Phony IDs, Real Danger

Passengers pass through airport security checkpoint, Logan International Airport, Boston, Massachusetts AP

Investigators now know at least six of the Sept. 11 terrorists obtained and used false IDs to carry out the deadly attacks. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent upgrading airport security. But CBS News has learned the system used to detect fake IDs has not changed at all.

"It's alarming it is frightening that a terrorist can get a phony ID and board a plane," says Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Getting a phony ID, even six months after the terrorist attacks, is still easy, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

We sent two producers undercover to obtain a counterfeit identification in one southern California neighborhood. Within minutes they are approached by fake document sellers and escorted into a back alley photo shop.

Inside the shop, a photo is taken and the information we made up is delivered to a nearby counterfeit document mill.

The cost: $150 for a counterfeit driver's license. The transaction takes just one hour.

"This is definitely a threat to our national security," says Chris Bonzor of the Huntington Park Police Department. "It's a national security issue."

Officer Bonzor's fraud unit is keeping a watchful eye on this activity. So far it's seized everything from sheets of fake social security cards to the high tech tools of counterfeiting crooks.

"They're using computers, they're using color scanners, essentially top-of-the-line technology," Bonzor says.

Document fraud is a multi-million dollar business in southern California. It was once exclusive to communities with large populations of illegal Hispanic immigrants. But now it's a growing industry, with operations in major cities across the country.

Still, some agencies of the federal government consider document fraud a local problem.

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo disagrees. "This is one of those instances where a neighborhood priority is a national priority," he says. "This is a case where a fake ID in the hands of a terrorist is as troubling as a bomb."

That was the hard lesson of Sept. 11. Government officials say all 19 hijackers used multiple aliases and assumed several identities while they were in the United States.

"If one is to obtain counterfeit documents, one is able to essentially melt into the population and it makes it impossible for law enforcement to track that person," says Bonzor.

We tested that theory by purchasing three airline tickets using the made-up information from our counterfeit driver's license. We bought a ticket with cash on United Airlines just days before a LAX to San Jose flight.

We used the Internet to buy a ticket on Southwest, and over the telephone we purchased a coast-to-coast ticket on American Airlines.

Wednesday night, fake ID and tickets in hand, we'll put the nation's airport security to the test.
  • Joel Roberts

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