Pick up any newspaper and the headlines are typically about the 9/11 Commission querying what advance warning was available, and what actions (if any) were taken to combat the growing terrorist threat. Even as the press is in a tizzy about these seeming revelations, the FBI has not only identified one glaring hole in the nation’s security system but also pointed out its risks, yet has provoked only a collective yawn in response.
The reason, I surmise, is that the FBI is pointing fingers at one of the most sacred of cows: the Matricula Consular program, or MCAS (for Matricula Consular de Alta Seguridad). What is a MCAS? It is an identification card issued to Mexican nationals residing in the United States by the Mexican government via their 47 consulates here. The cards are issued regardless of the applicant’s immigration status; the FBI believes two million illegal Mexicans are already carrying this form of i.d.
Unlike a traditional passport (which the FBI favors), the Matricula Consular does not readily identify a foreigner’s legal status. Thus, if someone has a valid passport, then he is “legal,” but if he presents a Matricula Consular, even one validly issued by a Mexican consulate, that means very little.
The roots of the Matricula Consular program go back to the Vienna Convention of 1963 on Consular Relations, a document signed by 160 countries (including ours). The Mexican government started issuing these i.d. cards in 2001. In San Antonio alone, 13,000 cards are issued each year.
In America’s southwest, the use of this form of i.d. has become pandemic. It is accepted at major banks for opening a new account, recognized by many local police departments as a legitimate form of i.d., and is even deemed suitable for the purpose of obtaining a driver’s license in several states.
Disappointingly, elected officials from both parties are seeking to expand the acceptance of the Matricula Consular. One obvious reason is that Mexican citizens working in the U.S. transfer an estimated $12 to 13 billion annually back to their home nation. They also open bank accounts here to facilitate these transfers.
So, what are the terrorist risks posed by the MCAS? Let me have the FBI explain it in its own words. I quote verbatim from an unclassified Intelligence Assessment report on the topic issued on March 25, 2004, by the FBI’s San Antonio branch. This report was presented to a recent committee meeting of the Texas Legislature now studying this topic. The presentation was made by Pat Patterson, special agent in charge in San Antonio.
As you read these excerpts–all from a report issued less than a month ago–please keep in mind the much-ballyhooed hearings now underway in Washington to probe too-long ignored law-enforcement warnings concerning terrorism. I also stress that I am merely lifting a few snippets from a report that details the FBI’s concerns far more extensively within its 23 pages.
Let us begin with some of the security issues relating to the cards:
‐”The most significant issue concerning United States security is that the ‘MCAS’ cards are too easily obtained and are susceptible to forgery and fraudulent use.”
‐”The ‘MCAS’ can be allegedly fraudulently obtained via the internet for a nominal fee requiring only a set of passport photos, descriptive data, and a return address, to which the ‘MCAS’ will be mailed automatically.”
‐”The Department of Justice and the FBI have concluded that the consular identification card is not a reliable form of identification, due to the non-existence of any means of verifying the true identity of the card holder.”
Now onto the FBI’s concerns that the use of these foreign-issued i.d. cards could increase:
‐”At the present time, undocumented Mexicans in the United States are the largest beneficiaries of the consular identification card…. However, other countries have also seen the potential to benefit from allowing their citizens the opportunity to obtain a similar card. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, and Poland are aware of Mexico’s success in getting their consular identification card accepted in the United States. Argentina has decided to issue a consular identification card to approximately 180,000 Argentineans residing in California.”
Patterson elaborated on the FBI’s concerns to the committee regarding additional nations issuing these i.d. cards by noting that the tri-border region of South America (where Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil intersect) was now recognized as a “hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism.”
As for the card’s utility to terrorists, the report offers several items to ponder. Pay particular attention to the last sentence of the last paragraph quoted:
‐”The ease of obtaining an ‘MCAS’ became a major concern in the wake of September 11, 2001, due to possible utilization by terrorists.”
‐”As the use and concept of ‘MCAS’ gains acceptance, the threat of countries hostile to the U.S. or those known to sponsor terrorist organizations issuing said cards is greater.”
‐”The ability of foreign nationals to use the ‘MCAS’ to create a well-documented, but fictitious, identity in the United States provides an opportunity for terrorists to move freely within the United States without name-based watch lists that are disseminated to local police officers. It also allows them to board planes without revealing their true identities.”
So, in summary, we have a federal law-enforcement agency issuing concerns about a security threat involving a popular-with-politicians program that are specific, blunt, and recent. The warnings have also being repeatedly offered–as the FBI detailed many of these same concerns in testimony before the U.S. Congress almost a year ago.
Yet, these words of warning appear to be falling upon deaf ears.
I have to wonder: Will some future commission investigating a terrorist atrocity be directed to these very same warnings and ponder aloud why nobody cared to pay much attention before it was too late?
Let us fervently hope not.
–James A. Cooley is senior correspondent at The Lone Star Report.