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Fighting the Forger: The Secrets of your Passport
24 September 2013
Fighting the Forger: The Secrets of your Passport
In this lecture, I shall show you with the aid of passports from my collection, how passport design has been influenced by a desire to confound the forger, how it developed the technically complex document we use today and how the forgers have responded to the challenges presented by secret safeguards.
I cannot tonight give you a history of the passport. In my book, The Passport, the History of Man's Most Travelled Document, I trace passports back three and a half millennia. This evening, I shall take you back a mere three and a half centuries.
We need to think about the users of passports in the historical context of a stratified society whose influential and important members would acquire passports for travel but whose working classes would simply go where they wished without documentation. This state of affairs arose from the use to which passport systems had been put. The lowly people, the proletariat, had no influence in the affairs of state and so were considered innocuous and not requiring to be checked. Rulers wanted to control the activities of the powerful people in their kingdom because they represented a threat - they might go abroad and come back with an army to depose them. But the powerful and mighty people who were travelling, they, in their turn wanted some form of introduction into the right level of the society which they were visiting. And so the two components of the passport became: control and facilitation which were presented in the customary framework of a letter. Nobody in the seventeenth century was consciously thinking of the design of the passport. The passport appeared as it was because it served the function that it did.
The papyrus of the Egyptians, the clay tablets of the Romans and the subsequent parchment and vellum had been displaced by paper. Traditional history propounds that the skill of paper-making reached Europe via the Moors in Spain to whom the knowledge had been passed by the Arabs who had captured Chinese paper makers at the battle of Samarkand in AD 751.
A seventeenth century passport
A typical passport of three hundred and fifty years ago was a document handwritten on paper. In the seventeenth century the issuing of passports had not yet been established as the exclusive right of the state. Passports could be obtained from a local lord, or a magistrate or a commander in the army, in fact, from anybody, provided that that person wielded sufficient influence for the document to be accepted. And to ensure that the passport did function as intended, a portion of the text was dedicated to proving the importance of the issuer, listing his ranks, his various offices and decorations. Compared to this catalogue, the actual holder of the passport enjoyed a very small mention.
The year is 1659. In England, Richard Cromwell is just hanging on to power. In France the monarch is Louis XIV. Although the Thirty Years War has now finished the French and the Spanish are still fighting over where the frontier will lie between their two countries.
This passport was issued in France on 12 June 1659 to a German soldier, the Baron de Plotho, to enable him to return to Saxony to arrange his private affairs. He was a mercenary soldier being paid by the French to fight the Spanish. It was issued by the sire Poderits, 'a colonel and major general of cavalry in the service of the king.'
Once the secretary had drawn up this passport he presented it to his master, the sire Poderits, who signed it and affixed his seal. A document such as this, which to our eyes appears rather unassuming, is typical of the passports of the seventeenth century. Although not intrinsically impressive, it made its mark by its very existence. A nondescript traveller would not carry credentials such as these. The wax seal emphasising the authority of the issuer had a secondary purpose - that of discouraging falsification.
The matrix for a wax seal was usually an armorial design finely engraved by a silversmith on precious stone such as bloodstone or on gold, silver or even lead. Using the skill of the seal engraver to render the document secure illustrates an important concept in forgery prevention which we will meet time and time again: no document is unforgeable. If a mere man can make a document it is certain that another can forge it. What one has to do is to make the forging of the document so costly in time and money that it is not worth the bother - that the value gained is less than the sum of the resources expended to win it. The definition of this seal may be a little blurred or distorted to your eyes but don't forget, it is three hundred and fifty years old. Do you think your passport will look as sharp in the year 2363?
The adoption of printing.
Printing has been around in Europe since the fifteenth century but many years passed before the technology of printing was adopted for passports. The main reason is that the printing process is costly and thus best suited to the production of many copies of a single work where the expense can be offset by the economies of scale.
