The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 9, 2014

Interpol: Passports on flights must be checked

PARIS — Interpol knew about stolen passports that two passengers used to board an ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight bound for China, but no authorities checked the police agency's vast database on stolen documents beforehand, it said Sunday — baring a gaping loophole in global cooperation against one of the world's biggest but most unrecognized security threats today.

It's not known whether stolen passports had anything to do with Saturday's disappearance of the Boeing 777 bound from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. But such oversights aren't new — and the case points to a little-known threat to security and Interpol hopes national authorities will "learn from the tragedy."

More than 1 billion times last year, travelers boarded planes without their passports being checked against Interpol's database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents, according to the Lyon-based international organization.

Interpol has made warning about the issue for years, and just last month it bemoaned that "only a handful of countries" regularly use its stolen or lost travel documents database of records from 167 countries. For example, the database was searched more than 800 million times last year — but one in eight searches was conducted by United Arab Emirates alone.

On Sunday, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in a statement that his organization has long asked why countries would "wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates."

"Now, we have a real case where the world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists, while Interpol is asking why only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights," he said.

Noble, who has called passport fraud one of the world's greatest threats, said he hopes "that governments and airlines worldwide will learn from the tragedy of missing flight MH 370 and begin to screen all passengers' passports prior to allowing them to board flights."

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