by Frank Holmes, reporter
If you are conservative, your Facebook posts have a much larger audience than you think: your friends, your family, and an unknown number of government agents.
Stunning congressional testimony has confirmed that the Biden administration has the Post Office spying on “right-wing leaning” social media accounts that post “inflammatory” material… and the program may not even be legal.
Yahoo News first broke the story of a secret surveillance program run by the U.S. Postal Service called the Internet Covert Operations Program, or “iCOP.”
Aside from its existence, details are scant — and the Biden administration hasn’t done anything to make matters clearer.
Documents made public by Yahoo showed that members of iCOP saved messages posted on conservative social media accounts—and fed a dossier with the information to other U.S. intelligence agencies.
iCOP “monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically,” the document said.
An accompanying picture showed that iCOP had been scrolling over people’s feeds in Parler, Facebook, and Telegram for information on the March 20th World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy.
Once lawmakers got wind of the program, they demanded answers — but they didn’t get them.
On Wednesday morning, Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale testified before the House Oversight Committee… but he didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know.
“The Chief Postal Inspector was wildly unprepared for this briefing,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., told The Daily Mail.
Instead, he talked in circles.[Sponsored] ATTN: How to Re-Grow Your Hair
“Mace’s office said Chief Postal Inspector Gary R. Barksdale both denied the social media monitoring program existed and said there was an executive overseeing it,” reported The Washington Times. “He also said the Postal Service would continue its surveillance, according to a readout of the meeting.”
Try to make sense of that.
Post Office officials said the program didn’t target individuals…but its 2019 annual report says it exists for the “disruption and dismantling of individuals and organizations that use the mail or USPS online tools to facilitate black market internet trade or other illegal activities.”
The program looks like another legally dubious program for the government to spy on U.S. citizens—especially conservatives.
“We got a good glimpse of abuse of power when Lois Lerner was running the IRS” under the Obama administration, said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. “This kind of seems like that.”
It’s not even clear the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has the legal right to do what it’s doing.
“I don’t think the…Postal Inspection Service has this authority. If they do, they should indicate what it is,” said David Greene of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The whole program is “a little bizarre,” according to Rachel Levinson-Waldman of the liberal Brennan Center for Justice.
While only “very minimal information” is available online, legally it seems that iCOP is supposed to “root out misuse of the postal system by online actors, which doesn’t seem to encompass what’s going on here.”
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said the program is supposed to monitor illegal activity that happens through the mail—but what does Parler have to do with the Post Office?
“It’s not at all clear why their mandate would include monitoring of social media that’s unrelated to use of the postal system,” said Levinson-Waldman. Spying on domestic criminals “should be the purview of the FBI,” not the Post Office.
Even if iCOP were authorized to perform open-source intelligence about threats, it raises red flags about government monitoring of peaceful protests protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
If the people iCOP are spying on are “simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns,” said Levinson-Waldman.
Comer said the Post Office expanded the program last year, because of “Democrats’ reckless rhetoric.”
Little Deadly Pill Killing Thousands [Sponsored]
But why is domestic spying happening through the Post Office?
“There is no need for the Post Office to do it. You’ve got FBI, Homeland Security, and so on, so I don’t know why the post office is doing this,” said University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, a former Obama associate.
He said he doesn’t think “the Postal Service has the degree of sophistication that you would want if you were dealing with national security issues.”
Or maybe that’s the point: “Amateurs” don’t know where to draw the line, so they’re looking for “domestic terrorists” bleeds over into spying on American citizens.
And they’ll be turning over all the information they have to their minders in the Biden-Harris administration.
Barksdale’s testimony this week didn’t shed any light on the matter—and the agency isn’t talking.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said it“does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”
In the Biden-Harris administration, transparency only works one way.
Frank Holmes is a veteran journalist and an outspoken conservative that talks about the news that was in his weekly article, “On The Holmes Front.”