The demand for passports even in the eighteenth century was not sufficient to warrant setting up a galley of type yet here we have an early printed passport dating from about 1730. It was issued by Artus Joseph de la Poype St Julin de Grammont and amongst his many distinctions is that of being the King's commander of the province of the Dauphin‚, the region around Grenoble in France, and it was probably from there that he derived his power to issue passports. The question is: why was he printing them? Were there really so many people travelling in the early eighteenth century that De La Poype needed to have his passports printed? I don't believe so. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the annual issue of passports in Great Britain was approximately one hundred and fifty and here we have somebody seventy years earlier printing passports for a province in France. I suspect that de la Poype was a technophile embracing a new technology. The kind of person who today has to go out and buy the latest ipad.
The wood block engraving of his coat of arms and the specially commissioned ornate letter N serve to emphasise his authority whilst making forgery more difficult. You might find a printer ready and capable of printing such a document for you, but only after you had promised to reward him for the effort and cost of finding an engraver to provide the woodblocks.
A pre-printed passport, such as this, put at the issuer's disposal a standard form, containing no mistakes or amendments, which could be issued rapidly after the handwritten addition of the name of the bearer but, paradoxically, it introduced a security threat. Why should a forger go to the trouble of printing the form and imitating the engraving when it would be simpler to steal a blank form? Indeed, you can see that this is a blank form. Now I didn't steal it but somebody before me may have done. If he had, what impediment to using the form would he have found in his way? The wax seal. Each passport would have been validated upon issue by the application of the wax seal; an object which would have been kept locked up in a place separate from the blank forms.
De La Poype's pre-printed form was far in advance of its time. Seventy years later the legation of the French Revolutionary government in Tuscany, Italy, is issuing passports by handwriting on a multi-purpose letterhead. 'Florence the 21 Thermidor, the 5th year of the Republic' 'Liberty, Equality' but no 'Fraternity' as yet. The same safeguard against theft and fraudulent issue was used - the wax seal. The Phrygian cap representing liberty and the bundle of sticks, the 'faisceau' as the French called it, representing force. It was, of course, Mussolini's use of this emblem that gave the world the 'Fascisti'.
This is a more flexible use of printing, especially important now that they are using expensive steel engraving blocks. You can see the impression made in the paper by the steel block.
Intricate engravings and wax seals were the obvious or overt attempts to make the passport secure. There was already a covert application - watermarks. Originally designed as trade marks to guarantee the provenance of paper, they were well qualified to add credibility to the genuineness of a document.
A watermark is created at the point where the paper is still a wet sheet and can be stretched without damage. The design chosen for the watermark is realised in wire and the damp paper is pressed over it and allowed to dry. In the places where the paper stretches to cover the wire, it becomes thinner and thus allows more light to pass through it. Because the watermark is inserted in the paper during the manufacturing process, it cannot be removed or altered and it is very difficult to imitate. Here we see the manufacture of a watermark from a dandy roll at the point of rolling out the pulp.
France realised the importance of watermarks as security checks very quickly as you can see from this French passport of 1808 which incorporates several watermarks on the same sheet, not the least of which is the central circular design of about eight inches in diameter which is a representation of the head of the Emperor encircled by the words, 'Napoleon I, Emperor of the French.' Contemporary British passports relied upon the commercial watermark of the paper manufacturer, Whatman & Co. It was not until the early twentieth century that British passports were given a dedicated watermark.
When passports became booklets and machine-made paper was produced onto a roll, the watermark had to be designed as a repeating pattern so that no matter how the paper was later printed, folded and cut, somewhere on the page a watermark would appear. A German passport of 1938. Adolf Hitler, he who hated the decadence of the Jazz Age and Art Deco, was he aware that his passports carried such an avant garde, modern watermark? The repeated design does not have to be an abstract pattern. In this Hungarian passport of 1943 the repetition is text: 'Kiralys Magyar' - Kingdom of Hungary.
Coming up to date with the UK passport, despite the paper being machine made onto a roll, technology has allowed us to place the watermark in the exact position to accommodate the subsequent printing. The watermark is put into the paper at the mills. The printer manages to print around it so that the bird's head appears in the guilloche.
