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Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2002/ 6 Shevat, 5763

Mark Steyn

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Consumer Reports

America's fake identity crisis |
It's hard not to feel sorry for Mohammed Asghar, a Lahore jeweller who woke up the other morning to find his picture in the paper along with the news that the FBI were looking for him. Not a good way to start the day.

The FBI didn't know they were looking for Mr. Asghar. They thought they were looking for Mustafa Khan Owasi, under whose name they released the photograph of Mr. Asghar. Mr. Owasi is one of five highly suspicious men Americans were urged to be alert for in the run-up to New Year's Eve. They may or may not have entered the United States using false British passports, or Canadian, or some other form of documentation. But what we do know is that they're Arab, unless they're Pakistani or some other nationality, and that they crossed over the Ontario/New York border, or possibly the British Columbia/Washington border, or via some other route entirely. Or they may not be in North America at all. But, if they are, they look like the guys in these photographs, except for the one of that jeweler in Lahore who's never been to the United States.

So, wherever you are on the planet, keep your eyes peeled for five guys who look like the sort of guys who, if they were going to use fake picture ID, would use the kind of fake picture ID with a picture of this particular jeweler from Lahore on it.

I'm all for lulling the enemy into a false sense of security, but, if you're going to bluff them into thinking you're clueless, I think the FBI have to be a bit less obvious.

Anyway, Mr. Asghar thinks his identity may have fallen into the wrong hands a couple of months ago when he decided to take a trip to Britain. As one does when planning a vacation, he got himself a full set of false travel documents. Unfortunately, immigration officials in Dubai spotted they were phony, and sent him back to Pakistan. Although he concedes a fake copy of his fake ID could have been passed to some other fellow, Mr. Asghar denies he has any links to terrorism. "I don't know who misused my travel documents," he says, indignantly.

This has caused great mirth among some Americans: How dare some other fellow misuse my fake documents! They're for me to misuse! It's true that Lahore is a hotbed of false document manufacturing. But, on the other hand, so is the United States. Millions of Americans have fake ID. To name one example, Jenna Bush.

Here's another: Salvador Martinez-Gonzalez. Mr. Martinez-Gonzalez is an illegal immigrant who spent two happy years working at the White House, setting up tents for receptions and other events in the grounds. He was arrested on December 2nd while attempting to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico. Touchingly, among the items found on his person were snapshots of him with Bill Clinton, Vice-President Cheney and other luminaries. The Secret Service huffily insist he didn't wangle his way into the joint with false identification. Their position is that he used "legitimate identification he'd purchased from someone else." So that's OK.

They also say that he posed no security threat. Given that his photo album shows him standing right next to the President, if he posed no security threat it's mainly because he chose not to, rather than because of anything the Secret Service did. He got far closer to the big guy than most of the world's Prime Ministers ever get, and with a bag of tent hooks and other sharp instruments.

As CNN's Candy Crowley pointed out, when she applied for her first White House press pass, she had to undergo a six-month background check, which included the Secret Service asking her neighbors if she did drugs. That's for the privilege of being miles from the President, sitting at the back of the briefing room getting ignored by Ari Fleischer. But, if you want to operate a nail gun in the Rose Garden, feel free to walk right in.

America is nothing if not a land of contrasts. But generally speaking a good rule of thumb is this: where no formal verification of identity is remotely necessary, you'll be asked for a ton of it; where it might conceivably be useful, you'll breeze through. If they ever do push through this mandatory Federal Identity Card, you can bet you'll be required to produce it if you want to enroll your three-year old in the Thomas The Tank Engine Junior Engineers' Club at your neighborhood toy store, entitling you to 5% off your tenth purchase of Thomas-related items. But you'll never be asked for it if you want a baggage-screening job on Air Force One, and, even if you are, you'll be able to buy one for 30 bucks from a guy in a parking lot.

Maybe the Secret Service are right and all the fellows with "legitimate identification purchased from someone else" pose no security threat. But, in her riveting exposť of the immigration bureaucracy, "Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores", JWR's Michelle Malkin does a superb job of connecting the particular lapses of September 11th with the broader "undocumented" culture in the U.S.

One vignette is especially choice: A month before their rendezvous with destiny, two of the 9/11 killers drove to Falls Church, Virginia, to the parking lot of a 7-Eleven where "undocumented" Hispanics congregate in search of casual labor. The terrorists were in search of ID, and it pretty much fell into their lap. Luis Martinez-Flores, an illegal from El Salvador who's been in America since 1994, approached their car and offered his services. He accompanied them to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office, supplied the al-Qaeda guys with fake addresses for the residency forms and certified that they lived there. The ID was processed on the spot, and afterwards the trio drove back to the 7-Eleven where Hanjour and Almidhar withdrew a hundred bucks from the ATM and paid off Mr. Martinez-Flores.

Newly certified as lawful residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Osama's boys returned to the DMV the very next day to walk two of their fellow terrorists through the same process. These were the photo IDs with which all four boarded Flight 77 -- the one that crashed into the Pentagon. Virginia's non-system was by no means unique: 13 of the 19 murderers had Florida licenses, though none were residents thereof.

Want to make it harder for terrorists to acquire the bona fides of a solid citizen? Good luck. Across America, an alliance of immigration advocacy groups, state bureaucracies, local school boards, law enforcement, the Democratic Party and a substantial chunk of the Republican Party (including the President) is wedded to the notion that the best way to deal with the country's vast army of the "undocumented" is to turn a blind eye when they come to the DMV wicket -- and that way they'll all gradually acquire their documents, and be eligible for welfare, education, health care and ultimately to vote for the Democrats in large numbers and (so Bush dreams) for the Republicans in small but significant numbers.

To facilitate this, the state now willingly processes a vast amount of paperwork it knows to be at best incomplete and at worst utterly false. If this was ever a good idea, it isn't since September 11th: If five al-Qaeda Pakistanis on British passports really did slip across the border -- well, OK, not "slip," that makes it sound as if it requires some skill -- but, if they really did get across the 49th parallel, all they have to do is hook up with America's "undocumented" support network and the Tennessee DMV will do the rest.

Meanwhile, conservatives who are churlish enough to complain about all this get damned as "racist," even by some in their own party, who tut that objecting to what happened in Virginia will make it even harder for Republicans to reach out to minorities. One can respect those who are anti-immigration or pro-immigration, but to be pro-illegal immigration is to collude in the corrosion of civic infrastructure. Rewarding the "undocumented" undermines the legitimacy of the state's official databases -- driver's licenses, passports, Social Security -- and makes it more likely they'll turn to tracking you on unofficial, shadowy ones.

But, 16 months after 9/11, enlightened opinion is as stubborn as ever on this issue. Which has done more harm to America? Fake documents from Lahore or fake documents from Falls Church? Mohammed Asghar is right: It's outrageous that someone misused his false ID. On the other hand, the lucky beneficiary may already be working as a White House under-gardener.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is Senior Contributing Editor of The National Post and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
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04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
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© 2002, Mark Steyn