New law aims to stop dangerous items from being sent through the mail

Legal loophole soon to close, will slow drug flow

DETROIT (WXYZ) - From bombs being sent through the mail, to shipments of deadly illegal drugs – mail screening is now under scrutiny.

Those bombs, sent through the mail earlier this month to prominent Democrats around the country, has many of us wondering – how often is our mail actually screened?

The answer is not that often because the post office handles more than 500 million pieces of mail each day.

In addition to preventing bombs, the federal government is now trying to crack down on the foreign drug shipments. Federal agents say local drug dealers are getting their fentanyl from China.

“They’re purchasing fentanyl on the dark web," said Mike Furgason, supervisor for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). "They’re purchasing it via the internet.”

Also, drug traffickers are no longer smuggling in drugs across the borders, they’re shipping it directly through the U.S. Postal Service.

“These are weapons of mass destruction,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "Over 70,000 Americans died last year.”  

Ridge supports a new law called the STOP Act, which would require foreign senders to register packages before they are shipped to the U.S. 

Private shippers – like FedEx and UPS – are already doing that, but the U.S. Postal Service does not require foreign package registration.

“It’s a loophole that has to be closed,” Ridge said. “Drug traffickers shouldn’t be able to access it so easily.”

More than 1.3 million foreign packages arrive at the U.S. Postal Service sorting centers each day thanks to the growth in online shopping, but only a tiny fraction is ever inspected.

Both houses of Congress have already passed the STOP Act bill, which was signed into law in late October. 

The U.S. Postal Service said in a statement that the agency supports the STOP Act’s goal and “is committed to working with our Congressional and Administration colleagues to ensure the nation’s mail security.”

However, in order to make the new law work, foreign countries will also have to sign on to agreements with the U.S. 

“And if they choose not to sign it and not to provide that advance security data, then we can have all those packages gather dust in some warehouse,” Ridge said.

Dawn Golden knows firsthand the cost of the opiate epidemic. Just weeks before graduation, her 17-year-old daughter Katie died from a drug overdose, which was believed to be a cocktail of heroin and fentanyl.

“It doesn’t go away,” Golden said. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare – to lose a child.”

Golden says nothing can bring Katie back, but she says the new law could prevent more deaths.

“I want something good to come out of this,” Golden said. “I feel like that’s my job.”

As for the mail bombs, U.S. Postal Inspector Wylie Christopher released this statement to the 7 Investigators:

“The U.S. Postal Service has developed a comprehensive approach to protecting the mail system by utilizing a targeted strategy of specialized technology, screening protocols and employee training. The Postal Inspection Service has organized response teams nationwide for investigating suspicious parcels through our Dangerous Mail Investigations (DMI) Program. DMI Inspectors are trained to recognize the common characteristics of suspicious mail and are highly proficient in the use of state-of-the-art equipment to include portable X-ray machines.

Any reports of suspicious mailings are taken very seriously, as they may impact the safety of postal employees and disrupt the processing of mail. We strive to provide a safe and secure mail system, preserve the integrity of the mail, and, most importantly, ensure a safe environment for postal employees, Postal Service customers, and the American public. In order to prevent attempts to compromise the effectiveness of our investigative methods, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not comment publicly on our investigative procedures and operational protocols.”

USPS officials also say they rely on people also receiving the mail to be on the lookout for suspicious items.

According to USPS, the appearance of mail bombs may vary greatly. Here are some characteristics that have repeatedly shown up:

  • Mail bombs may have excessive postage. Normally a bomber does not want to mail a parcel over the counter and have to deal face-to-face with a window clerk.
  • The return address may be fictitious or non-existent.
  • The postmark may show a different location than the return address.
  • Mail bombs may bear restricted endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Private." This is particularly important when the addressee does not usually receive personal mail at the office.
  • Mail bombs may display distorted handwriting, or the name and address may be prepared with homemade labels or cut-and-paste lettering.
  • Parcel bombs may be unprofessionally wrapped with several combinations of tape used to secure the package and may be endorsed "Fragile--Handle With Care" or "Rush--Do Not Delay."
  • Letter bombs may feel rigid or appear uneven or lopsided.
  • Package bombs may have an irregular shape, soft spots or bulges.
  • Mail bombs may have protruding wires, aluminum foil, or oil stains, and may emit a peculiar odor.

The post office says if you do receive something suspicious, don’t touch the package, leave the area and call 911. 

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