Jul 04 2013

Today in Government Spying on YOU!

U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement

By RON NIXON, The New York Times

Published: July 3, 2013

Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: A handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

“Show all mail to supv” – supervisor – “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States – about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

The mail covers program, used to monitor Mr. Pickering, is more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool. At the request of law enforcement officials, postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Actually opening the mail requires a warrant.) The information is sent to whatever law enforcement agency asked for it. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.

The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers. Highly secret, it seeped into public view last month when the F.B.I. cited it in its investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It enables the Postal Service to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.

“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, who started a computer crimes unit in the criminal division’s fraud section of the Justice Department and worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

Completa en Español

Shorter report in English

Diversion of Bolivian Plane Angers Latin American Leaders


Published: July 3, 2013

Latin American leaders immediately called for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations, which was expected to take place on Thursday. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, said the episode had “vestiges of a colonialism that we thought was completely overcome,” adding that it was a humiliating act that affected all of South America. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador said in a post on Twitter that the situation was “EXTREMELY serious” and called it an “affront to all America,” referring to Latin America.

“Yesterday was one of the most shameful pages in the political history of some countries in Europe,” Mr. García Linera said in La Paz on Wednesday.

For many in the region, the episode was a throwback to the colonial era, when European countries held sway over a weak Latin America. Many also blamed the United States, insisting that the Obama administration had instructed its European allies to stop Mr. Morales’s plane on the suspicion that it carried Mr. Snowden, who is wanted on charges of violating espionage laws for divulging secrets about American surveillance programs.

“At the moment there is nothing we can do but wait for permission for a flyover,” said Mr. Morales, speaking through a translator. “Spain is now consulting with the U.S.A. whether the plane can fly over Spanish airspace.” The president, his staff and four pilots were forced to spend the night in the airport’s V.I.P. area. Mr. Morales referred to his unscheduled stop in Vienna as “being held hostage.”

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