to exploitation by criminals and terrorists.”“Stolen blank passports [are] among the most prized resources for those attempting to enter a country under a false identity,” INTERPOL said in a statement.

INTERPOL created its SLTD database in 2002 with just a few thousand entries from a handful of countries. Today, the database has grown from a few thousand passports and searches to more than 40 million entries on millions of stolen and lost travel documents from 167 countries and more than 800 million searches a year, resulting in more than 60,000 hits.

Searches of the database have resulted in the detection of thousands of people attempting to enter countries with travel documents reported lost or stolen.In the wake of the sudden disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight MH 370 soon after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, China, Noble chastised international aviation security authorities for not routinely checking passenger manifests with INTERPOL’s SLTD, which the international law enforcement organization said allows government security agencies “anywhere in the world to instantly run a check against” passenger manifests.

“With one single swipe, a border control officer can verify if a document is reported stolen or lost nationally and internationally,” INTERPOL said.

In November, INTERPOL unveiled its “I-Checkit” project and enlisted the travel industry’s support. Once again, Noble warned shortcomings in international passenger screening threaten global security.“We want threats to be identified by law enforcement as far away as possible from check-in desks, boarding gates or from the tarmac. And we want the private sector to be given the tools to help keep travellers safe,” Noble said.

Speaking on the changing nature of security threats beyond 2020 at the Aviation Security and Border Control Summit, Noble said the fact that one out of every 10 international passengers are still not screened against INTERPOL‘s SLTD is “a gaping hole in aviation security.”

At the summit, Noble highlighted the case of Samantha Lewthwaite, the so-called “white widow” of one of the July 2005 London suicide bombers who was wanted internationally by Kenya for possession of explosives and at large with aliases linked to a fraudulent passport and a passport that was reported stolen.This case highlights “the tension that law enforcement faces on a daily basis in ensuring public security,” Noble said, referring to the tension that’s brought about between ensuring identity checks to identify criminals and guaranteeing that the checks do not infringe on the rights of the public.

“Working towards this goal starts with improving the use, rapidity and accuracy of identification mechanisms and checks at the borders of our nations,” he said.Noble also recalled how Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York, and Milorad Ulemek, convicted of the 2003 assassination of Serbia’s former prime minister Zoran Djindjic, both committed their crimes after travelling internationally on stolen passports.

“We still rely on a model where governments are left alone to screen the waves of individuals crossing borders on a daily basis. A model where in far too many countries we wait for threats to reach an airport, before trying to identify them as such – when it is just tragically too late, as history has taught us,” Noble said.“While passengers can’t understand how a bottle of water presents a security threat, they can understand why they don’t want to be sitting next to a terrorist or transnational criminal who got on the plane using an unscreened stolen passport,” Noble said. “This is why INTERPOL believes that airlines will be first in line to test new and commonsense-based ways to protect us all from the invisible, yet dangerous threats presented by persons carrying stolen passports.”

Speaking at the seventh Annual ID WORLD Summit in February, Noble said the rise in international travel has led to an increase in identity theft and that law enforcement must collaborate with the private sector to protect citizens.Noble said criminals are exploiting globalization to assume the identities of law-abiding citizens so they can avoid detection.

Noble said countries which place an emphasis on protecting their borders from terrorists, money launderers and other criminals are in a strong position to ensure the sustainable development of their economies and societies, as sustainable development can only occur in a safe and stable environment.

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