News

Stolen Passports In Malaysia Airlines Flight Raise Major Security Concerns

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The stolen passports used by two passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing last week has cast a troubling spotlight on a major gap.

As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday, it turns out that hundreds of millions of airline passengers are not being screened for possible fake documents.

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) emphasized that the failure to screen for fraudulent documents can have dangerous consequences.

“Those planes can be flying bombs, and they can be used against American interests,” he said.

Two passengers with stolen documents were on the Malaysia Airlines plane – which had been headed to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people onboard this past Saturday. King said those two passengers were among hundreds of millions within the flying public who were never checked to see if they were traveling on false documents.

“I am very concerned,” King said. “I am concerned; the Department of Homeland Security is concerned.”

The reason is that despite the fact that Interpol has a clearinghouse of over 40 million lost or stolen passports – four out of 10, or 40 percent of the 1 billion people who fly internationally every year, are never checked to see if they are traveling on fake documents.

A total of 166 countries contribute information to the Interpol database, but the vast majority do not routinely use it.

“The failure to check out passports from foreign countries is a definite threat to Americans, and to American interests, and it’s a threat to the world,” King said.

Security experts said not checking incoming passengers through the Interpol database is a glaring weakness in airline security – and one that appeals to a whole host of bad guys. Terrorists, drug dealers, swindlers, and people who just want to disappear might be inclined to take advantage of the security hole, experts said.

“The new norm now is for hostile organizations to try to get into a plane, fly overseas, and do harm in foreign countries,” said security expert Manny Gomez. “We’ve seen it time and time again. We’ve had the shoe bomber (Richard Reid in 2001.) We’ve had other attempts.”

Gomez said airplanes appear to be the target of choice for many.

“You get your best bang for your buck when you are able to bring down a plane in the middle of the air – or even better for them, to crash it against a foreign country – especially the U.S.,” Gomez said.

Currently, only four countries – the U.S., Israel, the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates – systematically screen passengers for stolen documents.

King said the U.S. government is in constant negotiations to get more countries to do it.

And in a statement this past weekend, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble chided authorities for “waiting for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates.”

Law enforcement officials have identified the men who boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 370 with the stolen passports – and said it is unlikely they tried to take down the plane, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported. But U.S. officials say terrorism has not been ruled out.

Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com: