By Mike Baker Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers moved Tuesday to block the Central Intelligence Agency from utilizing a Washington state program that has issued hundreds of fake driver’s licenses to government agencies.
A measure approved by the state House would give legislative approval to the program — but only for undercover law enforcement officers. Rep. Judy Clibborn said the bill protects investigators while also making the program more accountable.
“We wanted it to be for law enforcement only,” said Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. She said nobody from the CIA has contacted her to express concern about the change.
The program within the Department of Licensing has been operating in relative secrecy for years, without legislative approval. The Kitsap Sun reported Monday that the CIA, which is focused on intelligence gathering and not law enforcement, has been utilizing the program most often, getting 288 fake IDs in recent years. Other state, local and federal agencies have also been issued fake driver’s licenses.
Under the bill, the Department of Licensing would have to provide more detail to lawmakers about how the program is used.
Rep. Jason Overstreet wasn’t satisfied that the measure gives the program sufficient safeguards. He said the state Department of Licensing had failed to turn over sufficient information about how the program currently operates.
“While I’m a big fan of trusting, I’m a bigger fan of verifying,” said Overstreet, R-Lynden. The measure passed 88-8 and now returns to the Senate.
In response to a public records request, the Department of Licensing last month showed the Kitsap Sun and public radio’s Northwest News Network a list of agencies issued confidential licenses since 2007. The CIA topped the list with 288, followed by the Defense Department with 198, the newspaper reported Monday.
But, when the department released the list Friday by email, it lumped together all federal law enforcement agencies without naming them, saying that’s classified.
“A lot of information that was compiled should not have been discussed,” DOL spokesman Brad Benfield said, citing a nondisclosure agreement some DOL employees signed with the U.S. government.
“We simply can’t talk about it anymore without further putting ourselves in legal jeopardy,” Benfield said Monday.
The category of all federal law enforcement agencies accounted for 595 licenses, or 53 percent of the 1,121 issued.
The CIA refused to comment to the Kitsap Sun. The Defense Department would “not characterize or otherwise discuss our participation in this program,” said a spokesman, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service does use a few confidential licenses for undercover purposes,” said NCIS spokesman Ed Buice. “Beyond that it would be counterproductive for us to comment in any greater detail.”