United States Postal Service inspectors have reportedly been monitoring gun owners and Conservatives in the U.S., according to heavily redacted reports obtained by the Cato Institute.
The records, obtained by senior Cato Institute fellow Patrick Eddington, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request detailed the postal inspectors’ spying from September 2020 through April 2021, including through covert social media surveillance called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP).
The inspectors had tracked the actions of gun rights activists as well as several Conservatives groups.
“The Post Office has no business devoting a cent of taxpayer money to monitoring groups involved in the political process. Those officials who authorized or otherwise participated in this iCOP program who are still on the federal payroll should be fired and the program terminated,” Eddington stated in an interview with AmmoLand News.
One of the files released by the FOIA request showed that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service tracked “peaceful armed protests” by Virginians demonstrating at a Second Amendment rally for “Lobby Day” in Richmond on Jan. 18, 2021.
This file stated that “The gathering lasted approximately two hours, with members identifying themselves as affiliates of the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois and Last Sons of Liberty. Counter-protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement also attended. With heavy law enforcement presence, the demonstrations stayed peaceful in nature.”
“This smacks of a politically-based anti-gun agenda. If that’s not the case, then the Postal Service is pretty inept if they think a VCDL rally needs to be monitored for any reason,” VCDL president, Philip Van Cleave, said to AmmoLand News.
“If they had done even the tiniest amount of research, they would have realized that VCDL had a rally with over 50,000 people the year before with zero problems, and we left Richmond cleaner than it was before our rally. In fact, VCDL has always coordinated its rallies with the police to ensure that the gun-control crowd doesn’t start any trouble. In what alternate universe would VCDL in any way be a threat to the postal service or its employees?” Van Cleave said.
Other gun rights activist groups were also alarmed by this revelation. Erich Pratt, Senior Vice President of Gun Owners of America said, “Prior to the Virginia lobby day in 2021, the U.S. Postal Service was tracking gun owners who, we now know, were 100 percent law-abiding and committed no crimes at the event. This just shows the anti-gun animus at USPS. After all, did the agency track the Antifa rioters who tore apart city after city during 2020-21? Or did the Postmaster General track the thugs who burnt St. John’s Church, when the Secret Service had to whisk away the President to safety? Ignoring the real criminal element just shows that anti-gun Leftist bureaucrats are ignoring the ‘elephant in the room’ in order to persecute and harass their political opponents.”
Several other files from the FOIA request showed that the USPS had tracked Conservative activists, noting that the “Million MAGA March” on November 14, 2020 could cause traffic delays in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC.
Other files also showed that the Postal Service had assessed that the deplatforming of the Parler app has weakened Conservative activists’ ability to coordinate protests that were planned for Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day.
Several Postal inspectors compared these protests to the January 6th protests.
When asked about their surveillance, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service released a statement which said, “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure.”
Earlier this year during a March audit, the Postal Service agreed to conduct a full review of the analytics team, create a new name for the iCOP program before a targeted deadline of Sept. 30, 2022, and would ensure its inspectors’ online surveillance activities were legally authorized.
The inspector general for the Postal Service said that the postal inspectors’ surveillance overstepped law enforcement authority and may not have had legal approval.
“We determined that certain proactive searches iCOP conducted using an open-source intelligence tool from February to April 2021 exceeded the Postal Inspection Service’s law enforcement authority. Furthermore, we could not corroborate whether other work analysts completed from October 2018 through June 2021 was legally authorized.”
The findings were disputed by the USPS inspectors, and they believe they had acted within the law. The Postal Service inspector general’s investigation was a response to a request from Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Eddington stated that he wants Congress’ oversight committees to investigate further and said that he is appealing for the Postal Service to lift the redactions on the records regarding the details of its spying on Americans.
He noted that the Postal Service kept a March 2021 bulletin largely censored, but Yahoo News already had published it without redactions. It showed postal inspectors examining “Right-wing Parler and Telegram accounts” ahead of planned protests.
Eddington also warned that people should not assume the Postal Service is the only federal agency snooping on their social media accounts.
This news comes almost two months after the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago residence. The revelation that the Postal Service is also spying on many Americans will likely lead to more Americans, especially those who are more Conservative, to further distrust the government.