Identity Theft is a Threat to National Security
In the 1960s the Department of Defense decided to
replace service numbers with Social Security Numbers (SSNs). After all, why
issue each service member a new identification number when they already had one
before entering the service?
However, 35 years ago no one foresaw the technology
that would be available to just about everyone in the world today; just as no
one could have foreseen the SSN becoming a de facto national ID number.
Every investigator knows that every individual’s SSN
is directly linked to at least one other; a family member, business partner,
etc. through mortgages, bank accounts, investments, property deeds, tax
records, driver’s licenses, insurance, and the list goes on.
With the explosion of the internet in the 1990s came a
new epidemic – identity theft; now the world’s fastest growing criminal
enterprise. But terrorists may also be using it.
It is no secret that al-Qaeda’s goal is the
destruction of the American economy. With the war in Afghanistan
they have been handed a golden opportunity. Al-Qaeda does not have to look for
SSNs to access the private and personal information of thousands of Americans.
This poses a very serious threat to national security because they can be
obtained very easily from our own troops.
Service members’ SSNs are everywhere – and in many
more places than their civilian counterparts. But nowhere are they more evident
than on dog tags and ID cards.
The war on terror is unlike any we have ever fought
before. Yet our troops are still required to adhere to policies set during
World War One and redefined during World War Two in accordance with the Geneva
Conventions requiring POWs to provide name, rank, serial number, date of birth
and religion; the same information that is stamped on their dog tags.
For our troops this was fine – as long as they were
issued service numbers. Now, though, they only have SSNs, and this has very
serious implications for them, their families, and ultimately for national
In March, 2003, near the end of the Iraq war, troops entered the house of a senior
Iraqi army officer as they were entering Baghdad.
Although the officer, and everyone else, had fled, the troops found a number of
dog tags in his desk. No mention was made
of ID cards, but if the dog tags were taken from
KIA/MIA, or prisoners, it is safe to assume the ID cards and other personal
effects were also taken.
If this is the case, and it probably is, then some
terrorist has the necessary tool to not only clean out these GI’s finances and
that of his family’s, but he can also completely destroy that family, and
probably many others whose SSNs are linked to the service person and his
Maybe the best example of this is Specialist Joseph
Hudson and the other members of the 507th Maintenance Co.
After this unit was ambushed, al-Jazeera broadcast a
10-minute video to 50 million hostile viewers showing the bodies of dead
Americans in the road. It then cut to where the captured GI’s were being held –
along with several dead American bodies. On each body was displayed the
soldier’s dog tags, ID card and other personal effects.
The tape then cut to the interrogation of the captured
soldiers. This is when Specialist Hudson, in accordance with the Geneva
Conventions, gave his name, rank and serial number – except it was his SSN
which is now, potentially, in the hands of 50 million hostile Muslims. To
compound this, just two days later, the London Times published a report, in
both its print and online editions, based on the al-Jazeera video, that
included Specialist Hudson’s SSN.
With over 1,600 troops killed in Iraq alone, it
is very likely that more dog tags and ID cards have fallen into the hands of
We are the only major country to use a number can be
used to access all the troops’ private and personal data, by anyone in the
world with a computer, as a military service number. It is well past time for
the Pentagon to reassess its use of SSNs as military service numbers.