WASHINGTON—After receiving a briefing from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) regarding the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) chastised Democrats for their rhetoric about USPS, which has led to increased threats against the Postmaster General. Comer and several Republicans demanded a briefing from USPS regarding iCOP after recent reporting revealed the program was being used to surveil American citizens’ internet and social media use, directing analysts to look for inflammatory online postings and to then share them with other government agencies.
“Democrats started the dangerous rhetoric surrounding USPS with their postal conspiracy theory last year, and now every time they demonize Postmaster General DeJoy in the public sphere they add more fuel to it. Chief Postal Inspector Barksdale today explained iCOP originated to help protect the American people from the movement of illegal firearms and opioids through the mail, but USPS expanded it last year as threats against USPS leadership, employees, and facilities began to increase,” said Ranking Member Comer. “Democrats made USPS political and have smeared a public servant who was selected by a bipartisan board. Though questions remain about the expansion of the iCOP program, it’s clear Democrats’ reckless rhetoric has led to increased danger to postal property and individuals forcing the postal inspectors to divert from their main mission as a law enforcement entity.”
Summary: On Wednesday, April 29, 2021, USPS Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale briefed several members of Congress regarding the iCOP program. This briefing was requested on April 22, 2021 after Yahoo! News reported about the existence of iCOP being used to surveil American citizens’ internet and social media use. The reporting stated that analysts were to look for inflammatory online postings and share them with other government agencies.
During the briefing, Inspector Barksdale told the lawmakers iCOP originated in 2017 with the intention of detecting the movement of opioids and illegal firearms through the mail. In May or June of 2020, however, the program also started to be used to detect threats against USPS leadership, employees, and facilities due to increased public discourse by certain elected officials. iCOP analysts began looking at open-source information on the internet specific to these threats and shared the information with law enforcement partners. Inspector Barksdale indicated threats increase against Postmaster General DeJoy when news about him increases.
USPS indicated they are no longer using bulletins. No audits of iCOP have occurred to date, but USPS is looking at governance issues.
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Author: Amy Hasenberg