Here's a troubling detail from the news of the Malaysia Airlines crash:
BEIJING — Malaysian officials investigating the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane Saturday said they were not ruling out terrorism — or any other causes — as reports emerged that two Europeans listed on the passenger manifest were not aboard and may have had their passports stolen.
According to the airline, other passengers on the flight included 38 Malaysians, five Indians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, four French, two Ukranians, two Canadians and two New Zealanders. There were also a Russian, an Italian, a Dutch and an Austrian aboard, the airline said.
However, shortly after the list was published on the airline’s website, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported that Luigi Maraldi, 37, who was listed on the manifest, was in fact not on the plane (link in Italian). The agency said he had phoned his family to say he was alive and well in Thailand.
Austria’s APA news agency made a similar report about an Austrian citizen listed on the passenger manifest, Christian Kozel, 30 (link in German). APA reported his passport was stolen about two years ago in Thailand.
So apparently two passengers were travelinng with stolen passports, which is unsettling. However, what is missing is a baseline. The use of these stolen passports was discovered because the passenger list is under a microscope and receiving worldwide attention. It may well be that all sorts of underworld types travel all over Asia and the world every day on stolen passports with no one the wiser and no planes going down. Put another way, had this plane simply landed safely would anyone have noticed that a passport stolen two years ago had been used by one of the passengers?
The stolen passports absolutely might have been used by terrorists; planes don't crash every day, so suspecting terrorism is not unreasonable. But I don't think that based on this coverage we have nearly enough information to judge how common the use of stolen passports in international travel might actually be.