US State Department visa system disrupted by virus

FRAMINGHAM (09/24/2003) - WASHINGTON -- A computer virus yesterday disabled the U.S. State Department system used to screen visa applicants overseas for criminal histories and links to terrorism, a department official confirmed this morning.

The virus, identified in early reports as the "Welchia" virus, stalled the operations of the department's Consular Lookout and Support System, known as CLASS, which contains nearly 15 million records on known or suspected terrorists and other criminals.

The CLASS name-checking system is designed to make it difficult for a visa applicant to hide relevant information about criminal histories or terrorist links from State Department consular officers. Complex algorithms are used to provide uniform and consistent translations of names in non-Roman alphabets, and the system displays a wide range of potential name matches that a consular officer must review before issuing a visa.

Other documentation is necessary too, including a passport, job letters and other data that the consulates can cross-check.

Mary Swan, a State Department spokeswoman, said the department is still investigating the incident and will provide more details about what happened later today.

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