Graham Tibbetts of the UK Telegraph is reporting that the British Foreign Office has admitted to losing around 3,000 passports and visa stickers, which were stolen on their way from Manchester to RAF Northolt in London, where they were to be sent to British embassies. From the article:
Officials claimed the chip technology incorporated in the passports would prevent them being used.
But fraud experts said they could be easily cloned and sold on the black market.
Apparently the driver of a vehicle being used to transport the passports had stopped to buy a "newspaper and chocolate bar, leaving a deliveryman in the vehicle." At this point, robbers jumped into the van and attacked the man inside. The vehicle was stolen and later abandoned, with the deliveryman still on board. From the article:
When he felt it was safe the worker, who suffered minor head and shoulder injuries, got out of the van and found that 24 cardboard boxes had been taken.
He told police he did not know how many raiders were involved because he was forced to keep his head down. One witness said they saw two robbers jump in the van.
DCI Bill McGreavy of Greater Manchester Police said the passports would have been worth £2.5 million on the blackmarket.
On who's to blame, the article goes on:
Passports are usually transported by the Home Office, which has a policy of using secure armoured vehicles.
But because the papers were to be sent overseas they were the responsibility of the Foreign Office.
A spokesman at the FCO said they had launched an "urgent investigation" into security arrangements.
"We can confirm that a van was hijacked while en route from a production site in Manchester," she said. "It contained 24 parcels of [blank] passports and visa vignettes.
"Both the passports and the vignettes have security features to prevent them being used.
"This is the first incident of its kind and we are carrying out an immediate review of security.
"We have a contract with a security firm. Drivers are not allowed to make unauthorised stops."
The spokesman added that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), part of the Home Office, had taken "further measures" to prevent the documents being used.
The article describes the security features of passports, or lack thereof, and interviews noted security research Adam Laurie on the subject:
The passports were the new electronic variety which contain a chip replicating the data printed on the document itself. They include personal details and a facial image of the holder.
However, analysts said they were easy to clone.
Adam Laurie, an independent consultant, said: "One of the problems with the passports is that there are no security features to stop their cloning. If you've got a genuine passport, dropping in a replacement chip is trivial."
He advised taking the official claims on their usability "with a massive pinch of salt".
It will be interesting to see if this was a targeted attack, or simply an attack of opportunity.