Embattled U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been under fire by Democrats ever since he directed the slowdown of mail delivery before the November 2020 election along with the dismantling of hundreds of millions of dollars of proprietary federal government assets like mail sorting machines and post office mail drop boxes.
But as Yahoo News reports Friday, now Republicans are on the attack after the Chief Postal Inspector revealed to lawmakers on Wednesday that, as part of its Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), DeJoy personally ordered the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to begin to monitor Americans' social media accounts. The USPIS is a full law enforcement agency that is part of the USPS and is under DeJoy's purview.
That directive to monitor the accounts, or as one GOP Congressman called it this week, to "spy on Americans," came after the start of the George Floyd protests, and after DeJoy was allegedly personally threatened on social media.
Yahoo News adds, "it does appear that DeJoy was personally involved in the program's shift toward social media surveillance. A GOP aide said that after DeJoy was appointed postmaster general in 2020, he reallocated some of the eight-person iCOP team, currently staffed with only five analysts, to focus on protesters."
News broke last week of the existence of the existence of the "covert" group of postal inspectors and that they are monitoring Americans' social media posts.
But Republican lawmakers expressed concern because the platforms the Postal Inspection Service has been monitoring include far right wing social media sites that are home to some of the most extreme elements of conservative America, including Parler.
iCOP is a Trump-era creation, having been started in 2017. But its mission changed dramatically after DeJoy and USPS assets were threatened after the start of the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests swept the nation.
Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale's testimony Wednesday to the House Oversight Committee was not well-received, by Republicans.
“The chief postal inspector was unprepared to the point of incompetence," Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) told Yahoo News, blasting his "complete inability to give us answers to basic questions" as "unacceptable."
“He couldn't tell me when this program started, how much money is spent on it or where the authority to spy on Americans came from," said Mace, who is one of a very few Republicans who stood up to then-President Donald Trump on January 6.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Chair of the extremist House Freedom Caucus, told Yahoo News he “was not satisfied with their answers."
“Their theory of the case is, they've got to protect their workers and properties," Biggs said. “I asked, 'If you already have engagement with other agencies like FBI, Homeland Security, NSA, whatever, then why aren't you asking them for help?'"
“Why not just call the agencies whose job it is, who are probably already surveilling American citizens?" he said.
Biggs says Barksdale told members of Congress other federal law enforcement agencies “would not cooperate" with the USPIS, so they “made an executive decision" to have iCOP monitor Americans' social media accounts.
“It's really uncomfortable to think you can look on any event [page] and you're going to do keyword search on social media that's related — that seems pretty broad to me," Biggs told Yahoo News. “If you think your mandate includes this, your mandate is too broad."