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Outsourcing passports 'profound liability'

WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- A U.S. government agency uses foreign firms to make new e-passports and is reportedly overcharging for them, The Washington Times found.

The Government Printing Office outsourced the manufacturing of U.S. passports to foreign firms and charged the U.S. State Department nearly twice what it cost GPO to have them made, the Times reported Wednesday, based on its investigation.

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The law that established the printing agency states that it can only charge what it needs to recover its costs.

Security agencies and the GPO said it has protective measures in place to keep blank passports out of the hands of U.S. enemies but the agency's inspector general, J. Anthony Ogden, said in October that there are "significant deficiencies" in the security of the manufacturing process, the Times said.

Ogden's report said the GPO stated it couldn't overcome the "significant deficiencies" because of "monetary constraints."

The blank passports travel to Europe where a microchip is inserted in the back cover and then onto Thailand where they are fitted with a radio antenna. The Netherlands company that makes the covers for the passport said in October that China stole the technology for the microchips, the Times said.

Michelle Van Cleave, a former counterintelligence official, called the possibility of blank passports getting into criminal hands was a "profound liability" for the United States.

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