Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Papieren, bitte.

For those of us who enjoy our foreign travel with a side of surveillance; the U.S. Department of State is proposing to require a completed Form DS-5513, "Biographical Questionnaire for U.S. Passport" be included with a U.S. passport (now required for travel to Canada and Mexico, let's recall).Information required by this form includes;

Mother's residence one year before birth
Mother's residence at time of birth
Mother's residence one year after birth
Mother's name and address of employer at time of birth, and dates of employment
Mother's pre-natal care, including name of hospital, doctor, and dates of appointments.
Document mother used to enter country before birth (if any)
Circumstances of birth including names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses
Religious or institutional recording of birth (e.g. baptism, circumcision)
All addresses from birth to present
All current and former employment, including name of employer and supervisor, address, and phone number
All schools attended, address, and dates of attendance.

And lest you're tempted to leave out that flop you crashed at between June and August your sophomore year in college, there's this little reminder: "Failure to provide the information requested on this form may result in denial of a United States passport, related documents, or service to the individual seeking such passport, documents, or service"

I rather liked it better in the original German......or Russian.

And the other thing that occurred to me as I was reading the ridiculously exhaustive list of things I needed to know about my mother (her employer's name?) was that if I was baffled by many of them certainly some State Department office pogue would be even MORE baffled.

Our congresscritters are whining and squealing about how we don't have enough money to help people who are sick, or injured, how we can't afford to pay people the pensions they earned, or keep the streets repaired or the park toilets clean.

Where the fuck are we going to find the cash to pay the State Department to check on all this goddamn trivia?


  1. Wow...my mother's residence prior to my birth no longer exists, along with residence at birth no longer exists, and after my birth no longer exists.
    And the company she worked for...no longer around, and the hospital, no longer in existence.
    though the circumstances of my birth were pretty much set...she got pregnant while in the Marines, and I was her ticket out.
    Other than that, I'm pretty much fucked.

  2. "Don't say it in Russian, don't say it in German, say it in . . . "


    Btw, your re-enactor seems to be part of SSTK?

  3. Sheerah: me, too. I realized when I came across this that I would have only three options; 1) be honest ("6/87-9/87, flopped at my girlfriend's crib somewhere in West Chester, PA, but fuck if I can remember the address now") and hope they don't fuck me, 2) omit a bunch of stuff and hope they don't have the ability to find out so long as I didn't get paid, have my name on the lease, or get mail there, or 3) lie and make stuff up and hope the same thing as #2.

    seydlitz: Isn't he a hoot? He's some sort of Japanese WW2 reenactor. I love the idea of one resident of the former Axis portraying another. What, you couldn't have been an Imperial Army MP?

  4. Why would anyone ever want to travel outside of our wonderful country?

  5. Here's a copy of the actual document:


    some of the questions are only required in certain circumstance and this is is a proposed change that was open for public comment until two days ago.

    It seems really over the top to me and requires things that I've never had to give for my TS security clearance.

  6. Chief,
    If you can't remember the shack job address, i wonder if you remember her name?
    Let me guess-Shotzie.

  7. Apologies for being totally off-topic but I'd like your response to this story. Mine is WTF? Especially around Petraeus.


  8. Another morbid symptom. Does a nation with a faltering economy *really* need to make it more difficult for it's citizens to visit foreign markets?

    What will happen is that passport research companies will spring up, the equivalent of H&R Block for doing the public-records research needed to get a passport, and they'll cater to the wealthy and to corporations who need to send their employees overseas (like mine, God help me).

    Meanwhile the citizenry just rolls it's eyes and shakes it's collective head, and our government loses a little more legitimacy out of sheer stupidity.

  9. In other news, the Pentagon sees the road before us (apologies for the long quote):

    On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: "A National Strategic Narrative." The report was issued under the pseudonym of "Mr. Y," a takeoff on George Kennan's 1946 "Long Telegram" from Moscow (published under the name "X" the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.

    The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a "personal" capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

    The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

    Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

    "By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans -- the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow -- we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America's youth."

