Study: Millions of Packages Enter U.S. Without Screening

Packages move along a conveyor belt at the U.S. Post Office sort center on December 18, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The U.S. Postal Service will process and mail over one billion cards, letters and packages during the 2014 holiday season. (Photo by )
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Millions of packages shipped into the country through national post offices aren’t being screened by U.S. Customs. Packages sent through private carriers, including FedEx and UPS, are screened, but the failure of the Postal Service and other international public-sector postal services to screen packages presents an unparalleled security risk at a time of heightened terrorist activity.

“This lack of scrutiny is an open invitation to bad actors to send illegal goods into the U.S.,” Peter Allgeier, President of the Coalition for International Services says.

Packages entering the country with private carriers are subject to an electronic screening process called, “Air Cargo Advanced Screening.” The electronic process is used by Customs and Border Patrol and the TSA to identify high-risk shipments.

The study, performed by Copenhagen Economics, a European consultancy, tracked more than 200 shipments into the U.S. from 10 foreign countries. It found that, while the private carriers complied with the electronic screening requirements in 98 percent of the cases, none of the packages sent through public-sector postal services were reported.

The results of the study provide an ominous picture of the overall shipments of packages into the U.S.

“In 2014, at least 170 million flats and small packages were shipped through postal operators worldwide into the U.S. and then to their final destination through the U.S. Postal Service,” said Bruno Basalisco, Senior Economist at Copenhagen Economics:

Items worth over $200 are by U.S. law, subject to duty, and the number of package shipments will continue growing as the rise of e-commerce endures; yet our study found that none of the international postal shipments surveyed submitted any electronic data detailing the items being sent.The lack of intelligence about postal packages crossing over America’s borders seems to represent a real security and public income protection risk.

At the end of October, federal agents intercepted packages from China delivered to a private mail box in Miami which contained illegal drugs. A recent three-part series in the Miami Herald documented the increasing use of international mail services to traffic illegal narcotics.

The investigation into the drug bust in Miami is still ongoing, so it isn’t known whether the shipment being sent to a private mail box made the interception possible. Surely, though, that fact that packages shipped through the US Postal Service aren’t part of any electronic screening process presents a tempting avenue of distribution for illegal drugs or other contraband.

The recent crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt amplifies these concerns. The current theory about the crash is that it was the result of a bomb planted on the airplane, mostly likely be someone working on the inside. This nightmare scenario of terrorists utilizing a person or person outside the normal security procedures renders moot most of our anti-terrorist activities.

All the security measures in the world are worthless if the back door is proverbially left open.

The failure of the U.S. Postal Service and other international postal services to adequately screen overseas packages provides an express lane for the distribution of contraband.