3small25Military ID Theft – A Pentagon Problem That Needs to be Corrected



Gerard P. Keenan

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 on.

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 Privacy Act.

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 citizenship.

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 ordnance.

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 identification.

We are the only major nation in the world whose military uses a “national” identification system as a military identification system.

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