Classroom Terror: Too Horrible to Discuss, Too Pressing to Ignore – By Paul D. Shinkman Feb. 20, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EST

Amid a focus on school shooters, the possibility of a true terrorist attack has taken a back seat in the U.S.

The aftermath of the Army Public School shooting in Peshawar, Pakistan. More than 140 people, mostly children, were killed when Taliban gunmen stormed the school in December.

The aftermath of the Army Public School shooting in Peshawar, Pakistan. More than 140 people, mostly children, were killed when Taliban gunmen stormed the school in December.

The aftermath of the Army Public School shooting in Peshawar, Pakistan. More than 140 people, mostly children, were killed when Taliban gunmen stormed the school in December.

In December, a group of militants entered a school and indiscriminately opened fire with automatic machine guns.

“One of my teachers was crying,” a student later recounted. “She was shot in the hand and she was crying in pain.”

“One terrorist then walked up to her and started shooting her until she stopped making any sound. All around me, my friends were lying injured and dead.”

For Americans, the Dec. 16 raid by Taliban insurgents against the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, was horrific, but distant. The incident, among the latest in a troubling rise of terror attacks worldwide, resonated little outside the South Asian nation. Western news coverage of the aftermath gave way a day later to President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would seek to normalize relations with Cuba.

The lack of attention also reflected how little attention is paid in the U.S. to preventing a terrorist attack against a school, or any kind of attack other than the “active shooter” scenarios that have grabbed national headlines in recent years. Relatively rare incidents in places like Newtown, Connecticut, and Littleton, Colorado, remain fresh in Americans’ memories, but the government’s willingness to fund local districts to prepare for and manage emergencies related to a larger attack remains as spotty now as it has been historically.

From the local perspective, there is also no standard path through which federal authorities communicate with school districts, either about long-range policies or to impart pressing information about a threat. Some states have clearly defined agencies and officials charged solely with serving as this kind of conduit. Others are only just beginning to consider such options.

A school is the ultimate “soft target” for a terrorist to attack, say many of those charged with protecting the facilities and their students. For communities across America, schools serve not only as places of learning, but as community halls, sports venues and polling places as well.

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Senate frozen amid DHS fight – By BURGESS EVERETT 2/12/15 7:20 PM EST

Some GOP senators fear that a short-term funding deal would only prolong the chamber’s paralysis.

From left, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., attend a statue unveiling ceremony honoring former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner and McConnell are at a standstill over provisions attached to a Homeland Security spending bill aimed at blocking President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. McConnell declared a Senate stalemate Tuesday and called on the House to make the next move to avoid an agency shutdown. House Republicans said they had no intention of doing so and today, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, Speaker Boehner declared that Senate Democrats should

The GOP-controlled Senate is looking a lot like last year’s Democratic Senate: failed procedural votes, short and fruitless workweeks and prolonged periods of inactivity on the floor.

The reason: The stubborn impasse on Homeland Security funding has sapped the chamber’s ability to do much else for the past two weeks, aside from some small-bore legislation. And as lawmakers skip town for a 10-day recess, some Republicans worry that the fight could drag on far past the Feb. 27 shutdown deadline — particularly if Congress ends up passing a short-term funding Band-Aid that merely sets up another cliff.

Many in the Capitol see a short-term extension as the most likely solution to keeping the Department of Homeland Security’s funding from running out at the end of the month, especially with the chambers deadlocked on language that would roll back President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

But Senate Republicans are already expressing frustration that they’ve wasted too much time trying to appease their House counterparts by voting repeatedly on the same doomed DHS bill, which Democrats have filibustered three times. High-ranking GOP senators are sending a warning flare to the House: The only thing worse than missing the first deadline of the year would be fighting this battle all over again in March or April.

“We’ve got to get off this. We’ve got to get it behind us. We have to at some point bring it to closure,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. A short-term DHS funding deal “would be a bad outcome for the Senate just in terms of us being to do other things. … If we have to do a short-term extension, we’ve got to revisit this. The next time it comes over, it will take another couple weeks.”