By the mid 19th century, most passports were printed in portrait format in one of two styles. The 'certificate' style, such as this passport of the Kingdom of Bavaria of 1861, was rather official-looking with the personal description entered as a list and the document surrounded by an intricate decorative border. By contrast, the 'letter' style, as represented by the British passport of 1851, appears relaxed and informal, apparently promoting itself more as a means of introduction than as a passport. Indeed, the British passport up until 1857 was signed personally by the Foreign Secretary himself - in this case Lord Palmerston. It is perhaps no coincidence that the countries using the certificate-style passport, which emphasised control over facilitation, were often those who employed them as a tool to manage their population - countries such as France, the German States and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The letter-style passport, which favoured facilitation before control, was used by countries such as UK, USA, Belgium and the Netherlands.
All these passports employed engravings, watermarks, decorative borders, florid scripts and paraphs to make the job of the forger more difficult. This is an 1854 passport of the Free and Hanseatic Town of Hamburg. Look at the fierceness of those lions. The British lion of the same era appears rather aloof, as if he feels that he has nothing left to prove. And if your coat of arms was less intricate than you would have desired you could always overdose on those curly lines called paraphs. "In the name of his majesty the king of Sardinia of Cyprus and Jerusalem, Duke of Savoy and Genoa, Prince of Piedmont etc." That display, with its paraphs, occupies the top half of the entire document.
Sometimes the border designs themselves were more than just a decoration designed to discourage forgers. The border of this Grand Duchy of Baden passport of 1845 seems rather simple in execution. However, it holds a secret. We can see from the description of the holder as annotated in the column on the left that he is aged 28« years and is of height 5 Schuhe, 6 zoll. The schuhe being a measure with the rough equivalent of our foot. But the Germany of 1845 was not united, it consisted of about three hundred minor kingdoms, duchies, principalities and states and they used schuhes of three different sizes. How can you tell which one they have used to measure the holder of this passport? You can see, printed in this border, the measure of the Baden Schuhe as depicted at a scale of 1:1. You could actually physically measure this man with his own passport. How about that for biometrics?
With the increase in the numbers of people travelling, encouraged by the spread of the railways, pre-printed passport forms satisfied the need for the faster issue of greater numbers of passports. Countries despatched stocks of blank passports to their ports to be issued locally. The usual measure to prevent stealing - the wax seal validation - was now too slow so the skill of the seal engraver was turned to manufacture the blind embossing. This is a design engraved onto a pair of male and female steel dies. The paper is fed between the two and by means of a lever, the dies are pressed together, embossing the design in the paper as they do so. It was quicker and less messy than wax and the embossing press was a substantial piece of equipment and would be bolted to the bench and locked when not in use.
A passport of the Kingdom of Saxony of 1857 with the decorative border and rather heavy Teutonic typeface. But lets look above that "Konigreich Sachsen". The blind impression says 'Reise pass in Ausland' -- Passport for overseas. Look at the skill used in the execution of that embossing. One more example of applying a safeguard to a passport which would be very expensive to imitate.
When the Great War broke out in 1914, photographs on passports became mandatory. By then, photography had been around for fifty years and yet its adoption for passports seems to have caught the authorities by surprise. There were no rules directing how to pose for your passport photograph. People were told to simply provide a picture. So you could have a photograph of you with a dead pheasant on your head, or fireworks coming out of your hat, or sitting on your favourite chair or on the beach with your son. And of course the passports had not been designed to carry a photograph so the authorities attached the photograph where they could - in this instance even obscuring the name of the country - "R‚publique Fran‡aise."
Whilst the photograph added security to the passport, once again we have a paradox in that it made the passport more vulnerable. It gave the forgers an easy target. It is human nature when checking a passport to ignore the written physical description and simply peruse the photograph. So the forger can concentrate upon falsifying the photograph. How easy is it to swap a photograph? If the original photograph was found to be difficult to remove then a second photograph could be simply pasted on top of it.
