Postal Inspection Service called ‘out of control’ over spying reports

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The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service is “completely out of control” and has prioritized surveilling Americans over safeguarding the mail, said Frank Albergo, president of the Postal Police Officers Association.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service allegedly spied on Americans’ social media accounts via an Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). In particular, iCOP analysts monitored “right-wing Parler and Telegram accounts” ahead of planned protests and observed users on Facebook and Twitter, according to a USPS bulletin first published by Yahoo News.

Intelligence gathered by postal inspectors, who operate independently from postal police, has not made its way to the postal police officers, Mr. Albergo said. He said postal police officers (PPO) like himself did not use the internet covert operations program and he did not know who at the Postal Service did.

“As far as I know, there’s never been a PPO that was deployed to protect postal facilities based on intelligence gleaned from iCOP,” Mr. Albergo said. “I mean, I don’t know what they could be using that for. To my eyes, it’s certainly not to protect the postal service.

“It’s a federal law enforcement agency that’s completely out of control, if you ask me.”

Congressional Republicans have sought information about what iCOP is doing but have received few answers. Chief Postal Inspector Gary R. Barksdale privately briefed lawmakers on the program last month. He said the agency expanded iCOP’s function last year as threats to Postal Service leadership, employees and facilities increased, according to Rep. James Comer, the top-ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

During the briefing, Postal Service officials did not tell lawmakers when the program started monitoring Americans’ social media posts or how much taxpayer money was being spent to do so, according to the office of Rep. Nancy Mace, South Carolina Republican, who attended.

Mr. Comer previously blamed “Democrats’ reckless rhetoric” for prompting the inspectors to pivot from their mission as part of law enforcement and turn toward surveilling Americans.

The division between postal inspectors and postal police resembles the separation between criminal detectives and patrol officers in other law enforcement agencies. Postal inspectors make arrests and execute search warrants, among other things, while postal police protect facilities.

As head of the postal police’s union, Mr. Albergo argued that the Postal Service made a decision in August to give inspectors more duties typically belonging to the police officers.

Mr. Albergo said the postal inspectors “think they’re the FBI sometimes” and are trying to take over the postal police’s jobs. He pointed to a 2009 review of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s work by Giuliani Security & Safety, a consultancy run by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, that said the postal inspection service viewed itself as a “premier federal law enforcement agency” instead of as an organization of the Postal Service.

“We still patrol from station to station, satellite stations, and in between those stations, if we see a postal employee being assaulted, or we see mail being robbed, we are not to get involved. That is actual USPIS policy: Do not get involved,” Mr. Albergo said. “So we can’t even stop mail theft in progress. We can’t stop a letter carrier from being assaulted. We literally have to call 9-1-1 and just drive by.”

The postal police union sued the postal service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in federal court last year over their decision to lessen the police’s reach, and a judge ruled that the Postal Service was lawfully able to restrict postal police officers’ jurisdiction.

The Postal Service did not respond to requests for comment.

Outrage over the Postal Service’s covert operations program led 10 Republican lawmakers to propose the “USPIS Surveillance Protection Act,” which would defund the program to bring it to an end.

Democrats have been largely silent on the postal inspectors’ actions since the covert operations program became public. Mr. Albergo, however, said he spoke last week with the office of House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat.

Ms. Maloney’s office has not answered The Washington Times’ questions about whether the committee was investigating the U.S. Postal Inspection Service

Mr. Albergo said Congress appeared interested in mail-theft and internal disputes between postal inspectors and postal police officers.

Still, he said he wants to know why inspectors have the “freedom to do whatever the hell they want” while the police are sidelined.

“It’s just funny. The best part of iCOP is covert is in the acronym, right? And then they broadcast it in their annual report,” he said. “It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”

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