The partisan stalemate is also undermining Republicans’ attempts to show they can run Congress effectively as they head into a tough fight to keep the Senate in 2016.

“This battle should be ended,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who wants a DHS funding bill with none of the immigration riders that the House attached to its version in January. “When we were given the honor of the majority, we have to govern wisely. Shutdowns are not wise policy for key national security-related departments.”

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Under the Sea – By Robert Martinage JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2015 ISSUE

The Vulnerability of the Commons


In recent years, U.S. officials have grown increasingly fearful of a massive cyberattack, one capable of crippling infrastructure and crashing markets. In 2010, William Lynn, then deputy secretary of defense, wrote in these pages that cyberspace was “just as critical to military operations as land, sea, air, and space.” As defense secretary, Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber–Pearl Harbor.” And in 2013, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, put cyberattacks at the top of his annual list of transnational threats.

Yet as Washington has poured billions of dollars into shoring up its defenses in the virtual world, it has largely ignored the physical infrastructure that allows cyberspace to exist in the real one. Today, roughly 95 percent of intercontinental communications traffic—e-mails, phone calls, money transfers, and so on—travels not by air or through space but underwater, as rays of light that traverse nearly 300 fiber-optic cables with a combined length of over 600,000 miles. For the most part, these critical lines of communication lack even basic defenses, both on the seabed and at a small number of poorly guarded landing points. And a mounting tally of small-scale breaches points to the potential for large-scale damage.

Washington’s neglect of undersea infrastructure extends beyond cables to an increasingly important source of global oil and gas supply: deep-water drilling. Today, offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico account for some 25 percent of total U.S. oil and gas production—a figure the Department of Energy predicts could reach 40 percent by 2040. Outside the United States, global production from deep-water wells has risen from 1.5 million barrels per day in 2000 to over six million barrels per day in 2014. As the infrastructure for offshore drilling grows more sophisticated and widespread, it is also becoming more susceptible to attack, with the potential consequences exceeding those of the giant 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although human activities underwater are regulated by numerous international bodies, no single entity has both the authority and the ability to take the lead. In the United States, the Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing security plans at the largest offshore energy platforms and protecting underwater structures at some ports. Yet no government agency or department has responsibility for the defense of the country’s submerged energy and cable infrastructure. As a consequence, two of the most critical sectors of the U.S. economy—communications and energy—could easily fall prey to a well-organized terrorist plot or a foreign attack. Fortunately, Washington still has time to correct course.

Some 95 percent of intercontinental communications travel underwater.


British engineers laid the first submarine telegraph line across the English Channel in 1850. Eight years later, an effort backed by the American financier Cyrus Field bridged the Atlantic, linking Ireland to Newfoundland with a telegraph wire that eventually transmitted almost seven words per minute. After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, the first underwater telephone cable soon followed, carrying conversations beneath the San Francisco Bay.

Although the number of cables proliferated, their speed and capacity stagnated until the introduction of two key advances during the 1920s and 1930s: coaxial copper cores and polyethylene insulation, which allowed individual cables to carry multiple voice channels and provided improved durability. In subsequent decades, capacity soared, rising from 36 voice channels per cable in the 1950s to around 4,000 in the 1970s. Nevertheless, installation and maintenance costs remained high, making satellites decidedly more attractive for carrying telephone traffic. Until the 1980s, satellites could provide almost ten times as much capacity as submarine cables while requiring only one-tenth as large an investment.

But then fiber-optic technology revolutionized global communications. In 1988, a consortium of British, French, and U.S. telecommunications firms laid the first fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic. TAT-8, as the line was called, could carry 40,000 telephone calls simultaneously—an order of magnitude greater than most existing coaxial cables could handle and at a fraction of the previous cost. Today’s fiber-optic cables can transmit an amount of data equivalent to the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress in about 20 seconds.

