“Postal Terrorism” Surprisingly Common

Hazmat response to a white powder letter in San Antonio, TX

Postal Terrorism has led the headlines recently because of the pipe bomb letters from October.  Nothing makes headlines more than the word “bomb”.  When it’s such a high profile case as the letter bombs from October, everyone is on edge for a bit.  After a while, we start to focus on other news stories and mailroom security drops out of our minds.  The reality is, we see stories about suspicious packages containing bombs (real and hoaxes) and powders every week.  Shutdowns happen all the time, you just don’t hear about it unless you’re looking for it.

Disruptive Postal Terrorism

If a terrorist is looking to deliver a threat, they can do so either with the intent to harm, or not.  Even if baby powder ends up spilling out of an envelope, it will trigger a hazmat response and cause a shutdown.  In San Antonio, a police substation shut down last week due to a letter containing suspicious powder.  The letter was originally addressed to Florida but was returned to the sender address: a man living in San Antonio.  Powder leaked out of the letter as the man brought it into the station, triggering a hazmat response which then determined the powder was not hazardous.  They did not determine the source of the threat.

Hazmat response to a "Postal Terrorism" white powder letter in San Antonio
San Antonio Police required a hazmat response to a letter with powder leaking out of it

In England, a judge received a suspicious package containing white powder.  The judge controversially jailed the founder of the “English Defence League” in May which is a political right-wing group in the U.K.  Police, fire, and medical units responded to the incident.  A police spokesman confirmed that they are considering the incident as “malicious communications”.

Harmful Postal Terrorism

On the other hand, the Stockholm District Court in Sweden jailed a man who sent white powder to Swedish lawmakers as well as a bomb in the mail to a Bitcoin firm in London.  These Postal Terrorism events are clear examples of intent to harm.  BBC reported that it was “sheer luck” that the bomb did not go off when the recipient opened the package in the middle instead of using the envelope flap, which would have activated the explosive.  The man had a known history with the Swedish police.  He sent white powder to multiple lawmakers as well as the Prime Minister in 2017.

Suspicious Packages

A suspicious package also forced authorities to clear the office of U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat in San Mateo, CA.  The package seemed out of the ordinary which is what caused the response.  It was from out of state, and not something they typically receive at this office.

In Corpus Christi, TX, the CCPD Bomb Squad responded to a suspicious package which they determined to be a light source connected to some batteries.  While this was not a real bomb threat, the police department did consider it to be a hoax device.

The mailroom is the weakest link in security.  For true threats, it doesn’t take more than an envelope to deliver something devastating.  Even the letter bombs in October came in 8×11 envelopes.  The problem is, it happens way more often than we realize.  Often times a mail room will call the emergency response teams only after they realize they’ve been handling a potential threat.  There needs to be more focus on mailroom security up front.  It’s the only way to avoid costly shutdowns and to prevent valid threats from reaching their targets.