Wednesday, September 26, 2012

9/11 terrorists and their driver's licenses

An article on this morning ("Fake Drivers Licenses Still a Threat, GAO Finds") is inspiring two separate blog posts.

This first one is about the following statement:

"Quick to respond to the GAO's report was Brian Zimmer, President of the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, who noted in a press release that GAO investigators used "the same techniques used by the 9/11 terrorists" to obtain fictitious licenses."

This is a false statement.

The 9/11 terrorists had DMV-issued licenses which had their real names and their real dates of birth. That means the documents would be completely valid and legitimate in 99% of transactions that most people would use a photo ID for (age verification, name verification for banking/financial transactions, matching name to airplane ticket, etc.)

There were some procedural problems involved with proof of residency. This article goes into the mind-numbing details involved with how the terrorists used some fishy behavior to prove residence. The result is that the terrorists' licenses had addresses on them which were not accurate.

That to me is irrelevant and insignificant. Lots of people have licenses with the wrong address on them, and in 99% of situations it doesn't matter; it certainly doesn't for flying an airplane.

Issuance procedures have changed since 9/11. Had they been in place when the terrorists were getting their documents, those new procedures would have changed the effort the terrorists would have gone through in order to get the licenses, but not by much. That is because, again, they got licenses with their real identities on them.

The most irritating thing about the 9/11 terrorist fictitious license canard is that the terrorists could have just used their Saudi Arabian/Egyptian/UAE/Lebanese passports. It couldn't have made any difference then, and it's difficult to imagine it making a difference now. A Saudi Arabian with an Arab sounding name would be just as likely as a Virginian with an Arab sounding name to get the same security treatment.

By virtue of using real licenses, the 9/11 terrorists proved is that driver's licenses play little to no role in airport security. The fact that some people don't get this, and that we are investing huge time and effort in revising licensing issuance because we have come to the wrong conclusion is shameful, wasteful and most of all, embarrassing.

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