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A Cyber-Whodunit – Winning will require nerds and sleuths, not warriors. By NEAL POLLARD January 02, 2015

A ticket for

From the past few years, it seems we can add cyber-attacks to the list of holiday headaches that includes congested travel, overeating, binge spending and in-laws. In December 2010, web publisher Gawker was hacked, with hackers posting source code, employee conversations, and the email addresses and passwords of hundreds of thousands of users. In late 2012, hackers probably affiliated with Iran, attacked U.S. banks, knocking their consumer-facing web services offline—this attack occurring not long after other hackers, probably affiliated with Iran, attacked oil producers in the Middle East. The 2013 holiday season saw millions of consumers’ personal and payment card details lost to a breach of retailers’ point-of-sale systems.

And this holiday season, Seth Rogen and James Franco made a movie, The Interview, that has challenged fundamental assumptions of geopolitics, foreign policy and modern international conflict, through the lens of a cyber-attack. What began as an antic film plot suddenly became a lot more real on January 2, when the Obama administration—responding to an actual cyber-attack possibly provoked by a fake movie scenario—escalated matters considerably by imposing new financial sanctions on 10 North Korean officials and three government agencies.

Yet the apparent tit-for-tat between Washington and Pyongyang has clarified very little. As “cyber-warfare” and cyber-attacks become more evolved, the more confused we seem to get about what they truly mean, and how to respond—or even who did it. Some of the more famous cyber-attacks described above have simultaneously been termed by government officials and experts alike as crime, terrorism, vandalism, acts of war and nuisances. They can’t be all five at the same time. The silver lining from these trends of cyber-attacks is greater awareness among the public on what is truly at risk, and an opportunity for government, industry and the media to cooperate to define a more consistent, less ad hoc framework on responding to cyber-attacks, identifying and punishing the true beneficiaries of cyber-crime and elevating cybersecurity out of the IT department and into boardrooms and the corporate suite.

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CIA torture report: US raises security ahead of release – BBC News 9 December 2014 Last updated at 05:56 ET

Security has been stepped up at US facilities around the world ahead of the release of a report expected to reveal details of harsh CIA interrogations, the White House says.

Former CIA lawyer John Rizzo on "enhanced interrogation": "I don't think I had any other choice"

Former CIA lawyer John Rizzo on “enhanced interrogation”: “I don’t think I had any other choice”

Embassies and other sites were taking precautions amid “some indications” of “greater risk”, a spokesman said.

A 480-page summary of the Senate report is due to be released on Tuesday.

It is expected to detail the CIA’s campaign against al-Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11.


Analysis: Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor

What more can we learn about the CIA’s interrogation programme from this heavily redacted report? Based on leaks, Tuesday’s release seems to answer three major questions:

First. Were the interrogation methods – torture if you like – more extensive and more brutal than previously admitted? It looks like the conclusion is “Yes”.

Second. Did these interrogation techniques deliver life-saving intelligence to the US? That answer appears to be “No”.

Third. Were CIA officials at the time honest with the White House on what the programme was getting up to? Again, “No”.

We can also expect the beginning of a counterblast of speeches, editorials and comments from those in charge of the CIA at the time attacking the Congressional report. But White House officials – while supportive of the release in principle – nervously dispatched John Kerry to encourage the committee to think twice about releasing this report into a volatile world. That didn’t work.

Feds: Racial profiling is bad…except at airports and the border – Updated by Dara Lind on December 8, 2014, 3:57 p.m. ET

Welcome to O’Hare Airport! The federal government can racially profile you now. Scott Olson/Getty

  1. The Department of Justice released a new policy on December 8th on when federal agents are allowed to use profiling.
  2. Federal law enforcement agents will, in most cases, no longer be allowed to consider religion, national origin, gender and gender identity, or sexual orientation when deciding whether to investigate someone. (It was already illegal in most cases for agents to consider race.)
  3. Federal agents will still be allowed to profile people “in the vicinity of the border.” Under the old profiling policy, “the border” was defined as anywhere within 100 miles of a land or sea border — but it’s not clear whether the “vicinity of the border” applies to that whole area, or to a more limited part of it.
  4. Agents will also be allowed to profile as part of “protective, inspection, or screening activities” — which includes airport screenings.
  5. The new rules apply not just to the Department of Justice, but to immigration agents and other federal law enforcement as well.
  6. But they don’t apply to state and local police departments (unless they’re working as part of a federal task force).