Let us look at the differing means of affixing photographs. Simple staples were the simplest and quickest method and also the least secure. Rather frighteningly they were still being used in this Greek passport of 1962. Staples can be unbent and re-bent easily and the rubber stamp can be re-inked over the photograph. With a little application, many of you here could forge that passport. This was where the embossing stamp came back into service.
By impressing the intricate design into both the page and the photograph, as in this Hong Kong passport of 1921, the forger's photograph would have to carry the same design embossed in it as on the page it was attached to. But were we, by 1921, already losing some skills and knowledge? Look carefully at that stamp. The engraver has inserted the words, "Hong Kong" in the wrong direction so that they appear laterally inverted.
Still on the subject of affixing photographs, Belgium in 1929 was using rivets, wet ink stamps and messy glue to safeguard its photographs. Germany in 1984 was using wet ink stamps and 'Panzer tracks' as this combined embossing and perforation was colloquially known. By now the early free-for-all situation with regard to the passport pose had long been replaced by strict regulations which, however, differed from country to country. The British passport photograph has to be full face, the German requires the left ear to be seen.
In the 1980s it became the fashion in many countries to lay a heat-shrunk clear plastic laminate over the photograph as an additional security measure as you can see in this British passport of 1981. The laminate carries a security design in red ink and the embossing stamp impresses the laminate, photograph and page. The introduction of the plastic laminate over photographs had an unintended side effect. It killed off the passport with plastic covers, such as those of Iran and France, because the heat generated in the lamination process was found to melt the covers of such passport booklets. So that is why we no longer have passports with plastic covers.
The later refinement was to print a hologram on the laminate. By their nature, these are difficult to photograph because they try to convince the camera that they are somewhere other than where they are.
Although photographs were tardy in coming to the passport, photography was not. By the middle of the nineteenth century, photolithographic printing was being experimented with and it became possible to photograph a document and then make a plate from which to print it. The issue of passports by now was vested solely in governments and these adopted a tactic to scotch the use of this new technology in the forgery of passports - microprinting was introduced into passport design.
What to the casual eye would look like a decorative background pattern would, upon closer inspection, resolve itself into a phrase repeated endlessly across the page. "Koeniglich Preussischer Reise pass" - Kingdom of Prussia, passport.
The typeface has been reduced to a tiny size by photographic means at the point of composition of the printing plate. With the low performance of the equipment of the time, a forger would have had great difficulty in reproducing such small print to any degree of accuracy. And with the use by the Germans of chromolithography in their microprinting to introduce colour such as pink, blue or green, they manufactured a passport which could not be photographed and reproduced entirely in black and white.
A United States passport of 1922. The bluish background reveals itself to be an microprint of the text, 'United States passport'. Britain first introduced a microprinted background into its passports in 1915 with a fishnet design but did not progress to microtext until a century after Germany.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the security service has provided an input into the design of British passports. It still does. In 1921, MI5 complained that the pink background on the pages of the recently introduced blue British passport made it too difficult for the visa stamps to be read properly and so when the passport was revised in 1926 the background microprint was changed to brown with the ink incorporating a secret reagent, provided by the laboratories of MI5, which would react by staining the page if any attempt was made to wash out and alter the entries by chemical means.
Passport design needs to take into account improvements made in the performance of photographic equipment; improvements which, of course, are also available to the forger. Microprinting is still with us today but with the increasing power of magnification available to the layman which is provided by digital scanners, it is now called 'extra small print' (ESP) and is so small that it is impossible to read with the naked eye.
This is a Canadian passport of 1998. As you can see it belongs to that well known lady, Valerie Specimen. Yes, it's a specimen passport. Look at the dotted line at the top left which runs beneath the phrase 'regulations of countries to be visited'. It is not a dotted line. It is a line of ESP text repeating the word, 'Canada.' It is so small that it is difficult for me to magnify it sufficiently to demonstrate it to you. That typeface is approximately 1/10 mm high.
