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USPS and Customs are Failing to Comply with Opioid Trafficking Laws

Some of the laws in place to prevent international opioid trafficking are not being enforced by the United States Postal Service or Customs and Border Protection, members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said.

Per the 2018 Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, foreign post offices are required to send advanced electronic data (AED) on all packages headed for the United States through the Postal Service. All incoming packages needed to include AED by January 1, 2020. However, USPS said they saw “at most, two-thirds of international packages meet this data at the start of this year.” As of October 2020, only 54% of incoming packages included AED.

A picture of Customs and Border Patrol officers field testing a potential package of narcotics

Customs and Border Patrol officers field testing a potential package of narcotics

Robert Cintron, the vice president of logistics for USPS:

“A portion of inbound international packages will not be accompanied by AED, and the Postal Service stands ready to keep these packages out of the U.S. mainstream. Absent alternatives, this will disrupt, to one degree or another, the flow of international mail.”

The AED provides data used to create a risk profile, including the package’s sender, recipient, weight, and contents. This, combined with details about the country of origin, allows Customs to easily screen packages sent from high-risk countries, such as the Netherlands.

Customs is allowed to seize packages without AED and use the package to conduct a controlled delivery.

The STOP Act allows CBP to seize, destroy, or make controlled deliveries of packages without AED. Under the STOP Act, CBP was supposed to submit regulations to clarify the agency’s procedures for packages without AED by October 2019. However, the agency failed to submit these regulations until August 2020. The proposed rules are still going through “department-level review.” The issue appears to be with the volume of mail entering the country. CBP lacks the resources and personnel to seize and make controlled deliveries of every piece of mail without AED.

Thomas Overacker, CBP’s executive director for cargo and conveyance, said the agency has to “make day-to-day decisions on that, based on the volume of mail without AED or the volume of mail that is comingled,”

Furthermore, CBP said that 136 countries are eligible for waivers that would give them another year to comply with AED requirements. Countries eligible for waivers either “lack the technical capability to send this data to USPS**,** deliver a low volume of packages to the U.S. and are considered a low-risk country of origin.”

The STOP Act required USPS and CBP to jointly create a plan for managing AED by December 2018. They submitted the plan in March 2019.

Not a single important deadline was actually met,” Sen. Rob Portman, chairman of the HSGAC permanent subcommittee on Investigations, said.

Sen. Tom Carper, the subcommittee’s ranking member:

“If I were assigned a grade to the effort we’re hearing about and discussing here today, I give it an incomplete, and we need to be hitting the ‘A’ mark.’ We’re improved, but there’s a heck of a lot more to do.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan suggested a possible struggle between the Postal Service and CBP:

“The Post Office, already having been impacted by the pandemic, may, in fact, have to spend more of its time at the height of people needing the post office at its full capacity, may need to be turning back packages and spending time and effort because CBP did not do its job — and that is unacceptable,”

In short, the United States Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection have effectively failed to implement regulations for dealing with the flow of opioids from high-risk countries.