WASHINGTON – U.S. officials have uncovered a fraud scheme that has allowed foreign nationals to enter the United States under false identities, a troubling security breach resulting from a vulnerability in Hungary’s passport system, authorities say.
About 700 non-Hungarians have fraudulently obtained authentic Hungarian passports and assumed the identities of the original passport holders, according to a DHS document obtained by The Washington Post.
Of that group, at least 85 attempted to travel to the United States, and 65 successfully entered through the U.S. visa waiver program. As of October, 30 remained in the country despite DHS efforts to find and deport them.
U.S. authorities declined to say why these individuals illegally entered the United States or how many remain at large. But experts said the fraudulent use of authentic passports poses a serious threat to the United States and other countries.
“The most obvious risk here is that people are coming to the United States who have a reason to disguise their identity,” said Stewart Baker, a former senior DHS official who dealt with transnational threats in Europe and the Middle East.
“Common reasons for doing this are drug smuggling, organized crime or illegal immigration,” he added. “The most troubling reasons would be a well-organized terrorist organization like ISIS or al-Qaida might purchase these documents . . . or the Russian spies we kicked out might fly to Ukraine, buy a Hungarian passport and fly back to the U.S.”
DHS officials say they believe criminals obtained the authentic passports by exploiting a Hungarian government program that allows ethnic Hungarians who live outside the country to obtain citizenship in an expedited manner. The measure was put in place in 2011 by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who touted the importance of connecting with the Hungarian diaspora scattered across Europe after World War I and World War II.