As a forger, even if you were able to obtain a crisp photographic image of that printing, which you can see is not that easy, would you have the financial resources and the connections to obtain the special machinery which can print at 10,000 dpi - dots per inch? A modern book is printed at 1200dpi. This slide is being projected at 72 dpi.
An important innovation in the photographic world which needed to be dealt with as a threat was the introduction of the commercial colour photocopier. Suddenly entire documents could be reproduced in a fairly good representation of their original colours. The solution was to incorporate into the passport colours and designs which would upset or fool the photocopier. Shades of pink and yellow appearing together are a good obstacle. I will not pretend to understand the science but apparently a colour photocopier can usually reproduce fairly accurately either the pink or the yellow but not the two together.
To confuse devices which use scanner technology, geometric patterns are printed in finely graduated grey lines set at certain angles to each other calculated so that when the original pattern is scanned it either dissolves into a blur or constructs a useful word such as 'forgery'.
Intricately constructed geometric designs have long been a favourite in passports because of the effort which is needed to imitate them. They are a confirmation of the maxim that you cannot stop a document from being forged but you can make it so expensive in time and effort that the criminal will turn his mind to a different activity. Overnight, the photocopier made these complex designs redundant. The solution was to print them by a process called 'intaglio printing' where the design is cut deeply into the printing plate so that the ink collects in its grooves. This allows such a quantity of ink to be transferred to the paper that it stands proud of the surface, giving the design a texture which can be felt. A forger using a photocopier on this Ghanaian passport of 1985 would have to first overcome the juxtapositions of the pink and yellow shades. He might be able to reproduce the fine geometric design in the border but when printed, it would be flat whereas it should have a discernible texture. Designs printed by the intaglio method are usually effected on the inside of the front cover where the stiffness of the board can support the extra weight of ink without damaging the definition. This position has the added advantage that an experienced passport checker can automatically rub his thumb over this design as he opens the passport and so check that it has the correct feel.
But there is often a covert safeguard built into these patterns. Cut diagonally across the design is a second grade of lines which are not apparent when looked at from the standard perspective. When viewed at an oblique angle an additional pattern appears, in this case spelling the word, 'Ghana.' This 'latent image' as it is called, is built in relief and thus cannot be reproduced by the flat image of a photocopier.
A useful safeguard is one which is not apparent to the forger but easily made obvious when verification is required. We are familiar today with the technique of using a special pen to mark one's postcode on belongings so that when lost of stolen they can be identified when the object is passed under an ultra-violet lamp which makes the otherwise invisible writing fluoresce.
In the 1930s, official sources noticed that the Russians were using invisible ink to make cryptic symbols on certain pages in the passports of their own agents. These markings became visible only when subjected to UV light. In the absence of an explanation one deduces that this was a method an agent would employ to prove his credentials. The equipment of the time was bulky and coated spectacles had to be worn to protect the eyes. Today, the miniaturisation of electronics has permitted the manufacture of unobtrusive, low voltage ultra-violet lamps. You see them on the counters in banks and building societies and you might notice them on the desks of passport checkers at the frontiers. What are they looking for?
The key to all detection made under ultra violet light is the presence or absence of fluorescence which is not apparent under normal or 'white light' as it is called. By the addition of certain chemicals, inks and paper can be made to appear brighter or conversely, to not fluoresce at all.
A Vietnamese passport of 2002. Note the use of pink and yellow together to confuse colour photocopiers. Even if you succeeded in copying this page, would you be able to reproduce the effect of the hair-like threads which were randomly spread throughout the paper during manufacture and which, along with the hidden geometrical designs, fluoresce brightly? Pages 16 & 17 of the Indonesian passport of 1984, like all its other pages, carry hidden designs only visible under UV light.
When at the turn of the twentieth century the passport began to evolve from a sheet into a booklet, an opportunity for further embellishment presented itself in the designs on the covers. These were often achieved by the process of gold blocking wherein the coat of arms was manufactured as a matrix in relief on a block of steel which was heated and then pressed onto the cover through a wafer of gold leaf.
