The Postal Service is in the process of educating employees on recognizing suspicious packages and training them on the protocols to follow after one is identified, as the mailing agency’s law enforcement arm is playing a key role in the investigation of a series of mail bombs discovered in recent days.
USPS’ Postal Inspection Service has helped screen and identify at least some of the seven packages sent to Democratic lawmakers and officials, as well as at least one media organization and actor Robert DeNiro. Under its Dangerous Mail Investigations Programs, the inspection service responds whenever a mailing may cause harm to postal employees. All of the packages were sent in similar manila envelopes with six “forever” stamps, demonstrating they were sent through the Postal Service.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is working closely with our law enforcement partners on this investigation,” the agency said in a statement. It added that through its dangerous mail program it has “organized response teams nationwide for investigating suspicious parcels.”
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Inspectors are trained to recognize “common characteristics” of suspicious mail and to deploy “state-of-the-art” equipment, such as 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,” the agency said. “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.”
The inspection service would not comment on any specifics of the current mail bomb probe, noting that any details on its procedures and operational protocols could compromise its methods.
The FBI is leading the investigation, but said it would work with its partners at the Postal Service, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and state and local law enforcement agencies to “identify and arrest the person or people responsible for sending these packages.”
“This investigation is of the highest priority for the FBI,” said Christopher Wray, the bureau’s director. “We have committed the full strength of the FBI’s resources and, together with our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, we will continue to work to identify and arrest whoever is responsible for sending these packages.”
At a press conference in New York City, FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney said the bureau is working is "shoulder-to-shoulder" with PIS and its other law enforcement partners. The FBI has sent the packages to Quantico, Virginia, for analysis.
When the mail bombs first came to light Wednesday, the Postal Service quickly began working to offer employees safety tips though nationwide “stand up” talks. Those verbal messages help postal management distribute information to employees who do not typically report to an office environment with access to email. The talks include advisories that employees always exercise caution when coming across a suspicious package, and to pay special attention to the shape, look, address and packaging of parcels they are sorting. Packages that are lopsided, have stains or discoloration, a strange odor, misspelled word or excessive tape or postage should raise alarms, according to USPS. Employees should evacuate the immediate area of such a package, call 911 and alert their supervisors and the Postal Inspection Service.
"There are longstanding established safety and security protocols for handling suspicious mail and packages and we are currently reminding employees of those protocols and providing them with other resources that are available to them," said Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman. "In addition, we are also sharing specific information about this particular situation."
The agency immediately began discussing the situation with the American Postal Workers Union, as required by its collective bargaining agreement.
“Our members are rightfully deeply concerned for their own well being and that of the public we serve,” APWU said. The union added its leadership is in “constant touch” with postal management. “We urge all our members to be alert and vigilant to protect your safety and well-being and that of your co-workers and the public.”
Nathan Catura, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, praised those involved in the investigation for their "bravery and commitment."
“That none of the packages have thus far had their intended, violent goal is a testament to the effectiveness and necessity of our federal law enforcement agencies,” Catura said. “Moreover, the perpetrator behind this week’s attacks can rest assured that every step will be taken to ensure he or she is quickly brought to justice.”
This story has been updated with additional comment.