Fake Syrian passports aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but they can be had for as little as $200, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security that could call into question the ability to screen Middle East refugees fleeing to the West.
The 18-page report, circulated to law enforcement agencies across the nation, warns that a certain batch of Syrian passports – those issued since June 2014 from two regions under the Islamic State control are likely to be phonies, based on the fact one was bought on the black market in Turkey.
“The person who was issued the passport did not have to travel to [either region] to obtain it,” the report states.
“The lack of ability to verify information with the Syrian government about how many passports may be vulnerable for exploitation in former provincial and regional government buildings will make attempts to analyze the scale of the problem difficult.”
The report, developed with intelligence from Homeland Security Investigations and the State Department, also asserts ISIS is using its own passport printing machines to generate the bogus documents with covers printed in Russia, and then selling them for between $200 and $400.
Intelligence agencies have already flagged some 3,800 counterfeit Syrian passports, and will add data on another 10,000 fake Syrian passports recently intercepted in Bulgaria on the way to Germany. The sheer volume of fake passports flooding the market as refugees – or terrorists posing as refugees - pour into Europe has investigators on edge. The fake Syrian passports will add to an already challenging problem of vetting Syrian refugees, said Claude Arnold, a former DHS Investigations special agent in charge for Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
“In absence of specific intelligence that identifies the refugee as a member ISIS, we are not going to know they are a member of ISIS," Arnold said. "We don’t have those boots on the ground in Syria, no one is really gathering that information, it’s a no mans land. So their application is based solely on story that person tells. It is dangerous, it is idiotic."
Arnold said in the past, war criminals were able to get into the U.S. by telling convincing stories about being persecuted on religious or political grounds because they were actually involved as persecutors. Some war criminals became permanent residents and citizens of the U.S., before being caught, because there was a lag time to get information on what occurred.
“Now it’s much worse," he continued. "The war criminals were not coming here to wage jihad, they just wanted to hide out, but these terrorists are coming to do us harm. We have the same vulnerability, but the consequences are potentially much more dire.”
The report makes the same point, if in the language of bureaucrats.
“The lack of ability to verify information with the Syrian government about how many passports may be vulnerable for exploitation in former provincial and regional government buildings will make attempts to analyze the scale of the problem difficult,” the report said.
Adding to the problem, Homeland Security Investigations believes the police force in Deir ez-Zour, Syria, may be involved in issuing and distributing counterfeit passports, because a forged Syrian passport that turned up in Turkey in July displayed the signature of Zuhair Hamad saad Al deen, head of the Deir ez-Zour Police.
The Homeland Security Investigations specifically has asked all U.S. government personnel to be on the lookout for former Syrian Ministry of Interior employees or former Syrian immigration officials applying for U.S. visas, refugee status, asylum, or green cards or who tries to enter the U.S. through Ports of Entry, noting “they should be thoroughly debriefed.”
They’ve also entered information on the 3,800 fake passports investigators have tracked into U.S. databases, although it wasn’t clear from the report if those 3,800 fake passports have turned up in the U.S.
Terrorists involved in the deadly Nov. 13 attack in Paris, which left 130 dead and 350 injured, used fake Syrian passports to enter France, the report notes.
The U.S. has already accepted 2,500 Syrian refugees into the country since 2011.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees continue to flee the war torn country, crossing into Turkey, Greece and Europe.
The Obama administration plans to welcome some 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. in the coming year.
Governors of more than half of U.S. states, as well as many members of Congress, have expressed concerns about the Obama administration’s plan, because they are concerned terrorists may enter the country through the refugee resettlement program. Critics of the plan note many Syrian refugees often have little documentation or documentation that cannot be verified when they apply for refugee status in the U.S.
"That's the challenge we are all talking about, is that we can only query against that which we have collected," FBI Director James Comey testified in Congress last month. "And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home but ... there will be nothing show up because we have no record on that person."
However, the president has maintained his administration has a solid screening plan to accept the 10,000 refugees from Syria in addition to the 70,000 refugees fleeing war and religious persecution, the U.S. regularly accepts from around the world. Homeland Security Department, State Department and U.S. intelligence will head up vetting process.
Fox News is told through one such source that given this assessment, it is possible that individuals possessing these fake passports have travelled to the U.S. This source adds, however, that there is no evidence at this time to suggest that that is the case.
A Syrian looking to enter the United States would still be required to obtain a visa, since Syria is not one of the 38 “Visa Waiver” countries acknowledged by the U.S.
Through that visa process, that individual would be subject to screening procedures which would include background checks against U.S. terror databases, Fox News is told.
Fox News Channel's Matthew Dean contributed to this report