Obviously the Labour government's plans for compulsory ID Cards and registration on a centralised biometric database (see the NO2ID campaign) would not have prevented the apparent abuse of United Kingdom Passports recently in Dubai, by an alleged assassination squad, inept enough to leave behind lots of CCTV evidence.
Retired UK Ambassador Charles Crawford points out, on his blogoir blog, the difference between faked or cloned UK Passports, and fraudulently obtained genuinely issued ones:
1 Real blank passports, misused: in secure British government locations in the UK and overseas are piles of 'blank' passports in serial number order, waiting to be issued. Procedures are in place to check regularly that the stocks of blank passports match the lists of passports printed and despatched to each location to await issue.
I have done some of these checks myself in Embassy strong-rooms. It would be relatively easy for a corrupt UK official to steal a few of these blanks to pass on to gangsters/KGB/Mossad, but the risk of detection would be very high since sooner or later it would be spotted that issuing numbers were out of sequence with stock-lists and production/despatch-lists.
2 Real passports of real people, misused: the killers could have managed to get hold of real, properly issued passports of real people and alter and then use them for their own purposes. This would have to be done very well for it not to be detected, although having observed for myself the meticulously microscopic and ingenious efforts of teenage boys to alter dob on ID cards to win under-age access to Warsaw nightclubs, that presumably is no problem. The original owners would have to be left with an almost perfect copy of their passports to avoid suspicion. Too complicated?
3 Fake passports of real people, original identities kept: the killers borrowed a number of real passports of real people, then copied and altered them for their own purposes but retained the purported identity of the original owners. If that was done in this case, why would the serial numbers be incorrect?
A day after Dubai police announced the names of the Irish suspects as Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron, a spokesman for Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said: "We are unable to identify any of those three individuals as being genuine Irish citizens.
"Ireland has issued no passports in those names."
The passport numbers had the wrong number of digits and did not contain letters as authentic passports do, he added.
4 Fake passports of real people, new identities: the killers took a number of real passports of real people, then copied and altered them for their own purposes but added new names and manipulated the photographs to create new identities.
Some combination of 1-4 above: maybe this was done for operational reasons (a hurried job, and/or the killers could not acquire enough passports in any one category and/or wanted to mix 'n' match to reduce the risk of detection and/or later muddy the waters).
Charles Crawford's points apply equally well to the older non-biometric Passports, which were apparently used in Dubai, as well as to the newer International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) compliant "biometric" ones, since these only currently contain a digitised image of the passport photograph and what is written on the face of the passport, and do not yet contain any fingerprint or iris scan biometric identifiers.
Facial Recognition is pretty useless at a passport control checkpoint, where there are lots of variations in ambient lighting etc. The UK Passport Service and some other foreign government equivalents do try to use it on their centralised digitised Passport Photo databases (which is why there are stupid rules on the size of such photos, in which you are now forbidden to smile), to try to spot obvious multiple applications in different names, but this is hardly an infallible automatic system - it needs plenty of experienced human facial recognition effort as well.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has mumbled something about an "urgent inquiry" into the affair, although we suspect that he is secretly pleased at the further embarrassment of his potential rival for the leadership of the Labour party, the useless Foreign Secretary David Milband, whose Jewish family background does not seem to have helped the UK in diplomatic relations with Israel..
According to The Guardian, it seems that the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is responding to Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests from the Dubai police and Interpol, regarding the UK Passports in question.
SOCA inherited the role of being the first port of call for foreign MLA request from one of its now defunct predecessor organisations NCIS (the National Criminal Intelligence Service, not to be confused with the popular TV action drama about the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service).
However, in spite of their secrecy and lack of public accountability, SOCA are unlikely to progress very far with what should perhaps be a counter-intelligence or counter -terrorism investigation, neither of which are their areas of frontline expertise.
The media coverage of "fake" or "stolen" UK "identities" reminds us of our Freedom of Information Act Request to the Metropolitan Police Service (rejected on the spurious grounds of requiring a "real" name !)
The vast majority of fake or forged or fraudulently obtained passports which the specialist Operation Maxim team seize in the UK, from organised criminal gangs or their suppliers, are Foreignnot UK ones.
Even a perfect UK ID Card scheme would hardly affect this trade at all, except to allow the criminals to charge their customers more money.
Back in May 2004, Spy Blog witnessed the then Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett and his Home Office Minister of State Des Browne spouting utter drivel about "false UK identities" allegedly used by terrorists etc. in front of the Home Affairs Committee
"Mr Blunkett: The media have. I have been very circumspect and I have indicated what the security services have said to me, which is they believe that in excess of a third of those who are engaged in supporting terrorism use multiple identities in order to be able to evade detection and to evade us being able to disrupt their activities"
So two thirds of them actually use their real names ?
How about concentrating on catching these first ?
"Mr Browne: ...There is no doubt that terrorists employ multiple identities. There is no doubt that they employ false identities for money laundering. In fact, our information is, as the Home Secretary said, that 35% activity involves the use of false identities, and I know from my own experience in Northern Ireland how successful we were in terms of policing terrorism by being able to stop people from using false identities and using them in many other circumstances."
Do they mean 35% of the multiple identities which are used by terrorists are actually British identities ?
If the figure is really so high, then civil service and Ministers' heads need to roll, as there must either be staggering incompetence, or else there are terrorist sympathisers working within the system.
If the figure of 35% only includes a small proportion of United Kingdom identities, then to use this as supporting evidence for a UK ID Card is dishonest - even if the proposed system worked perfectly, the effect on terrorists use of multiple identities would be negligible.
How many false identities does a terrorist or spy actually need ? Probably only one at most.
If biometric fingerprint Passports ever do work and centralised computer linked biometric readers ever do become universally installed at every border post, then where does that leave British or other intelligence agents, undercover policemen or special forces personnel ?
It may be possible to officially fake the UK National identity Register database entries and issue them with a genuine UK Passport and / or ID Card, under their cover name alias, but if they have ever crossed a foreign border in the past, perhaps when on holiday or business before they were recruited into a secret role. If they have their fingerprint biometrics scanned at the border, then, in theory, the mis-match in names using different Passports, should automatically be flagged up on the foreign government system.
This passport mismatch may even be detectable by commercial airlines and airports, which are forced to use such a scheme, and who will certainly keep their own copies of any biometrics they scan on their own machinery, and share the data with all their international offices, simply to make obvious financial savings.
Why pay a fresh NIR Verification Scheme fee to the UK Government, every time a regular customer presents their ID Card or Passport ? Why not just pay the fee the first time, and not again until the ID Card expires in perhaps10 years time, and simply compare their biometric scans, with the company's own copy of these, from earlier ?
This will encourage the creation of parallel subsets of the National Identity Register, which are outside the control or alleged protection of the UK Government.