Arnold Ahlert / April 26, 2021

Going Postal for the Surveillance State

Why is the U.S. Postal Service tracking and collecting data on Americans on social media?

Just when millions of Americans might be wondering how much more extensive our surveillance state can become, they get an answer, courtesy of Yahoo News:

“The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.”

One suspects that most Americans would be surprised to learn that an agency tasked with delivering mail even has an enforcement arm. But apparently it does. And the public is being subjected to wholly unwarranted scrutiny:

“The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as ‘inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.

”‘Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,’ says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as ‘law enforcement sensitive’ and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. ‘Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.’“

That "inflammatory postings” are protected by the First Amendment is apparently irrelevant. And while groups like “right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts,” along with the group called Proud Boys, are mentioned in terms of that surveillance, there were no references to either antifa or Black Lives Matter, despite seven months of rioting by them last year.

Rioting that precipitated nearly $2 billion in property damage in cities across the country and 18 deaths. (And that’s not counting the general increase in murders due to the resulting war on cops.)

Moreover, defining who’s “inflammatory” might be somewhat suspect at a time when Capitol building rioters are labeled “insurrectionists” (despite the FBI recovering no weapons), when the military is ordered to stand down for 60 day to find “extremists” in its ranks, and when NBA superstar LeBron James has suffered no consequences whatsoever despite tweeting “YOU’RE NEXT” to threaten a police officer.

There was one high-profile incident involving the “law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service.” Last August 15, armed members of New York’s United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) showed up in Florida at the house of war hero and triple amputee Brian Kolfage to arrest him for alleged fraud charges related to the “We Build the Wall” project that raised funds to privately build a portion of wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The agents seized information from his computer, including a list of the millions of individuals, most of whom were likely conservative, who donated to the project.

Yet whether the agency is specifically targeting conservatives is beside the point. Why is the USPS engaged in spying on anyone, at any time, regardless of political affiliation?

“It’s a mystery,” said University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama to review the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection following the Edward Snowden leaks. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.”

Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, was equally perplexed. “Based on the very minimal information that’s available online, it appears that [iCOP] is meant to root out misuse of the postal system by online actors, which doesn’t seem to encompass what’s going on here,” she stated. “It’s not at all clear why their mandate would include monitoring of social media that’s unrelated to use of the postal system.”

“If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI,” she added. “If they’re simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns.”

The Biden administration’s “concern” for the Constitution might have been best expressed by UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who insisted the “original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents and principles” in an appearance at the National Action Network (NAN), an activist organization founded by racial arsonist Al Sharpton.

The USPS provided a general statement addressing these revelations:

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service. As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.

"The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information. Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

Does the word “redundant” come to mind? When the Russian collusion hoax was unfolding during the Trump administration, Americans learned (or were reminded) the federal government has 17 separate intel agencies, all operating in secrecy. Are we now up to 18 — courtesy of an agency that can’t even deliver mail on a [timely basis](https://www.kjrh.com/news/local-news/1-month-of-shipping-delays-usps-asks-for-patience-as-christmas-mail-products-arrive-late, and that has run multi-year operating deficits to the point where it has accumulated $160 billion of debt?

“I just don’t think the Postal Service has the degree of sophistication that you would want if you were dealing with national security issues of this sort,” professor Stone added. “That part is puzzling. There are so many other federal agencies that could do this, I don’t understand why the post office would be doing it.”

The answer is as simple as it is infuriating: Because it can. And because a feckless Congress that hides behind barbed wire and National Guard troops in Washington, DC, allows it to happen.

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