The first British passport to have a cardboard cover was issued in February 1915 although it was still a single sheet of paper, not a booklet. Look at the detail on that royal coat of arms. That must have been a headache for forgers. And don't forget, this passport is 98 years old. And time rolls on. The demand for passports continues to increase. This was the operative at the printers De La Rue in 1956. He is gold blocking the rexine covers of passports for Malta prior to their binding. You can see there the roll of gold leaf which is fed under the blocking plate. But faster speeds were needed and this usually achieved at the expense of quality. These are the gold blocked designs on the British passport of 1915, 1970 and 1990. If I were a forger, I know which one I would prefer to have to copy. The gold blocking on the British passport of today is not as intricate as that of the passport of 1915.
The response from the forgers
What was the response from the forgers? Well, by the nineteenth century, the precautions which had been built in to make the passport secure: the wax seal, the watermark, the dry embossing, the intricate borders, engraved coats of arms, chromolithographic microprint, they were all largely untested since it was easier to misuse a genuinely issued passport than to bother trying to forge one. So in one respect one can say that security safeguards had worked. They had discouraged forgery since there was an easier way.
The assiduity of frontier controls varied from country to country. From the cursory perusal of the workbooks of these two travelling apprentices in the Austrian Tyrol, probably being checked as they enter a town gate, to the close inspection of British travellers by the French commissaire as they disembark from the packet boat at Dieppe, France. The standards were not uniform throughout Europe.
And if the checking of the passports sometimes appeared lackadaisical, the process of their issue was often no more rigorous. Proof of identity was very rarely demanded by the authorities and when it was presented, as there existed little bureaucratic infrastructure to support an identity checking system, it would consist of something as insubstantial as the applicant's visiting card.
On 14 January 1858, the Italian Count Felice Orsini tried to assassinate Napoleon III outside the Opera House in Paris. He was unsuccessful and was shortly arrested, tried and executed. He had entered France on a properly issued British passport. It had been properly issued to his English friend Thomas Allsop but as the British passport of the day bore no physical description of the holder at all, merely stating he was, "Thomas Allsop, a British Subject, travelling on the Continent" then it was quite simple for Orsini to take the passport and adopt the identity.
Even as late as 1933, it was possible to obtain a British passport without submitting proof of your place of birth. This aspect was exploited by William Joyce, who became famous during World War 2 on Radio Hamburg as the propagandist Lord Haw Haw. He claimed on his passport application form that he had been born in Ireland and was thus entitled to a British passport. No proof was submitted, his bank manager countersigned the application and Joyce was given his passport. Joyce was actually a native-born American, a citizen of New York and was never a British national.
Forgeries and Counterfeits.
As we are going to look at forgeries and counterfeits I must clarify those two terms. A forgery is an alteration to an originally correct document. A counterfeit is a completely manufactured imitation of the genuine. So, if I steal your passport and swap the photograph, that passport has been forged. If I buy some card and paper and make my own passport, then I have manufactured a counterfeit.
If we return to that golden maxim of producing a document that is too expensive to falsify, then it is clear that manufacturing a counterfeit is more costly in resources than forging an original. So why are passports sometimes counterfeited rather than forged? It depends largely upon the reason for the falsification. If, as a criminal middleman, you expect to encounter two or three people requiring a passport, then stealing a genuine document and forging it would be the most cost effective course. If you are targeting a large customer base, say, for example, Afghan refugees wishing to settle in Europe, then fulfilling their orders would be reliant upon the vagaries of the supply of stolen passports. It would be more efficient to obtain the materials in bulk and run off a large batch of counterfeits.
Such was the temptation a few decades ago when criminal groups focused upon the needs of those wishing to leave the Indian sub continent. On the left is the inside front cover of one of their counterfeit British blue passports, on the right, the genuine version. The counterfeiters have used both colour photocopying and litho printing. The mixture of pink and yellow on the genuine has fooled their colour photocopier into making a distinct vertical border whereas the genuine passport shows a graduated merging of the colours. They have also had problems with the register of the colours as they printed them. That is to say, the layers are not correctly aligned one on the other.
