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Ex-Presidents’ Mail: Secret Service Gets First Look

Oct. 24, 2018, 8:02 PM

Secret Service agents are known to put their lives at risk most days, but handling mail isn’t often thought of as potentially life-threatening.

Mail sent to former presidents isn’t just dropped off at their houses. That is especially relevant when suspicious packages enter into the picture, according to a group that represents law enforcement officers.

“All of the protectees’ mail goes to off-site locations for screening,” and the Secret Service’s “technical security folks handle it” from there, Pat O’Carroll, executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told Bloomberg Law Oct. 24. The Washington-based FLEOA represents the interests of federal law enforcement officers.

The Secret Service announced Oct. 24 that it had uncovered “suspicious packages” mailed to the homes of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Westchester County, N.Y., and former President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. Attempted deliveries of other suspicious packages also were reportedly made to financier George Soros, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), and media outlets.

“The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such. Both packages were intercepted prior to being delivered to their intended location,” the Secret Service said in a statement about the Oct. 24 incidents.

The service didn’t immediately respond to requests for further comment.

Suspicious Package Procedures

Packages delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and other delivery services get a lot more scrutiny from the Secret Service once they’re dropped off at the off-site locations, O’Carroll said.

Agents who perform these jobs get extensive training both within and outside of the Secret Service on how to deal with packages that contain harmful chemicals, “biological devices,” and explosives, he said.

The USPS also has its own procedures. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigates suspicious packages through its Dangerous Mail Investigations program, the agency said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law.

“DMI Inspectors are trained to recognize the common characteristics of suspicious mail and are highly proficient in the use of state-of-the-art equipment to include portable X-ray machines. Any reports of suspicious mailings are taken very seriously, as they may impact the safety of postal employees and disrupt the processing of mail,” the USPIS said.

Investigating the Packages

A wide variety of law enforcement agencies will investigate the incidents, according to Richard Frankel, who was special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark Field Office until he retired from the agency in January 2016.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York is the largest such task force in the country, Frankel told Bloomberg Law.

More than 50 law enforcement agencies participate in the task force, including the New York Police Department and a variety of agencies from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he said.

The task force also works with federal intelligence agencies such as the CIA, Frankel said.

“There’s no guarantee that this was a domestic incident,” Frankel said. The explosive devices “could have been made overseas and brought into the U.S.,” he said.

‘Protection Is Protection’

Protecting former presidents isn’t necessarily the first thing that jumps into people’s minds when they think about the lives of the roughly 1,200 agents employed by the Secret Service, O’Carroll said.

The agents’ role in protecting the current president generally takes precedence in the public imagination, he said.

“Nobody in grade school thinks about protecting former presidents. However, protection is protection. It is a high priority of the Secret Service,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Simon Nadel at snadel@bloomberglaw.com

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