    The Y Article

  10. And to address the topic of this post, again from the above article:

    And yet with globalization, we seem to have developed a strange apprehension about the efficacy of our ability to apply the innovation and hard work necessary to successfully compete in a complex security and economic environment. Further, we have misunderstood interdependence as a weakness rather than recognizing it as a strength. The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility -- and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion. Credibility requires engagement, strength, and reliability -- imaginatively applied through the national tools of development, diplomacy, and defense.

  11. "The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility -- and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion."

    Well said.

  12. The oddest thing is that I have come to conclude that this is a "political" response to the whole nonsense of the birthers, whom, I am sure of are quite unaware of the causality effect.
    because in truth, for most of us, this form doesn't apply, and by most of us, I mean those of us who were born in a hospital with an effective staff who handled documentation well enough to pass muster.
    But for those born in a shack in W. Virginia, to ignorant parents, and wanting to bail the "Deliverance" set to go out and do something different than watching grass grow, or chipping at black rock...it has now become all that more difficult.
    As I wrote to the group my opinion of said work of art,
    "Having reviewed the questions I am shocked and surprised to see such a level of intrusion into the personal history of individuals that usually one would expect for a security clearance rather than a passport."

    But, as it is becoming quite clear to me that this is actually a political issue, it seems to me that by making it an political issue, the government is using politics to solve the problem.
    And as much as I enjoy an immense sense of schadenfreude in regards to the Birthers and this.../ahem..."fix"...I also feel that there are times when idiots should be denied the end result they're working to get...for their own good, as well as our collective insanity.

    Really, it comes down to this...I have no fear that I would be caught up in this Law of Unintended Consquences; but just because I'm safe doesn't mean I should just stand by and watch the people who brought this on themselves get hit by the bus they want to get hit by.
    It's kind of wrong in my opinion.

  13. Pluto: Weirdly, I think the Panetta/Petraeus article sort of ties in with this.

    Panetta is a wheeler-dealer inside the Beltway. Whilst he's been praised for his CIA time (why? Has our intel gotten that much better during his tenure?) he has no experience at war management. And Petraeus is even more peculiar. He's a brilliant "political general" but I have seen nothing to suggest that he has a particularly good grasp of intel (in fact, his "arm everyone and see what happens" approach to arms distribution in Mosul suggests that his appreciation for good intel isn't exactly aces) or any gift for leading intel officers.

    Instead we have another piece of Beltway kabuki, just like this goofy form. A lot of sound and fury that will probably cost a pantsload but have no operational benefits, a sort of $500 hammer richly symbolic of the bloat and incestuousness of the U.S. government circa 2011.

    As Andy points out, I held a Top Secret clearance whilst on active service (silly, I know, but a) this was the 80's before we got sane about clearances - although I've bet things are now back to where they were - and b) my ambulance had a radio with a "Vinson" (pre-SINGCARS channel-hopping COMSEC device for you fractious youths out there) and I needed a TS clearance to operate the Vinson and the CEOI that went with it) and I never had to provide this level of detail. It's ridiculous, it will provide an enormous noise-to-signal ratio assuming that DoS does anything but roundfile the fucker, and if they don't it will cost the heavens and the earth even if they outsource the thing to EGrise's private biographical research companies.

    I'm not sure if this is a reaction to the birthers. I think it's just another pseudopod of the national security state amoeba. When governments get into the information-gathering business about their citizens it's often difficult to draw a stop line. I think that someone at State got a wild hair about Evil Terrists getting them a U.S. passport and figured that this data stripmine would help sort out the sheep from the goats.

    Instead I think it'll just be a goatfuck. But YMMV.

  14. Sheer

    I doubt this is response to the "Birthers". As one who lives overseas permanently and has traveled the world as a private citizen (great benefit of being married to an airline manager), it points to how little we (As in the US) understand about proper identification and the purpose of a passport.

