What the...? Why Is the US Postal Service Running a Covert Ops Program Monitoring Social Media?

(AP Photo/Josh Replogle)

This cannot be a good idea in the hands of the people known for ‘going postal’.

In an exclusive story from Yahoo News it has been discovered that the agency known for stealing Netflix DVDs in bulk, and had numerous stories of election ballots being dumped in ditches has formed its own stealth monitoring division. The surprising thing is this is not seemingly mail-related in any fashion, as it has given itself the task in monitoring the social media activities of citizens.

If this sounds ominous and disturbing, just wait. The investigative arm of the USPS, the United States Postal Inspection Service, has established a division with a disturbing mission, and an unsettling name to go with it — they have called it the Internet Covert Operations Program. The USPIS-iCOP (an appropriately nefarious acronym) is seeking out organized groups possibly scheduling gatherings, or worse activities, and then sharing these details with various federal agencies. 

Some civil liberties experts weighed in on this news, and they seem to be uniform in both their concern and confusion over this agency. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues,” says one that was interviewed. Another agreed, saying, “This seems a little bizarre. 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. It’s not at all clear why their mandate would include monitoring of social media that’s unrelated to use of the postal system.”

Snow-covered U.S. Postal Service vehicles sit idle, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, in Marlborough, Mass. New England and portions of New York state awoke Monday to a fresh blanket of snow as a s

 

These are approaches from a neutral position. But looking at some of the language from the document that Yahoo came into possession of, it appears that there is something of a myopic focus by this new branch of the Inspection Service. As one description of their work, from the bulletin that was obtained, reads: “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.”

The Yahoo report goes on to say, ‘’Individuals mentioned by name include one alleged Proud Boy and several others whose identifying details were included but whose posts did not appear to contain anything threatening.’’ So it is appearing that there is a focus on right-wing extremist groups. There is no mention of Antifa, nor any Black Lives Matter organized events, despite the glaring evidence of municipal violence we have seen over the past few weeks.

This new agency is looking into postings that could be deemed as ‘’inflammatory’’, and then report on those to various agencies. This is a loose definition, and in the months following the Capitol riot note how freely the media has been tossing around accusatory labels on language and individuals based on the ever-loosening definition of what is threatening language. We have seen journalists decry comments made to them on social media as an ‘’attack’’; if they are redefining these parameters it is more disturbing to see a new government entity looking into this matter.

That it is the US Postal Service doing so is bothersome, and that they appear to be uniquely focused on only one side of the political spectrum is disturbing. Maybe if they first get mail delivery figured out, then possibly undertaking new initiatives could then be explored?