1) Why does the federal government allow profiling at all?

The government’s justification for profiling has been that it’s more useful to law enforcement than it is harmful to individuals. That justification led the Supreme Court, in 1975, to issue a decision that (in the federal government’s interpretation) allows Border Patrol agents to use racial profiling in border enforcement. And it’s the same logic that federal law enforcement agents have used more recently to target Muslim Americans in terrorism investigations.

But critics aren’t sure the logic holds up in 2014. For example, they question whether it’s all that useful for Border Patrol agents to profile Latinos along the US/Mexico border — where most US citizens are Latino themselves. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) has asked, “How can race help a Border Patrol agent or customs officer do a better job in a city like El Paso, where 85 percent of the people are Hispanic?”

And Cecilia Wang of the ACLU points out that when the Supreme Court made its 1975 ruling, it might have underestimated just how much of a burden it was placing on Latino citizens. The Court, she said, argued that “the intrusion on the individual is so brief, Border Patrol testified that these stops take only a minute or two.”

This, she said, ignores the reality, which is “that for people who live in these border communities, you’re going to get stopped all the time. It’s not a minimal intrusion to have Border Patrol stopping you constantly, when you’re trying to drop your kids off at the pool, or go to work, or go to the grocery store, or whatnot.”

border checkpoint

This can be a pain if you have to go through it just to get to the grocery store. (Scott Olson/Getty)

2) What were the old federal standards for racial profiling?

Until today, the federal government has been using a policy that was put out by the Bush administration in 2003. (Before 2003, the federal government didn’t have any policy banning profiling.) That policy explicitly banned profiling on the basis of race — but didn’t say anything about profiling based on other characteristics. That left federal law enforcement free to single out Muslims in terrorism investigations, for example, or people of Mexican descent in immigration investigations. (Just because it was allowed doesn’t mean it happened frequently — but it wasn’t explicitly prohibited by federal policy.)

The 2003 policy included exceptions on racial profiling: it was allowed when “preventing threats to national security,” which explicitly included potential threats at airports, or when “protecting the integrity of our nation’s borders.”

In California and Arizona, racial profiling by Border Patrol agents was already banned — thanks to a 2000 decision in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. So profiling was allowed along parts of the US/Mexico border, but not all of it.

In general, though, when it comes to immigration enforcement, the government’s definition of the border stretches 100 miles into the United States — not just from the land borders with Canada and Mexico, but into the coasts as well:

ACLU map border


This created a pretty broad profiling exception. And there’s evidence that the Department of Homeland Security has taken advantage of it — having border patrol agents board public transportation in upstate New York, for example, and asking certain passengers to show proof that they’re in the United States legally.

3) What has changed under the new standards?

The biggest change in the new standards is that racial profiling is no longer the only kind of profiling that’s banned. In any case where federal agents weren’t allowed to consider race before, they’re now not allowed to consider race, religion, national origin, gender and gender identity, or sexual orientation.

The other change is that one of the big loopholes in the old policy is a little smaller, and another has been totally eliminated. There’s no longer an exemption for “national security.” In fact, the new policy is very clear that the government expects law enforcement officers to be able to keep the country safe “without invidious profiling.” Press reports have indicated that, for example, the FBI will still be allowed to map neighborhoods for demographic information — but they won’t be allowed to directly target Muslim Americans in terrorism investigations.

The new policy keeps the loophole for Border Patrol agents — but clarifies they’re only allowed to use profiling “in the vicinity of the border.” It’s not clear whether that covers the entire 100-mile zone, or a smaller area. And it makes it clear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who are responsible for immigration enforcement in the interior of the country, don’t get to take advantage of that loophole to profile in standard immigration enforcement.