    Up until 9/11, personal ID in the US was a recognized joke - worldwide. Where virtually every civilized nation issues identity cards, the closest we had was a driver license, and as was quickly shown, that proves very little. So, we create the absolute nut roll of the "Real ID" program to make it a bit harder to get a driver license or the equivalent non-license state ID. However, that is not valid for travel outside the US, so what is the default document, at the federal level, to serve as a proxy for a national ID?

    Since we have no mandatory national (or state, for that matter) ID program covering all citizens, we have to fall back on a municipal, hospital or religious document to start the ID documentation process, typically no sooner that 16 years of age.

    Lastly, we have become so obsessed with "terrorism", we are probably trying to use the Passport application process as a screening device, rather than it simply being a form of identification tailored to document international travel and eligibility for same.

    We are just "playing" at being an industrialized nation, and the loss of credibility, both at home and abroad, should come as no surprise. Kinda like kids playing “Cowboys and Indians”, except the kids are probably more true to reality.

  15. Sheer,

    I don't know for sure, but I think this is probably related to the recent cases of Somali Americans traveling to Somalia to become suicide bombers.

  16. Andy-

    How would the tortuous passport application form address such a situation? For someone to travel outside the US, they would have to do it using a passport. One cannot just disappear from the US easily, unless one swims out to an AQ submarine or takes a private boat to Cuba. I could fill pages with the ludicrous questions US Border Security has asked because their computer shows my entering the US taking place over a year after leaving the last time. I now simply say, with a gentle voice and engaging smile, in response to the question, "Where have you been for the last xx months", that I was ,"Home."

    My take is that this is an attempt to make a US passport something it was never intended to be. A passport is 1) Identification of the individual and his/her citizenship 2) a record of travel 3) a validation by the issuing country that the person is free to travel outside its borders 4) A record of deportations, and other bars to entry into specified countries other than the issuing country.

    Certain factors can preclude a person being issued a passport. I doubt the mother's info and job info meet that criteria. If the person is guilty of or pending trial for an offense that precludes passport issuance, that is a matter of public record. Why not simply require a police records clearance? I had to get one to present to the Greek authorities to immigrate here.

    I am convinced that we (as in Americans in general, and American bureaucrats in particular) believe that we can actually pick the fly turds out of ground black pepper, and that engaging in that approach is the key to success.

  17. P.S.-

    The passport is not the only thing that might be being used for other than it's original intended purpose. The use of Social Security Numbers as a proxy identification number is another case, and as we see with identity theft, that perversion of original intent has made identity theft a major industry.

    Similarly the business of requiring the states to modify driver licenses to be a proxy national ID is ludicrous.

    We need to get over our fear of a national ID program. Kinder, gentler nations than the US do it. They are not the sole province of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and other oppressive states. We need to stop making policy decisions based on WWII movies and start being rational.

    BTW, one of these days I'll have to share the story of the wife and I on the train from Leningrad to Helsinki during the Soviet era. The train stopped in a clearing in the woods just short of the border, and uniformed KGB troops appeared from the treeline and boarded the train to check everyone's papers. The wife's passport was almost 10 years old, and the lamination on the picture was failing, resulting in accusations of an altered passport. Was right out of a WWII movie, but fortunately had a happy ending. Too long for now.

  18. I'll buy your arguments, Al, except for the weird selectiveness of the questions. Why the mother and not the father? Why so much interest in her residence? Pre-natal care? The suite of questions seems odd, if the notion is to make the passport into a sort of left-handed national identity card (and doesn't something like 70% of the U.S. public lack one?)

    My guess is that this is a horse designed by a committee. The counter terrorism cadre wants X, Y, and Z questions to try and catch out Yemenis flying off to Osama World. The public health folks want C, D, and E to try and get some stats on prenatal care. Another group wanted this, a fourth wanted that.

    And nobody at any point had the sense or the authority to halt the process and ask "What the hell do we want this to be? To do? And who's going to analyze this data, how, and for what? And where's the funding going to come from?"

    ISTM that the U.S. has become very accomplished at just throwing money at things without much, or much effective, analysis. That's fine, when you're a huge, rich country. But as we've been discussing around here lately, I think that over the next twenty years the U.S. is going to find to it's surprise and displeasure that its not as rich and powerful as it thinks it is. It is going to have to think smarter, smaller, more targeted. And this form suggests to me that we're going to have a hell of a hard time doing that.

