REAL ID Implementation Embraced by 41 States: Driver’s Licenses Still at Risk of Terrorist Abuse:

Janice Kephart is the Director of National Security Policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

By Janice Kephart

April 2011

Memorandums

While driver’s licenses and birth certificates remain a tool sought by terrorists to support jihad in the United States, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is still pushing for repeal of driver’s license and birth certificate standards supported by 9/11 Commission recommendations. Ironically, Secretary Napolitano continues to assail the REAL ID Act’s standards despite new statistics — still held tightly within DHS — showing that 41 states, plus D.C., have embraced REAL ID implementation even without DHS support or new monies.

The importance of secure identification was re-emphasized just last month in Senate testimony by the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission:

Standardize Secure Identifications

Eighteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 state-issued IDs amongst them that enabled them to more easily board planes on the morning of 9/11. Due to the ease with which fraud was used to obtain legitimate IDs that helped the hijackers embed and assimilate in the U.S. for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist act, the 9/11 Commission recommended that ‘The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.’

The REAL ID Act established these standards by statute. In 2008, detailed regulations were issued setting standards and benchmarks for driver’s license issuance. While nearly one-third of the states have complied with the first tier of benchmarks, the deadlines for compliance have been pushed back twice to May 2011, and a recent announcement pushed back compliance again until January 2013. The delay in compliance creates vulnerabilities and makes us less safe. No further delay should be authorized, rather compliance should be accelerated. [Emphasis added.]

Terrorists Still Seek Driver’s Licenses. On February 23, 2011, the FBI filed an extensive, detailed criminal complaint with a tremendous amount of forensic evidence indicating that a Saudi foreign student, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who entered the United States on a student visa, had done so for the sole purpose of using our educational and visa system to commit major terrorist acts. His targets included former President Bush’s home and dams and other key infrastructure, intending to use a variety of homemade car bombs assembled with knowledge gained in chemical engineering classrooms and chemicals and materials purchased here in the United States. What did Aldawsari intend to use in order to embed in the United States and avoid detection? Multiple state-issued driver’s licenses and a U.S. passport based on fake birth certificates, not a particularly dissimilar method to the 19 9/11 terrorists who had 30 state-issued IDs between them and also used fraud to game the driver’s license system. The Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari criminal complaint specifically mentions that his plan for jihad depended in part on well-known terrorist travel methodology:

In a ‘synopsis of important steps,’ ALDAWSARI listed: obtaining a forged US birth certificate; applying for a US passport and driver’s license; traveling to New York for at least a week; renting a car via the Internet; changing clothes and appearance before picking up the car; using a different driver’s license for each car he rents; preparing the bombs for remote detonation; putting the bombs into the cars and taking them to different places during rush hour; and leaving the city for a safe place. [p. 10]

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari might have been successful but for his dogged determination to accumulate as much precursor chemicals as possible (for the explosives), for which Carolina Biological Supply rightly reported his purchases to law enforcement. The Aldawsari case shows that not much has changed in the world of terrorist travel since the publication of the 9/11 Commission Report and the supporting staff monograph, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel: driver’s licenses are still an important tool in the terrorists’ toolbox, whether a lone actor or a member of a larger organization. Aldawsari is a significant example of why it is important to prevent fake birth certificates and other lies about identity from being used to obtain legitimate state-issued driver’s licenses. It is important to remain vigilant about assuring that people are who they say they are. At its base, that is what the REAL ID Act is about: assuring that driver’s license applicants are who they say they are, from the sum-total of the identity documents they present as applicants.

REAL ID Implementation Embraced. Secretary Napolitano has again extended the deadline for states to comply with the minimum standards of REAL ID, to exactly the time frame she could be leaving office: January 2013. Ironically, however, the states have not paid much attention to Napolitano or to the fact that federal monies for REAL ID have all but dried up. Instead, the states are complying with REAL ID in numbers that exceed what I published in January 2011 in “REAL ID Implementation: Less Expensive, Doable, and Helpful in Reducing Fraud