(CNN) — “He has pulled a hand-grenade pin, and he is ready to blow up the aircraft if he has to. We must, I repeat, we must land at Beirut.” The hijacking of TWA Flight 847 on June 14, 1985, sent the world reeling.
Like millions of others, Donna Walker, a former travel agent from Houston, Texas, watched as the scenes played out on rolling news coverage. As she did, Walker realized it was finally Time to act on an idea she’d had a few years back.
“It’s not counterfeit; it’s camouflage”
Alain Nogues/Sygma/Getty Images
“It’s not counterfeit; it’s camouflage,” Walker insisted. And apparently, the State Department had no beef with US citizens carrying the passports, either.
180 fictional passports
For one thing, Walker said she’d already sold around 350 camouflage passports in 1987 — many to US government officials. Look at the European Commission’s list of 180 “fictional” keys, and you’ll find a host of the camouflage variety, featuring Dutch Guiana, Eastern Samoa, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Gilbert Islands, and many more. The UK’s HM Passport Office published a similar (now archived) list, confirming camouflage passports were at the least “occasionally encountered.” Jeffrey A. Schoenblum’s 2008 book “Multistate and Multinational Estate Planning” suggests that following the fall of the Berlin Wall, some German businesspeople — wary of the reception they’d receive in other countries — carried camouflage passports to “avoid unpleasantness… in certain parts of Europe with long memories.” There’s also a story claiming a group of European oil executives used camouflage passports during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to reach the safety of Jordan. Finding anything watertight, though, isn’t easy. A US State Department official tells CNN Travel: “We do not track any statistics on the attempted usage of camouflage and fantasy passports.” HM Passport Office is similarly guarded: “We don’t issue camouflage passports, so would not be able to provide comment.” One reason evidence is so thin on the ground, suggests Topol, is that where camouflage passports have worked, it hasn’t been reported for the safety and security of the individual in question.
Camouflage passports today
So what became of the camouflage passport — are they still in circulation now? As late as 2007, Barney Brantingham of the Santa Barbara Independent claimed camouflage passports kits — complete with a counterfeit driver’s license or other ID — could be sourced on the internet for $400 to $1,000. Fast forward 14 years, and finding them isn’t so straightforward. There are no International Documents Services anymore, no bona fide-looking website openly selling camouflage passports.