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What happened to Miriam Carey? – Written by David Montgomery Published on November 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at Nov 28, 2014 10.29

“We want to know: Why? What happened?”

So many questions, so much we still don’t know about the case of the woman shot to death by the Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police on Oct. 3, 2013, after a car chase from the White House to Capitol Hill. Her 13-month-old daughter survived in a car seat.

“Did we miss something?”

Barbara Nicholson is asking. The office manager of a dental practice in Ardsley, N.Y., is standing in the hygiene room, remembering the woman who used to clean teeth at this chair. Miriam Iris Carey — that was her name. She was one of the best dental hygienists and “one of the nicest people” Nicholson ever hired.

“We’re left with a void and no answers,” Nicholson says. “It’s like she was wiped off the face of the earth.

Nicholson’s voice catches. She pauses and looks away. “She’s missed. She’s very missed.”

Do you remember Miriam Carey? Her remarkably public death at 34 mesmerized us for a couple of news cycles. Then we moved on pretty quickly. I had to look up her name when I first started puzzling over this case. The main thing I remembered was that incredible video — the one showing the two-door black Infiniti surrounded by Secret Service officers with guns drawn near the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The car looks trapped. Suddenly the driver backs into a squad car and accelerates away. There’s the sound of gunfire while tourists take cover on the West Lawn. The Infiniti reappears, making a loop around a traffic circle, and proceeds up Constitution Avenue to what would be the fatal encounter outside the Hart Building.

What an afternoon. We were told that Carey “rammed” White House and Capitol “barriers.” That she tried to breach two security perimeters. That she had mental problems.

District Police Chief Cathy Lanier said federal officers acted “heroically.” The House of Representatives offered a standing ovation.

It was easy to call this a tragedy and turn the page.

Except that some of what little we thought we knew hasn’t held up. The part about ramming White House barriers and trying to breach two security perimeters? Not exactly true.

The American Ebola Rescue Plan Hinges on One Company. Meet Phoenix. – Abby Haglage 11.22.14

They’ve transported dolphins, satellite parts, even wolves. Then came a call to pick up two stricken American health workers. How Phoenix became the U.S. government’s go-to rescuer.

Elena Scotti/The Daily Beast

Phoenix Air Group, a U.S.-based air charter, can fly anything.Designed for “special missions,” the privately owned company is capable of transporting precious cargo anywhere in the world. In the 30 years since the company’s inception, “cargo” has had many meanings. For air supplier Hughes Aircraft, it was crucial satellite pieces from Russia. For Australia, oil field explosives. For an American aquarium, penguins.

This July, Phoenix got a call from a new client, this one the most serious of all. It was the U.S. Department of State. The precious cargo: two American humanitarian workers with Ebola.

For the immediate future, the thousands of American troops, hundreds of nurses and doctors bravely fighting Ebola in West Africa, Phoenix is the only quick way home. Despite more than $175 million allotted to the relief effort, the U.S. government’s rescue plan hinges on one company. Meet the most important air courier you’ve never heard of.


Phoenix Air Group, Incorporated, was launched in the rolling hills of Georgia in the late 1970s by Mark Thompson, an Atlanta native and former U.S. Army pilot. After years of flying helicopter rescue missions during the Vietnam era, Thompson decided to create his own company—this one aimed at transporting anything to safety. With just two small, double engine Beech 18s and a handful of employees, Phoenix was born.

Named for the mythological bird on his home city’s seal, Thompson’s company started small, earning a reputation as one of the few willing to transport heavy machinery by air. When the rise of foreign automakers caused an upheaval in the auto industry in the early 1980s, relocating auto parts between factories became big business. By 1984, the company had outgrown its Atlanta home, forcing Thompson to relocate to an airfield in Cartersville, Georgia, where Phoenix is based today.

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The Secret Life of Passwords – By Ian Urbina  Video by Leslye Davis November 2014

We despise them – yet we imbue them with our hopes and dreams, our dearest memories, our deepest meanings. They unlock much more than our accounts.