Making the passport from scratch meant that they had to somehow add the watermark to the pages. We saw earlier that this is created during the manufacturing stage of the paper. This is what they were aiming at. A frieze design of shamrock, thistle, rose and leek which appears on every visa page. Here we are seeing it by transmitted light, that is to say, with the light shining through the page in order to make the watermark visible.
This is the version they came up with. The design looks to have been executed rather crudely but under flat light it did convey the impression that there was a watermark in the paper. Only under transmitted light did it reveal its faults. Bizarrely, the counterfeiters have managed to convincingly imitate a watermark which does not exist in the genuine passport.
Much more common is the forgery made from one or more genuine passports. The forger has two main focuses for alteration: the pages containing the name and physical description of the holder, and the photograph. In order to print a new set of pages for the description they remove pages from the middle of a genuine passport, pages which will bear the correct microprint and watermark, and print them as the front pages. The forgery is on the left, the genuine on the right. You can see by comparison that the standard of printing on the forgery is atrocious, to our eyes, but, anybody who lived in the Far East in the 1960s and who ordered work from a local jobbing printer would have accepted work of that standard. It looks all right to them. Leaving aside the overall unevenness of the printing, the spelling mistakes such as "mauden name" instead of "maiden name" and the mixture of French and English in the line, "name du titulaire", there remains one glaring mistake. The visa pages which they took from the other passport, bore the title "VISAS" at the top and they have omitted to erase it.
Current passport practice groups the photograph and the personal details - the biometrics - on one very secure page, part of whose text can be read by a machine. The advantage is that the most expensive security safeguards can be concentrated in one place and do not have to be duplicated throughout the passport. The disadvantage is that a forger now only has to concentrate on one page. On the early version of the red British machine-readable passport, the biometrics page was part of the back cover. Incidentally, the reason that our passports are now printed sideways and open at the back is so that the page can be swiped through a machine reader.
In order to misuse this passport the forger chose to remove the original cover completely and manufacture a new one, complete with the chosen photograph and personal details. He has managed to lift and retain the original laminate and relay it over his counterfeit page but the tell-tale wrinkle in the plastic gives it away. Nevertheless this is a very creditable attempt. He has managed to find a very close match for the original typefaces which themselves are not available commercially and apart from the wrinkle in the laminate there is only one other obvious flaw. If you are going to forge a country's passport, make sure that you know how they spell their own nationality. "British" should not have two t's in the middle.
To discourage the replacement of photographs, from the early days the image would be tied in to the document by endorsing a wet ink stamp over both the page and the photograph so that the forger replacing the photo would have to reproduce on the new photo that portion of the stamp which had appeared on the original. This was not too difficult for a skilled artist. It was very much more difficult if our old friend, the blind embossing stamp, had pressed its intricate design through the photograph and the page.
The Foreign Office stamp we see on this British passport of the 1960's is not as large nor as impressive as that of the nineteenth century Saxon passport we saw earlier but it still gives a crisp impression. Here the forger has taken a tracing of that portion of the stamp to be copied, put the tracing on the back of the new photograph and then written over the outline with an empty ball point pen, thus embossing the design on the front of the photograph. Once again it is a good attempt although at a close inspection one can see that the two sections of the circle do not match up and the stamp lacks accuracy and detail. However, to an experienced passport checker there are two aspects to alert his attention before he begins a close inspection of the embossing stamp. Firstly the photograph is oversize. It is larger than the regulations allow. This is necessary to cover up the damage caused to the page when the original photograph was removed. Secondly, this man claims to be a UK resident on a UK issued passport and yet the photograph shows a man wearing a suit and tie of East European style, sitting at an angle to the camera. This is not the full-face pose of a British passport.
The laying of a clear adhesive laminate over a photograph to prevent its being removed introduced a new risk, as demonstrated in this Slovenian passport of 1992. The original photograph has been cut out through the laminate and removed. A second photograph has been inserted and a new layer of clear laminate laid on top. When the top layer is peeled back, the original layer is evident underneath.
