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U.S. Postal Service Caught Spying on Americans in “Covert” Operation

“Seriously, what is going on here?”

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An internal government bulletin obtained by Yahoo News this week revealed that the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service is monitoring social media posts as part of a surveillance operation known as iCOP, a secretive program that sparked alarm among rights groups and civil liberties advocates.

The sensitive bulletin concerns the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s (USPIS) recent surveillance of Facebook, Parler, and Telegram posts related to the March 20 World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy, anti-coronavirus lockdown and anti-vaccine demonstrations organized by far-right groups.

“The federal government’s sprawling and clandestine surveillance apparatus manifests in a new way,” tweeted progressive activist Jordan Uhl. “These breaches of civil liberties largely go unchecked because, again, it targets right-wingers on Parler, but ultimately threaten everyone in the long run.”

Jana Winter of Yahoo News reported that the USPIS surveillance effort “involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as ‘inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.”

Winter wrote on Twitter that USPIS would not answer questions about when the social media monitoring program began.

“Footnotes in the bulletin citing their authority say the attorney general can give more powers to the postmaster general,” Winter noted, “but [the Justice Department] wouldn’t tell me when that was either.”

The current postmaster general is Louis DeJoy, a GOP megadonor who remains under fire for implementing operational changes that dramatically slowed mail delivery across the country.

USPIS broadly describes its mission as enforcing “federal statutes related to crimes that involve the postal system, its employees, and its customers” and includes in its scope a range of illegal activities, from mail fraud to child exploitation. As Common Dreams previously reported, advocacy organizations have grown increasingly worried in recent years about the expanding reach of the Postal Service’s sprawling mail monitoring program.

In a statement to Yahoo News on Wednesday, the agency said that “in order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said USPIS surveillance of social media posts “seems a little bizarre.”

“Based on the very minimal information that’s available online, it appears that [iCOP] is meant to root out misuse of the postal system by online actors, which doesn’t seem to encompass what’s going on here,” Levinson-Waldman told Yahoo News. “It’s not at all clear why their mandate would include monitoring of social media that’s unrelated to use of the postal system.”

Levinson-Waldman went on to note that “if the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI.”

“If they’re simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable,” she added, “then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns.”

Other civil liberties advocates were similarly baffled—and unnerved—by the covert USPIS program.

“Why is the Postal Service conducting widespread monitoring of social media? This is the kind of surveillance sprawl that is happening across government agencies,” said Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, asked, “Seriously, what is going on here? What possible justification could there be for USPS running this kind of social-media surveillance program?”

Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons

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Animals

Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida

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A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.

In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.

“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.

Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.

Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.

Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.

Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.

However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.

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Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son

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A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.

The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.

The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.

The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.

The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.

“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.

The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.

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Video Shows Taliban Taking Joyride in Captured US Blackhawk Helicopter

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The rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban has resulted in a number of surreal sights – from footage of the Islamist group’s fighters exercising at a presidential gym to clips of combatants having a great time on bumper cars at the local fun park.

However, a new video of Taliban members seemingly testing their skills in the cockpit of a commandeered UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shows the chilling extent to which U.S. wares have fallen into the hands of a group it spent trillions of dollars, and exhaustive resources, to stamp out.

In the new video, shared on Twitter, the front-line utility helicopter can be seen taxiing on the ground at Kandahar Airport in southeastern Afghanistan, moving along the tarmac. It is unclear who exactly was sitting in the cockpit, and the Black Hawk cannot be seen taking off or flying.

It is unlikely that the Taliban have any combatants who are sufficiently trained to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk.

The helicopter, which carries a $6 million price tag, is just a small part of the massive haul that fell into the militant group’s hands after the country’s central government seemingly evaporated on Aug. 14 amid the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops.

Some 200,000 firearms, 20,000 Humvees and hundreds of aircraft financed by Washington for the now-defunct Afghan Army are believed to be in the possession of the Taliban.

The firearms include M24 sniper rifles, M18 assault weapons, anti-tank missiles, automatic grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

Taliban fighters in the elite Badri 313 Brigade have been seen in propaganda images showing off in uniforms and wielding weaponry meant for the special forces units of the Afghan Army.

The U.S. is known to have purchased 42,000 light tactical vehicles, 9,000 medium tactical vehicles and over 22,000 Humvees between 2003 and 2016.

The White House remains unclear on how much weaponry has fallen into Taliban hands, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitting last week that the U.S. lacks a “clear picture of just how much missing $83 billion of military inventory” the group has.

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