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State Department Unit Protects Against US Passport Fraud and Deters Crime

State Department Unit Protects Against US Passport Fraud and Deters Crime

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security

If you were to ask anyone to name the world’s most effective international law enforcement agencies, the most popular answers would be the FBI, INTERPOL and Scotland Yard. Few people would cite the State Department. Yet its Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) is the most widely represented U.S. law enforcement organization overseas.

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The DSS investigates, deters and dismantles transnational criminal organizations that try to manipulate the U.S. travel system. The service also works to prevent these organizations from engaging in illicit activities such as sex and labor trafficking, human smuggling, money laundering, and even terrorism.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Domestic Operations Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Ricardo Colón oversees the DSS.

In a brief virtual news conference on Thursday, Colón spoke about the work of the DSS’s Assistant Regional Security Officer – Investigators program (ARSO-I) and a couple of its recent successful operations.

ARSO-I Agents Support DSS Operations at More than 100 Locations Worldwide

ARSO-I special agents support DSS operations at more than 100 locations around the globe. They investigate visa passport fraud, assist in investigating crimes against U.S. citizens, and collaborate with and train foreign law enforcement and immigration authorities.

ARSO-I works with foreign law enforcement officials, prosecutors, immigration authorities, airline personnel and tourism officials to combat transnational organized crime. Some of the transnational crimes ARSO-I investigates and helps dismantle include human trafficking, terrorism, and human and weapons smuggling, which often involve U.S. visa and passport fraud.

DSS Has a Mandate to Guard Against Visa and Passport Fraud

“In addition to protecting State Department people and facilities, DSS has a mandate to protect the integrity of U.S. travel documents,” Colón said. This can mean anything from a U.S. passport or visa or any document in any country used to obtain those U.S. documents.

Colón recalled how in 1996 DSS partnered with State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to combine the Bureau’s broad detection capabilities with DSS’s criminal investigative expertise “to better protect these documents.”

As a result, DSS deployed ARSO-I special agents to consular sections at three U.S. diplomatic posts to investigate instances where these documents could be misused, fraudulently obtained or manipulated to conduct other crimes such as sex and labor trafficking, terrorism, and human smuggling.

“The DSS-Consular partnership was so successful that today we have more than 120 DSS special agents embedded in consular sections at over 110 diplomatic posts in 76 countries,” Colón said. “Each year we train over 40,000 law enforcement, immigration, airline officials, [nongovernmental organizations] and private sector partners how to detect and deter crime,” he added, “so we can stop criminal activity at the root, rather than allow it to cross U.S. borders.”

Colón called the program a “global force multiplier” against threats to U.S. national security and “the safety of Americans and our partners overseas.”

As an example of recent DSS successes, Colón cited the disruption and arrest of a major international smuggling operation in Albania and the training of Peruvian officials to dismantle a global human smuggling and trafficking network.

In Operation Crystal Eagle, a joint U.S.-Albanian operation led by Albania on May 23, 2020, about 23 people involved in a major human smuggling operation were arrested. The group was obtaining or manipulating foreign passports, generating fake documents, and using counterfeit laboratories in two unnamed countries.

Last year, an ARSO-I team traveled to a remote part of Peru to train Peruvian law enforcement officials that led to the shutting down of a global human smuggling and trafficking network operating in that area.

“Those are just a few; we have plenty of other examples from all over the world to demonstrate how we protect U.S. borders and national security,” Colón added.

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