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POSTAL INSPECTORS: THE SILENT SERVICE
An Exhibit at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum
 
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STAYING ONE STEP AHEAD





An inspection service analyst demonstrates the CrimeScope’s flexible lens while examining a questionable document.




Image:

An inspection service analyst demonstrates the CrimeScope’s flexible lens while examining a questionable document.

Photograph courtesy of the United States Postal Inspection Service

 

The public relies on the Postal Service for safe, quick and reliable delivery of materials ranging from bill payments to birthday cards to merchandise. Advances in technology provide criminals with greater opportunity to commit postal crimes and make the work of the Inspection Service more crucial. While criminals look for new ways to circumvent the law, postal inspectors work hard to stay at least one step ahead of them. An important investigative tool is the forensic laboratory. Inspectors work with other investigators and forensic scientists, using use high-tech equipment to solve crimes committed through the mail.

 

Gooseneck Crimescope  

This black box and attached flexible wand is a CrimeScope model CS-16-400. It uses different wavelengths of light to assist lab analysts to locate and identify trace evidence on a variety of sources. Light of different wavelengths can help analysts identify altered documents, and evidence from fibers to fingerprints that is invisible to the naked eye. The portable box can be carried to a crime scene if necessary.

On loan from the United States Postal Inspection Service

Image (right): CrimeScope model CS-16-400

CrimeScope model CS-16-400
CrimeScope model CS-16-400

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ESDA Machine
ESDA machine with document
ESDA machine with document

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A useful detection tool in the U.S. postal forensic lab is the ESDA, or Electro-Static Detection Apparatus. The machine detects indented impressions, such as handwriting, on paper. The ESDA reveals impressions too shallow to see without technical assistance.

On loan from the United States Postal Inspection Service

Image (left): ESDA machine with document

ESDA hand held corona wire wand
ESDA hand held corona wire wand

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Inspector pouring toner
Inspector pouring toner

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Sheets of plaxtic for ESDA machine
Sheets of plaxtic for ESDA machine

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Image (above left): ESDA hand held corona wire wand
Image (above middle): Inspectior pouring toner
Image (above right): Sheets of plaxtic for ESDA machine
Original sheet of paper before ESDA analysis
Original sheet of paper before ESDA analysis

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Image (left): Original sheet of paper before ESDA analysis

Image (right): ESDA lift of impressions
ESDA lift of impressions
ESDA lift of impressions

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A useful detection tool in the U.S. postal forensic lab is the ESDA, or Electro-Static Detection Apparatus. The machine detects indented impressions, such as handwriting, on paper. The ESDA reveals impressions too shallow to see without technical assistance.

A document is placed on the machine and covered by a thin layer of plastic film, which is held down by vacuum suction. The forensic document examiner deposits a negative electrical charge onto the imaging film with a hand-held corona wire. After the document has rested for a minute, the examiner pours glass beads with toner over the top. The toner sticks to areas of indentation, revealing impressions that had been invisible. As a final touch a sticky, transparent, plastic film is placed over the newly created traced item, preserving it for observation.

ESDA machine on loan from the United States Postal Inspection Service

Images courtesy of the United States Postal Inspection Service



Daschle and Leahy Letters  
 
Anthrax Reward poster
Anthrax Reward poster

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Image:

Anthrax Reward poster

Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Daschle
Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Daschle

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Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Leahy
Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Leahy

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Image (left): Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Daschle
Image (right): Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Leahy

Less than a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States faced a new danger in the form of harmless-looking powder mailed to members of the media and two U.S. senators, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The contaminated mail pieces killed five people and threatened a critical component of the nation’s communication infrastructure—the mail service.

At least two anthrax-tainted letters traveled through a large Washington, DC mailing center. When the letters passed through the automated sorting equipment, some anthrax spores were released into the facility. The contamination killed two postal workers, Thomas Morris, Jr. and Joseph Curseen, Jr. A task force that includes postal inspectors and FBI agents continues the investigation of this crime.

Photographs courtesy of the United States Postal Inspection Service, Dangerous Mail Investigations and Homeland Security Group

Inspectors wearing biohazard suits in mail sorting facility
Inspectors wearing biohazard suits in mail sorting facility

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Image: Inspectors wearing biohazard suits in mail sorting facility

 
Biohazard Suit  
Inspectors wearing HAZWOPER biohazard suits in mail sorting facility
Inspectors wearing HAZWOPER biohazard suits in mail sorting facility

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Image: Inspectors wearing HAZWOPER biohazard suits in mail sorting facility

The Postal Service responded to the 2001 anthrax attacks by adding biohazard detection equipment to large sorting facilities and creating dangerous-mail response teams. Specially-trained inspectors wear hazardous-materials suits, such as this, when gathering evidence in potentially contaminated environments.

To thwart future anthrax-related attacks, the U.S. Postal Service has implemented a Biohazard Detection System (BDS) to help protect the mail. The BDS is an automated process that uses exclusively designed technology to collect and test air samples for biological toxins.

Photograph courtesy of the United States Postal Inspection Service, Dangerous Mail Investigations and Homeland Security Group

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Acknowledgements

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