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The use of mail cover has increased fairly steadily from 9,022 instances in 1984 to 14,077 in 2000, according to government statistics. The National Law Journal obtained data from 1983 until June 2001 using Freedom of Information Act requests over several years. Information for 1992 through 1996 is incomplete or missing. The government says it keeps records for only five years and no longer has the statistics for those years. A Postal Inspection Service spokesman, Daniel Mihalko, says the numbers for 2001 appear to have remained flat. However, four of the five regional mail cover supervisors, interviewed last summer, said they believe the numbers were still rising. That was borne out by partial-year data. More than 9,000 mail covers were reported for the first five months of 2001. Neither current nor past postal officials could fully explain the increases. “We’re getting popular. Word is getting around,” says Diane Morgan, the mail cover supervisor in Chicago. Kathy Paramor, regional supervisor in South San Francisco, says the increase may have to do with more state agency requests. In Memphis, Tenn., supervisor Beverly Collins says increases might may be a result of money-laundering investigations. FEDS LEAD IN REQUESTS The Postal Inspection Service’s statistics show that federal agencies requested most of the mail covers during the last five years. State and local agencies made up only 13 percent of the total requests. The statistics also show that mail covers were consistently the least used in the Central Region, which includes part of Indiana and states west to Wyoming. They were regularly higher in the region comprised of nine Southern states and Oklahoma — by 1,100 requests in 2000. The reasons for regional differences aren’t clear. Many of the federal agencies say they don’t tally the number of mail covers their agencies conduct, so they weren’t aware of regional differences. The Postal Inspection Service refused to release a breakdown of mail covers according to requesting agency for the most recent figures. In past disclosures, six federal agencies used it most often. From 1989 to 1991, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) carried out the most mail covers, followed by U.S. Customs, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Attorney’s office also made several hundred requests each year. Of those six, only the IRS disclosed its number of mail covers for 2000. The number, 726, is a sharp drop from a decade ago, when it requested 1,212. Earlier records also tell the names of state and local agencies that conducted mail covers. They include sheriffs’ offices in California, Florida and Louisiana, the New York and Philadelphia police departments and county district attorney’s offices in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. SECRECY AROUND NATIONAL SECURITY Mihalko, the Postal Inspection Service spokesman, says that the government wouldn’t release more specific information about the mail covers conducted because it’s important that the tool remain relatively unknown. That argument was also made by other federal agencies. “It’s not something we talk about,” Mihalko says. “We’ll release information under a FOIA but not if we don’t have to.” The information provided to The National Law Journal by the Postal Inspection Service covering the last five years counted only criminal mail covers. The service did not provide national security mail cover requests, saying it was not required to. Mihalko declines to answer questions about national security mail covers. Henry J. Bauman, who was counsel for the service from 1981 until he retired in 2000, says that the office used to handle three or four national security requests a month near the end of his tenure. That is sharply lower than the period between 1985 to 1990 when there were between 234 and 336 national security mail covers a year, according to earlier statistics obtained by The National Law Journal. RESULTS ARE UNKNOWN The Postal Inspection Service statistics contained no information about how often mail covers led to arrests, so it’s unclear how many of the 14,000 mail covers a year result in indictments or other actions following up investigations. Many of the mail covers might not result in an indictment because they may be used for tracing fugitives, identifying witnesses who may be able to testify, or to locating property for forfeiture. All six of the federal agencies that traditionally make the most use of the technique refused to discuss specific cases in which mail cover has played a significant role. “Revealing details about its use in specific cases would jeopardize its future effectiveness,” says Robert Helwig, chief inspector for the Investigative Services Division of the U.S. Marshals Service.

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