Explosive Threats in the Mail – What you need to know


FBI Considers Terror Possibility After Pipe Bomb Explodes at Indiana Post OfficeTIME

This Chicago Post Office pipe bomb incident is unfortunately timely with our focus on explosives in the mail. Read on to ensure your business or organization is prepared and stays safe.

Sending a destructive bomb device through the mail is regrettably not a new idea. Long before the Unabomber in 1980-1990s, bombs sent in a parcel date back to the 1700s. Just this past year, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) worker in Paris was injured by a letter bomb, and the former Greek Prime Minister was also wounded by a letter bomb.

We have taken a look at Chemical, Biological and Radiological threats in previous SafeMail Insights. This month, I’ve turned to SoBran’s SafeMail threat experts Will Hobbs and Rich Swank to learn more about Explosive threats in the mail.

What is an Explosive Mail Threat?

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “An improvised explosive device (IED) attack is the use of a “homemade” bomb and/or destructive device to destroy, incapacitate, harass, or distract. IEDs can be carried or delivered in a vehicle; carried, placed, or thrown by a person; delivered in a package or in the mail; or concealed on a roadside.” When mailed or delivered through a third party, this threat is most often referred to as a letter bomb, mail bomb or parcel bomb.

The primary focus this month is on explosives and letter bombs. IEDs used for dispersing chemical, radiological, or biological material, also known as “dirty bombs” were covered here.

What is Different About This Threat?

Explosives can come in many forms:

• Crystalline solids (i.e. fertilizer)
• Powders (i.e. ammunition)
• Plastic solids (i.e for demolition and blasting)
• Liquids. (i.e. nitroglycerin for dynamite)

Complicating this is the potential for additional threats within an explosive that is being used to spread another contaminant such as a biological weapon or a chemical. Additionally, dangerous glass, metal fragments or nails are often combined to maximize injury and death for the perpetrator’s deadly goals.

What are the Types of Bomb/Explosive Threats?

However a letter or package may get to your business or your mailroom, there is always a chance for a threat.

• Small Package/Letter
• Parcel Package/Box
• FedEx, UPS or any third party delivery Parcel or Package
• Hand Delivery
• Interoffice Mail/Delivery
• Courier Delivery

What Should We Look for?

Any of these items or a combination can indicate a dangerous package and possibly an explosive:

• Excessive postage
• Sealed with extra tape and material
• Restrictive markings like “Personal” or “Private”
• Lack of return address
• Lopsided or uneven package
• Strange odors, stains or leakage
• Badly typed or written addressing
• Misspelled words
• Return address from foreign country or does not match postmarking

Do We Have the Correct Equipment for Protection?

Only so much can be detected by visual inspection. Further methods to detect bomb threats include:
• ‘Trace detectors’ can identify tiny amounts of some explosives in the air
• X-ray machines can detect metallic elements in a package.
• Dogs trained to sniff out chemical explosives can provide another level of security

According to a government mail safety guide the “critical lesson about mail bombs is that virtually all of them can be detected by skilled x-ray inspection of letters and packages.”

How Can We Ensure Protection?

1. Establish a letter and package screening program designed to fit your organization’s threat as a potential target (terrorist, disgruntled employee, etc)
2. Appoint a mail center security coordinator and an alternate to be responsible for your screening plan and to ensure compliance.
3. Establish lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
4. Screen all mail and packages when they first arrive at your mailroom for sorting.
5. Staff who sort mail by hand should perform the screening, as they are the ones most likely to notice a suspicious item.
6. Prominently display a list of suspicious letter and package indicators in your mailroom and provide a copy of the list to all staff to ensure they’re familiar with it.

Basic steps for Mail Bomb/Explosive Safety include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments.