When the Government Accountability Office reviewed approximately 28 million passports issued in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, it found passports were issued to applicants who used the IDs of people who were either dead or in prison, had active felony warrants, or used an incorrect Social Security number.
While the GAO found no evidence of pervasive fraud, the State Department says it has taken steps to improve its detection of passport fraud and its issuance of passports to high-risk applicants.
In its investigation, the GAO found 13,470 passports issued to individuals who used the Social Security number, but not the name, of a deceased person; as well as 24,278 to applicants who used a likely invalid Social Security number. It cited data errors as the likely reason for the bulk of the inaccuracies.
But, as the report points out, even a small number of fraudulent passports pose a significant risk. They conceal the true identity of the user and can potentially facilitate other crimes, such as international terrorism and drug trafficking. The U.S. issued over 13.5 million passports during fiscal year 2013.
In early April this year, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials described as "disturbing" the number of countries that report very little — and in some cases no — lost or stolen passport data to INTERPOL for inclusion in its database.
The issue has proved consistently problematic for federal officials. In 2010, GAO undercover agents were able to get the State Department to issue five of the seven passports it requested using fraudulent information. The government failed to detect such things as a fake driver's license, a 62-year-old using a recently obtained Social Security number, and a request in the name of a dead applicant using faked identification.
Two passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were traveling under stolen passports when it disappeared earlier this year, bringing with it questions about who the men were and why their stolen passports were not flagged.