Protect Yourself From Possible Mail Bomb: Put It Down And Walk Away -Then Call The Cops
We do it every day: We retrieve our mail, excited to see what has made its way across the country or the world just for us.
But pipe bombs arriving in manila envelopes at the offices of iconic public figures are making many nervous about what could happen when they open their mailboxes.
Authorities have intercepted at least 10 suspicious packages across the U.S. this week, including from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office in Sunrise. At least some of the packages were distributed through the U.S. mail. Federal authorities on Thursday were investigating whether some of the packages were mailed from South Florida.
There still is much that remains unanswered about the devices. Fortunately, officials say even an untrained eye can determine if a package could pose potential harm.
How much screening is done before my mail arrives?
Packages coming from abroad go through the most extensive screening, said John Cohen, a Rutgers professor and former undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security. He said they are checked, using X-ray machines or sniffing dogs, for explosives and biochemical substances.
The Postal Service does not have the capacity to do the same screenings for the 170 billion pieces that come through each year. But the Postal Service is able to log images of mail that comes into its system, and investigators are searching those images to figure out where the suspicious packages were sent from and to nab whoever sent them, the New York Times reported Thursday.
The Postal Service wouldn’t elaborate about the tactics used, other than to say it uses a combination of “specialized technology, screening protocols and employee training” to identify suspect parcels.
“Any reports of suspicious mailings are taken very seriously, as they may impact the safety of postal employees and disrupt the processing of mail,” the service’s Office of Public Affairs said in an email.
Screenings got more aggressive after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
A week after the attacks, media companies and congressional offices began receiving anonymous letters that contained anthrax, a bacterial disease. Five people died, including a photo editor at AMI in Boca Raton, publisher of the National Enquirer and other tabloids. The suspect, an Army biodefense expert, died by suicide in 2008.
After these chemical attacks, the postal service installed detection systems to check mail for chemical substances that could instigate a biological attack. Today, the service reports it has performed 7 million tests but has not found any of these chemicals in the mail.
One level of mail that gets a guaranteed screening is mail that goes on airplanes, such as Priority Mail. These envelopes and parcels fall under Transportation Security Administration regulations and would be screened for explosives, said Marc Lamberty, air cargo program manager at MSA Security and a retired bomb technician with the Connecticut State Police.
It’s unclear how this week’s suspicious packages were mailed. While the Postal Service intercepted some of the packages in this week’s scare, the developments underscored the limitations of the screening technology in use, said Phil Nater, a former longtime postal inspector in New York.
“There’s a lot of human activity involved before mail actually goes through a screening device or system,” Nater said. “It’s gotten a lot better, but it’s not impossible to bypass.”
The high cost of screening every parcel also limits the security measures taken by private couriers.
The United Parcel Service “has security measures in place, but we do not disclose those methods to maintain their effectiveness,” said Matthew O’Connor, senior manager for public relations at UPS. A FedEx spokesman declined to comment.
What recipients should look for
The crude pipe bombs sent this week shared some commonalities. They were packed in envelopes with bubble-wrap interiors bearing six American flag stamps and the return address of Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
The items were packaged in manila envelopes and addressed to prominent critics of President Donald Trump. Some were discovered in mail processing facilities. Officials said the devices are being examined by technicians at the FBI’s forensic lab in Quantico, Va.
The packages had suspicious features, including excessive postage, homemade labels and high-profile addressees. “These devices are the poster children of what a suspicious package looks like,” said Fred Burton, a former counterterrorism agent with the State Department.
Cohen said that anyone receiving mail should be alert to certain characteristics on a package:
— Excessive postage. Mail bombers want to make sure their packages arrive. They don’t go to a postal service counter for fear of being caught, so they tend to stick on extra stamps and place their parcels in public mail drops.
— Manila envelopes with pre-printed labels. Mail bombers know their handwriting could be identified, so they print labels, often with spelling mistakes. Cut-and-paste letters or distorted handwriting are also used to avoid detection.
— The bomber could add warnings such as “Fragile,” “Handle with care,” or “Rush, do not delay” to encourage interest by the receiver.
— Other unusual signs: too much tape, stains, odors, protruding wires, a lopsided package or a package the receiver was not expecting.
What to do if you see something questionable
Don’t touch the package, or if you have already handled it, put it down and walk away.
Then call the police.
The postal inspection service says not to be concerned about bothering law enforcement with a false alarm: “Don’t worry about possible embarrassment if the item turns out to be innocent.”
Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.
This article is written by Lois K. Solomon from Sun Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.