Amid increased security measures in various realms of life aimed at combating terrorism and other threats, some in the U.S. intelligence community are advocating for major updates to the postal service.
The call to action coincides with a marked increase in the number of packages containing illegal drugs.
“Our post office needs to enter the 21st century,” warned former U.S. Department of Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem.
Even as the U.S. Postal Service makes efforts to flag suspicious packages, its task is becoming increasingly difficult due to the skyrocketing number of total deliveries tied to the record-high use of online retailers like Amazon.
Former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Derek Maltz noted that with half a billion international packages traveling through the mail last year, existing security measures are woefully inadequate.
“Everybody is using the internet to shop,” he said. “There are not enough resources at the borders to intercept packages.”
Drug transporters seem to be exploiting that weakness by simply mailing drugs — including potentially deadly opioids like Fentanyl — to their intended recipients.
As The Atlantic reported last month, technological improvements have further compounded the problem. A Senate investigation recently found through a basic web search that international fentanyl brokers were both numerous online and receptive to requests from within the U.S.
The postal service maintains that it is making headway against those who have used the mail for illicit purposes, according to the Clarion Ledger. Officials pointed to exponential increases in seized packages over the past fiscal year as evidence of its strides.
As spokesperson Enola C. Rice explained, the agency “is deeply concerned about America’s opioid crisis and has been working aggressively with law enforcement and key trading partners to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States.”
Nevertheless, Maltz warned that the advancements in security thus far are no match for shifting methods and a relentless flow of packages to monitor.
“We don’t have enough experts on how the bad guys are moving their commodities and money,” he said.
Kayyem agreed that the postal service is hamstrung by policies put in place when America looked much different. Private-market competitors like FedEx and UPS, for example, now require data the U.S. Postal Service does not.
“The market is going to find the loophole, and this is the loophole,” Kayyem said, noting that even if narcotics are found in the mail, there is currently no way to trace the package back to its sender.
The effort to close this loophole has already been met with bipartisan support, both with the recommendation of the Trump administration’s opioid commission and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has been among those fighting on Capitol Hill for security improvements within the U.S. Postal Service.
“They get hundreds of thousands of packages they know nothing about until the packages show up at the sorting centers,” he said.
Thompson, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, said it is common knowledge that many of these dangerous drugs originate in China.
“But we don’t have the capacity to really enforce it because we don’t have the electronic system in place that we can send manifest information ahead of time,” he said.
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