Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is still intent on messing with our U.S. Postal Service (USPS), permanently slowing down delivery of the mail, and undermining the one thing the agency is supposed to do: that whole “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” thing. What USPS has prioritized, however, is its covert operation—entitled Internet Covert Operations Program (subtle, huh)—revealed last month by Yahoo News.
Investigative reporter Jana Winter followed up that report this week with new disclosures, including that the “the program is much broader in scope than previously known and includes analysts who assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software.” It uses the controversial facial recognition technology Clearview AI to spy on Americans’ images scraped from social media posts.
The analysts searching social media posts use software called Nfusion, which lets users create and maintain untraceable and anonymous accounts on various social media sites. This allows them “to help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals,” according to materials that Yahoo News has reviewed.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service appears to be putting significant resources into covert monitoring of social media and the creation and use of undercover accounts,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Liberty & National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice. “If these efforts are directed toward surveilling lawful protesters, the public and Congress need to know why this is happening, under what authority and subject to what kinds of oversight and protections.”
Clearview AI has been credibly accused of attempting to skirt domestic privacy regulations in its service to American law enforcement agencies by opening subsidiaries in Panama and Singapore.
The Postal Inspection Service doesn’t see the problem, to say the least. “This review of publicly available open source information, including news reports and social media, is one piece of a comprehensive security and threat analysis, and the information obtained is the same information anyone can access as a private citizen,” a spokesperson told Yahoo News. “News report and social media listening activity helps protect the 644,000 men and women who work for the Postal Service by ensuring they are able to avoid potentially volatile situations while working to process and deliver the nation’s mail every day.”
But as Postal Police Officers Association (PPOA) national President Frank Albergo told Daily Kos last month, the actual protection of USPS employees doesn’t seem to be that high a priority.
Last year, DeJoy ordered the uniformed police force of the Postal Service to stop patrolling. The order was to “end all mail-protection and other law-enforcement activity away from the confines of postal real estate,” according to a complaint filed by the PPOA. Albergo sees that “as the first step to abolish the postal police force in its entirety.” He said that “in the absence of PPOs, all USPIS law enforcement functions will be performed by the predominantly white Postal Inspectors—at twice the cost. In other words, the Postal Service intends to replace lower paid Black and Brown employees with higher paid white employees.”
“It seems that the Inspection Service trusts its predominantly white criminal investigators with law enforcement authority which is ostensibly unbounded, but the opposite is true for the predominantly Black and Brown postal police officers,” Albergo told Daily Kos. “I would argue that PPOs are one of the most successful police forces in America insofar as respecting the rights of citizens. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the Agency. Our officers are the wrong color. It’s disgraceful.”
Respecting the rights of citizens seems not to be the top priority of DeJoy’s Postal Service. Neither does delivering the mail. Take this truly horrendous example: It lost the remains of a Holocaust survivor. Eugenie Yuspeh, on of the oldest survivors of the Holocaust, died at 97 in late April in Milwaukie. She was cremated on May 3, and on May 4 her son entrusted her remains to the USPS—the only delivery service that can legally ship cremated human remains. They were to be sent overnight to New Orleans, where the family was holding her funeral. Finally, on May 15—after the intervention of news outlets and members of Congress and postal service officials—the remains were delivered.
As of now, it doesn’t look like getting rid of DeJoy is the priority of the board of governors of the Postal Service, even with the new members appointed by President Biden now on board. Both the House and the Senate have introduced legislation to shore up the USPS’ finances.
That’s a start to restoring it, but it’s not enough. DeJoy’s plan to slow the mail has to be stopped. In fact, DeJoy has to be stopped. He needs to be fired.