Security of U.S. Passports Called Into Question

Why are key components outsourced to country in turmoil?

ByABC News
March 19, 2010, 1:41 PM

June 14, 2010 — -- The U.S. government agency that prints passports has for years failed to resolve persistent concerns about the security risks involved in outsourcing production to foreign factories, a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity has found.

"On a number of levels this is extremely troubling," said Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. "Something like that ought to be produced only in the United States, under only the most rigorous security standards." A report on the outsourcing of U.S. passports to high-risk countries can be seen on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight.

Despite repeated assurances they would move production to the U.S., a key government contractor has continued to assemble an electronic component of the nation's new, more sophisticated passport in Thailand.

The factory is near the same Bangkok suburb where a notorious terrorist extremist was captured in 2003. There have been bursts of violence in the industrial city, Ayutthaya, as recently as last month.

Both the inspector general at the Government Printing Office and the agency's own security chief have warned specifically against producing the computer chip assembly in the Thai facility. One internal report obtained by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity warned of a "potential long term risk to the [U.S. government's] interests."

CLICK HERE TO READ THE CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY'S STORY

The top official at the GPO, Robert Tapella, declined requests to be interviewed on the subject. ABC News caught up with Tapella at an industry conference in Baltimore to ask him why repeated warnings about the security of the passport supply chain have not been resolved.

Tapella said government contractors were in the process of moving work on the passport out of Thailand and into a newer facility in Minnesota. "I believe the Government Printing Office along with the Department of State, are doing everything necessary to maintain and secure the passport supply chain," he said.

Tapella said government contractors were in the process of moving work on the passport out of Thailand and into a newer facility in Minnesota. \"I believe the Government Printing Office along with the Department of State, are doing everything necessary to maintain and secure the passport supply chain,\" he said. 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