Theft – A Pentagon Problem That Needs to be Corrected
A good portion of military ID theft is actually
facilitated by the Department of Defense itself. Unlike most civilian ID
thefts, though, these could have a serious impact on national security.
In the 1960s the Pentagon decided it would be more
cost-effective to replace service numbers with the individual’s Social Security
Number (SSN). By 1969 the Army and Air Force had made the switch, and by 1973
the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard had completed their transition.
The Pentagon thus became the first organization to use
the SSN as an official personnel identifier. In the decades since, the SSN has
evolved into a national ID system. Although not an “official” one, it serves
the same purpose.
So how does DoD’s use of SSN’s make military personnel
more vulnerable than civilians? Simple. SSN’s are used in exactly the same ways
as service numbers were once used; stamped on dog tags, printed on ID cards and
virtually every page of a service record, on discharge papers (DD-214s), and so
Until ID theft reached epidemic proportions in the
1990’s the DoD had encouraged veterans to register their DD-214’s with their
county clerks. This was intended to give them instant access to their discharge
papers. However, once a DD-214 is registered it immediately becomes public
record – as does all the information on it; full name, SSN, Date of Birth, and
other personal information that would otherwise be non-releasable under the
By the late 1990’s the services began discouraging
this practice and started providing veterans with instructions for removing
their DD-214’s from the public record. Unfortunately, this came too late for
many of them.
Hundreds of thousands of DD-214’s are still on file
with county clerks all over the country. Deceased veteran’s DD-214’s are still
on file because the next-of-kin doesn’t know how to remove them, if they know
they’re there at all. Other veterans move away and simply forget them.
This is where the Pentagon’s policy of using SSN’s
becomes a serious risk to national security.
Terrorists are very patient. It was eight years
between the first WTC attack in 1993 and the second one in 2001. No one should
be so naive as to think there are no terrorist sleepers living among us today.
It is not be difficult for these sleepers to find out
who the veterans are in their communities and gather enough information to
search the public records and obtain a certified copy of a DD-214.
This gives the terrorist enough to go to the nearest
Social Security Administration (SSA) office, claim he lost his Social Security
card, fill in the form, and in two weeks he will have a new, legitimate social
security card. He can then obtain a legitimate birth certificate and go to DMV
and obtain a driver’s license with his photo on it because he has a SSN, armed
forces discharge papers, and a birth certificate that proves American
With this he can visit any military installation,
claim he lost his ID card, and apply for a new Reserve or Retiree ID card. A
normal check will show everything to be accurate and he will receive a
legitimate military ID card giving him access to nearly all US military and
other government installations.
I don’t think I need to start listing the possible
consequences if a terrorist gains “legitimate” access to military hardware and
Preventing this would require the DoD contact every
veteran since World War II. There are no guarantees they could reach them all,
and no way of knowing who registered their DD-214’s or who passed away or
moved, before they could be removed
from the public record. It would undoubtedly be too
late to have any measurable effect anyway.
The Pentagon is in a position to correct this
situation. They should simply cease using SSN’s and, until someone comes up
with a better solution, return to the old service number system. Service
numbers have never, in any way, been connected to any other form of
We are the only major nation in the world whose
military uses a “national” identification system as a military identification