How much screening does your mail get?

Posted at 5:40 AM, Oct 29, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — After 15 suspicious packages containing pipe bombs were mailed to prominent Democrats, a former president and media across the country by a serial bomb maker, now there are new questions being raised about why the packages made it through the post office system without being caught. 

The mail bombs never detonated, but how did the packages get dropped off, sorted and sent to places across the country without ever getting stopped for being suspicious? 

WRTV television station in Indiana dug into what happens to your mail after it goes into the system and found that most mail never goes through any type of security screening during its travel to you. 

In fact, the post office says many items never get screened at all.

The United States Post Office handles more than 500 million pieces of mail every single day. They say they simply deal with too much mail to screen every package individually. 

So, how does the post office keep us safe with so much stuff traveling through the system? 

The USPS Postal Inspectors say it has a specific program called the Dangerous Mail Investigations Program, which takes over when suspicious packages come through a facility.

Recognizing suspicious mail starts with post office employees, according to USPS’ Domestic Mail Manual. Each post office employee is specifically trained to notice packages that are out of place or look odd. 

They also have specialized technology in some facilities that sniffs out explosives or chemicals that are inside mail. 

The employees and technology don't catch everything, but the post office says they do catch suspicious items. 

USPS also says they rely on people also receiving the mail to be on the lookout for suspicious items.

According to USPS, the appearance of mail bombs may vary greatly, here are some characteristics that have repeatedly shown up:

  • Mail bombs may have excessive postage. Normally a bomber does not want to mail a parcel over the counter and have to deal face-to-face with a window clerk.
  • The return address may be fictitious or non-existent.
  • The postmark may show a different location than the return address.
  • Mail bombs may bear restricted endorsements, such as "Personal" or "Private." This is particularly important when the addressee does not usually receive personal mail at the office.
  • Mail bombs may display distorted handwriting, or the name and address may be prepared with homemade labels or cut-and-paste lettering.
  • Parcel bombs may be unprofessionally wrapped with several combinations of tape used to secure the package and may be endorsed "Fragile--Handle With Care" or "Rush--Do Not Delay."
  • Letter bombs may feel rigid or appear uneven or lopsided.
  • Package bombs may have an irregular shape, soft spots or bulges.
  • Mail bombs may have protruding wires, aluminum foil, or oil stains, and may emit a peculiar odor.

The post office says if you do receive something suspicious, don’t touch the package, leave the area and call 911.