  19. I've been doing some more research on this and it appears that this extra form will be required for people with inadequate citizenship documentation. Here's the official justification for the form:


    So based on that and based on what the form asks for, it looks like it's going to primarily hit first and possibly second gen immigrants and anyone who can't produce an official birth certificate. The document above estimates that about 74k people a year will be required to fill it out. I looked it up and there are about 15-16 million passport applications a year, so this would hit 1/2 of 1% of applicants if the estimate is correct.

    So, based on that, it doesn't look to me like an attempt to backdoor a national ID system, but to improve the security of the US passport.

  20. Chief:

    Panetta was a numbers cruncher budget guy as a congresscritter; possibly useful if Obama wants to cut some horseshit out of the mil budget.

    Petraeus at the CIA (should he choose to accept that mission..this tape will self destruct..Blah Blah),gets sidelined where he can do no harm. When a political employee gets appointed to the CIA, the number two man runs the show on a daily basis. Petraeus could use his contacts in Wogland as a useful tool for networking's sake. This only if any foreign entity took him seriously in the first place. The upside is he will still be useful for employment by Globo world Corporatism as a friendly faced yes man. Beats being promoted to the dead letter office of the Chairman of the JCS.

  21. "So based on that and based on what the form asks for, it looks like it's going to primarily hit first and possibly second gen immigrants and anyone who can't produce an official birth certificate."

    Hmm...that's not what the supporting statement says. It states that Passport Specialists and Consular Officers shall use the form "to further establish the identity and/or citizenship of a passport applicant who has not submitted adequate evidence with his/her passport application." The statement does not define what constitutes "adequate evidence" and does not. The simple assumption would be that this form will be used when the applicant lacks a certified copy of a birth certificate. If so, the simple solution would be to specify that as the predicate for employment of this form, so you don't get paranoid sonsofbitches like me getting all 1984 on your ass. If State was really flustered (and the estimate of 74,000 makes one wonder, again, about the cost-benefit of this entire process) then there could be some sort of language allowing the use of the 5513 "where a valid/certified copy birth certificate is unavailable, or in particular circumstances of lack of or questionable identity/citizenship documentation as certified by [certifying authority here]."

    A brief search of the Net yields - no surprise here - a flush of paranoia similar to mine, only (and I blush here) largely from birthers and Teatards convinced that this is more Big Brotherism from the Kenyan Usurper.

    fasteddiez; Good analysis. I'll bet you've pegged that deal. Interesting to see how it works out...

  22. Just a FYI, here's a link to the current rules for establishing US citizenship in order to obtain a passport:


  23. EGrise: "What will happen is that passport research companies will spring up, the equivalent of H&R Block for doing the public-records research needed to get a passport, and they'll cater to the wealthy and to corporations who need to send their employees overseas (like mine, God help me)."

    It is already there. Contractors have been doing security investigations for military personnel and for defense contractor personnel for many decades now. It started out as a few individuals who had retired from CID or the Naval or Air Force equivalents. They were hired to help out in the tens of thousands of backed up security clearances that were waiting to investigations before adjudication. But now it is big time corporate business. I am sure that Blackwater (oops I mean Xe Inc) and their ilk are in it up to their eyeteeth.

  24. Thanks, Andy. Makes a bit of sense if they are simply addressing unregistered births. I still think it's about time the US addressed the ID problem and created a National ID that allows cross border travel, at least to Canada and Mexico, if not the Caribbean as well. It makes no sense to require people who live along those borders to have to get a passport to travel to friends, family and/or shops. Works just fine in the EU. Would also provide significant reason for non-hospital births to be registered ASAP. We have this penchant for over-engineering simple tasks or making mountains out of mole hills.

    I am willing to bet that our inability to decide what to do about "Illegals" costs us more than we can determine. They are a "desired" part of the gray economy, but we still don't want to admit that.