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Pre-Empting the Postal Threat

NCJ Number
Intersec: The Journal of International Security Volume: 13 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2003 Pages: 285-287
John Wyatt
Date Published
September 2003
3 pages
This article discusses the threat of letter bombs and ways to prevent the distribution of them.
The use of small explosive or incendiary devices is the most common form of postal threat. There are many advantages of using a letter or parcel bomb over other methods of attack. The bomber does not need to go anywhere near the target. The letter defeats normal access control measures. Mail is personal, which allows the bomber to target their victim. There is a difference between high and low explosives. A detonation can be achieved by high explosives such as TNT, RDX, and ANFO, although one can also achieve a detonation from contained low explosives, such as a pipe bomb. The low explosives burn very quickly and various substances can be mixed to vary this rate or achieve other effects. There are very few high explosive letter bombs. Incendiary devices are more common because the aim for sending these devices is not to kill or seriously injure the recipient, but to scare them off from carrying out a function or role that is disagreeable to the sender. The anti-social letter bomb is more commonly used, and the main motive for this is revenge. The last category of postal threats is the use of biological and chemical material. Any organization is at risk from a significant postal threat. Pre-empting this threat is essential for the protection of staff. A balance must be achieved between normal, sensible practices and routine, and the adoption of a security system that ensures discovery of the device when it arrives. A security system can involve screening or scanning mail. Scanning may be carried out visually or by using equipment. Metal detection is an option that is cheap and easy but the detector is indicating that there is metal in the package, not what that metal is, and nuisance alarms will occur. Contingency planning is an essential element of the postal threat. It is important that those involved receive proper training, the procedure is practically viable, and the contingency plans are practiced, detailed, and well written.


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