This picture was taken from aboard a flying Soviet-made AN-26 used as a search aircraft by Vietnamese Air Force to look for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Credit: Getty Images
Two of the passengers on the missing Air Malaysia Flight 370 traveled on stolen passports. How is that possible, when stolen passport information is internationally registered?
Metro spoken with Frank Cilluffo, Director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Metro: How come there’s a system for stolen passport checks and two passengers still slipped through?
Cilluffo: The database does exist; it’s just that airport staff has to access it, and often they don’t. Interpol has been warning for years about the risks of not checking passports against the Interpol system. Right now the most logins into the Interpol database come from Europe, North America, and the UAE, so other countries can do more. Stolen identification and identity fraud are becoming huge problems in law enforcement. And this is also an individual responsibility: if your passport is stolen, make sure to report it.
Is this a new problem?
There are precedents prior to this flight where terrorists used forged or stolen passports; for example, one of the 9/11 terrorists. In the case of the Malaysian flight, the Malaysian authorities simply didn’t access the Interpol database. Interpol also wants to expand this database beyond airlines to include other areas of the hospitality industry, including hotels. The system of checking stolen passports needs to go beyond law enforcement, but this is nothing new.
But does it really matter whether a terrorist has a stolen passport if he’s not able to bring weapons on board?
You don’t want a terrorist traveling even if his intent is not to attack. We need a layered defense, and verification of passports through the Interpol database is one of those layers.