In Full Disclosure #21 information was provided on ``mail covers'' where 
information on the outside of mail is recorded and provided to law 
enforcement and/or intelligence agencies. That article prompted questions by 
readers about when the post office might actually open mail and examine its 
contents. This article will explore an actual case where mail was opened and 
overview the postal procedure for mail openings in drug related cases. 

Full Disclosure was able to obtain copies of documents filed in the federal 
court in Chicago, Illinois on February 2, 1990 that provide the following 
description of the mail opening program:

``The Chicago Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has implemented 
an Express Mail Profile program at the Air Mail Facility (AMF) at Chicago 
O'Hare International Airport This program consists of a physical profile of 
Express Mail parcels which have been mailed to or from locations within the 
Northern District of Illinois. Targets were cities and/or areas of the United 
States which have been identified by law enforcement as being source areas 
for the distribution of narcotics, and/or controlled substances.''

The package in this particular case had a return address in Evanston, 
Illinois, delivery address in Chicago (the same name on both), and a post 
mark in San Francisco. However, another case that was reviewed showed the 
return address and postmark to correspond. The physical appearance in both 
cases were rather generic (according to the descriptions offered in the court 

W. Earnst Hills of the Postal Inspection Service in Chicago said in an 
interview that this program was not ongoing but rather goes into effect 
whenever they get information from other agencies that indicate a suspicious 
package is on the way. For example, if a DEA agent observes a suspected drug 
dealer mail a package, the description of that package would be passed on and 
packages fitting that description would be selected for further review.

Hills' description of the program was that the Postal Inspection service 
would receive a tip from another agency that a suspicious package was on the 
way. They would then be looking for it at the O'Hare Air Mail Facility.

``One of the things we look for is fictitious return addresses'' said Hills. 
He didn't think there was a problem with it taking too much time to do this 
type of checking.

After packages have been selected by their physical description, they are 
subjected to drug sniffing dogs or machines. The dog test consists of several 
similar packages being put in separate nylon sacks and if the dog bites and 
scratches at the nylon sack with the suspect parcel, a search warrant is 

Hills indicated that the mail is not significantly delayed. Since most mail 
arrives very early in the morning they have plenty of time to examine it 
prior to the necessary delivery time later in the day. He also said that they 
will get a magistrate up in the middle of the night to issue a search warrant.

Upon receipt of the search warrant, the package is opened and inspected for 
contraband. Hills said that normally, the package will then be sealed back up 
and delivered by a postal inspector who will arrest the recipient after they 
accept the package.

What if a warrant is issued and the package does not contain contraband? 
Hills was unsure, stating that as far as he knew they had a ``100% success 
rate'' on finding contraband in parcels opened pursuant to a search warrant. 
However, he offered to find out what the procedure would be if the package 
didn't contain contraband.

Hills findings were that there has been ``no incident like that in Chicago.'' 
However, when it has happened in other locations that have put a copy of the 
search warrant in the package and had it delivered normally. Hills cautioned, 
however that it wasn't necessary standard procedure to do that, only that it 
had been done in some cases.

The above is reprinted from Full Disclosure Newspaper. Subscribe today and 
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