BANGKOK - United States and Thai security officials spent much of June probing Bangkok-linked international gangs, after police seized thousands of counterfeit and genuine American and foreign passports and pages, including passports smuggled to Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Investigators enjoyed a morale boost in mid-June when US Attorney General Michael Mukasey visited
"The government of
According to Ed Kelly, an attorney and partner at
Still, US officials were concerned after police uncovered more than 200 real US passports - legally issued to Americans by the US State Department - hidden among boxes of fake US and foreign passports. When Thai police displayed stacks of seized passports to journalists after a raid on April 27, several
Atop another stack, an American passport's photo portrayed a bearded man named Charles, born April 9, 1943 in North Carolina, wearing a dark suit jacket and light tie, though his passport expired on August 23, 2005. Another
They may have lost their
Such destinations include countries where American or European passport holders do not need to apply for visas in advance, and are allowed entry on arrival. An illegal user would memorize the real person's biographical details, and invent a trip to match any entry and exit dates already stamped inside the passport, while hoping the owner has not yet reported it missing.
Other seized passports in
American and Thai officials insisted no raids had ever uncovered newer
"Officials also found no evidence that the fraud ring was reproducing US [RFID] chips, or e-passports," she said.
The US Government Printing Office (GPO), which is the congressional agency producing new passports, said the
Congressional investigators criticized the GPO for using European-made integrated circuits, intended as a security device in the passport, and assembling the booklet covers in
In April, a group of House Republicans introduced legislation that would require the State Department to use US-made components for new electronic passports, and assemble the booklets in
He was part of the same Thai police team which arrested a purported Bangladeshi national, Mohammed Karim, during an April 27 raid on his
Police also found a computer, forged rubber visa stamps, and a laser printer. "If you want to make a counterfeit passport, you first make a blank passport," Sophon said. "The blank passport is made by an offset printer. Then the criminal uses rubber stamps, and a computer and laser printer, to put the details in the blank passports."
Karim's home allegedly included boxes of real and fake passports, including US passports. "The American Embassy proved that these are the real passports, 200 or 300 American" passports, Sophon said. "Maybe these passports are used for smuggling, and for many other things. Maybe by terrorists, I am not sure."
Karim's passports were allegedly being sold illegally at the rate of 100 or more a month, for about $100 to $300 each, police said. Sophon has worked for 15 years investigating crime in
In 2005, he attended a Counterfeit Detection Seminar in
"Then you stop printing, and move the offset printer," which is a portable, common machine. The Bangladeshi "told me that he sent passports to
Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from
(Copyright 2008 Richard S Ehrlich.)