To counteract this, special printed emblems were incorporated into the laminate but an unwelcome quality of the plastic layer became apparent once the dry embossing stamp had been impressed. It produced such a resilient impression in the laminate that once the forger had found a way of lifting this layer - a hairdryer sometimes sufficed - he was rewarded with a perfect impression which he could now lay back over the swapped photograph. The tell-tale indicator in a case such as this is the presence of minute air bubbles under the laminate around the dry embossing stamp impression.
The fraudulent substitution of a photograph can easily be indicated by factors not directly associated with security features. This is a French identity card issued in 1985. As you can see it has been well used, it is faded and abraded no doubt from the necessity of carrying it always on one's person. So why is the colour photograph so sparklingly sharp and undamaged? How has that escaped the deterioration which has affected the rest of the document? The fixing of the photograph is by means of hollow rivets and one can clearly see the rusty marks where they have stained that part of the card which they touch when it is folded closed. So why are the rivets shiny rather than rusty? Our suspicions aroused, we now examine the photograph. This style of rivet is not available commercially so a forger has to acquire some from another official document. You will note that the card was issued in the Dordogne d‚partement of France. I expect you know that the d‚partements of France are numbered alphabetically and the Dordogne is number 24. And yet the rivets are engraved "prefect - 93" declaring that they were used originally on an official document issued in the pr‚fecture of the d‚partement numbered 93, which is the Seine-St. Denis, a suburb of Paris.
We in the United Kingdom are unfamiliar with the facility of international travel as provided in Europe to holders of national identity cards. As far back at 1920, Belgium and Luxembourg agreed to accept each other's identity cards in lieu of passports. Using identity cards for travel provides one more document to falsify and is usually an easier target than a passport.
This is the watermark on a genuine French identity card of 1984. It represents the intertwined letters R and F for "R‚publique Fran‡aise", surrounded by a stylised garland. The document itself presented no particular problem to the counterfeiter - it is black printing on beige card.
This is a false i.d. card. The counterfeiter first made the cards and then, needing to add the watermark, he split the card, front from back. Using a template he painted on a watermark in a mixture of dilute white paint and brown ink. He then pasted the two sides of the card together again. One might say that it is easily detected by the sharp cut edges to the forgery and it appears crude but I have demonstrated this to you under the best possible conditions. It needs to be seen in the context of the time.
This was the passport control at the port of Folkestone when these cards were being used. You can see the equipment available to you, it is a wooden desk set astride the railway track and your forgery detection equipment is the daylight flooding in from the end of the shed. Eight hundred passengers are standing in front of you and one of them is using this identity card.
Forgeries only need to be good enough to pass the test of the time. The improving technology used by passport manufacturers and frontier control officers is eventually available to forgers. The trick is to try to keep at least one step ahead.
Everything I have shown you is accessible to the enquiring mind. I have betrayed no secrets. Security printing has three levels: level 1 is those checks that anybody can see, such as a watermark; level 2 is those that require further knowledge or equipment to become apparent, such as using ultra violet light; level 3 is those that only a select number of people are privy to and those are the ones I have not divulged.
In conclusion. Throughout the world governments are seeking to replace men with machines. In the search for the unforgeable passport they are spending vast resources and commissioning complex systems. Let me tell you now that the search is futile. If a man can make a passport, another can forge it. The latest British microchip-enabled passport has already been compromised. How was the forgery discovered? Not by the machines, they were fooled. It was detected by the human being who was handling the document. We are spending more and more money in our attempt to teach machines to do badly what a human can do so well. And with that sobering thought, ladies and gentlemen, I close my talk.
For the wider story go to: Martin Lloyd's book, "The Passport, the History of Man's Most Travelled Document, published by Queen Anne's Fan.
For current comment, go to his blog: firstname.lastname@example.org
For future talks, go to queenannesfan.com
© Martin Lloyd 2013
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