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Despite repeated warnings from security experts and internal government sources, the U.S. Government continues to manufacture a key border security tool in a high-risk foreign country where it’s susceptible to theft by terrorists, foreign spies or counterfeiters.
For the last four years a government contractor has assembled a crucial passport component in a part of Thailand long known as a hotbed of terrorist activity. An extremist group linked to Al Qaeda is very active in the city (Ayutthaya) where the electronic parts for millions of American electronic passports are made. Considered an essential component of a new U.S. border security system, the e-Passport contains an electronic chip that holds the same information that is printed on the booklet’s data page.
Just last month two violent terrorist attacks rocked the area near the factory that assembles the central electronic portion of the e-Passport. First powerful bombs were detonated by terrorists trying to darken the manufacturing district then a gunman opened fire with 11 millimeter caliber bullets. This week an investigative journalism group exposed the deplorable conditions in which the crown jewel of American border security is made.
Thai workers assemble inlays that embed wireless transmitters and sophisticated computer chips that store biometric and other personal information used by customs officials and border guards to verify the identities of those who enter the United States. Many of the workers don’t get security background checks and police protection is virtually nonexistent in the country’s politically unstable region.
This is hardly earth shattering news but rather a well known national security crisis. In fact, the agency (Government Printing Office—GPO) charged with producing the e-Passports has for years been warned by its own security officials that the Thai factory poses huge risks. A few years ago an investigative news series revealed that the U.S. government prioritizes cost savings over national security by outsourcing the e-Passports to overseas companies. The GPO’s inspector general has also warned of the significant deficiencies in the manufacturing of blank passports.