Howard Lutnick, the chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald, one of the world’s largest financial-services firms, still cries when he talks about it. Not long after the planes struck the twin towers, killing 658 of his co-workers and friends, including his brother, one of the first things on Lutnick’s mind was passwords. This may seem callous, but it was not.

Like virtually everyone else caught up in the events that day, Lutnick, who had taken the morning off to escort his son, Kyle, to his first day of kindergarten, was in shock. But he was also the one person most responsible for ensuring the viability of his company. The biggest threat to that survival became apparent almost immediately: No one knew the passwords for hundreds of accounts and files that were needed to get back online in time for the reopening of the bond markets. Cantor Fitzgerald did have extensive contingency plans in place, including a requirement that all employees tell their work passwords to four nearby colleagues. But now a large majority of the firm’s 960 New York employees were dead. “We were thinking of a major fire,” Lutnick said. “No one in those days had ever thought of an entire four-to-six-block radius being destroyed.” The attacks also knocked out one of the company’s main backup servers, which were housed, at what until that day seemed like a safe distance away, under 2 World Trade Center.

Hours after the attacks, Microsoft dispatched more than 30 security experts to an improvised Cantor Fitzgerald command center in Rochelle Park, N.J., roughly 20 miles from the rubble. Many of the missing passwords would prove to be relatively secure — the “JHx6fT!9” type that the company’s I.T. department implored everyone to choose. To crack those, the Microsoft technicians performed “brute force” attacks, using fast computers to begin with “a” then work through every possible letter and number combination before ending at “ZZZZZZZ.” But even with the fastest computers, brute-force attacks, working through trillions of combinations, could take days. Wall Street was not going to wait.

‘It’s the details that make people distinct, that make them individuals.’

Howard Lutnick Chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald, one of the world’s largest financial-services firms.

Microsoft’s technicians, Lutnick recalled, knew that they needed to take advantage of two facts: Many people use the same password for multiple accounts, and these passwords are typically personalized. The technicians explained that for their algorithms to work best, they needed large amounts of trivia about the owner of each missing password, the kinds of things that were too specific, too personal and too idiosyncratic for companies to keep on file. “It’s the details that make people distinct, that make them individuals,” Lutnick said. He soon found himself on the phone, desperately trying to compartmentalize his own agony while calling the spouses, parents and siblings of his former colleagues to console them — and to ask them, ever so gently, whether they knew their loved ones’ passwords. Most often they did not, which meant that Lutnick had to begin working his way through a checklist that had been provided to him by the Microsoft technicians. “What is your wedding anniversary? Tell me again where he went for undergrad? You guys have a dog, don’t you? What’s her name? You have two children. Can you give me their birth dates?”

“Remember, this was less than 24 hours after the towers had fallen,” he said. “The fire department was still referring to it as a search-and-rescue mission.” Families had not accepted their losses. Lutnick said he never referred to anyone as being dead, just “not available right now.” He framed his questions to be an affirmation of that person’s importance to the company, he said. Conversations oscillated between sudden bawling and agonizing silences. “Awful,” he said. Sometimes it took more than an hour to work through the checklist, but Lutnick said he made sure he was never the one to hang up first.

US Postal Service employee information hacked 10 November 2014 Last updated at 13:24 ET

The US Postal Service has said it was a victim of a cyber attack that may have compromised the personal information of its employees and some customers.

Data of hundreds of thousands of US Postal Service employees in recent network breach 10 November 2014

The number of USPS employees and customers affected by the hack is not yet known

The US Postal Service has said it was a victim of a cyber attack that may have compromised the personal information of its employees and some customers.

The agency employs more than 600,000 workers but has not specified how many people were affected.

Customers who used local post offices or the USPS website were not affected, but those who used its call centre may have had their information stolen.

The FBI is leading the investigation into the attack.

Employees’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and addresses may have been among the information stolen in the hack, agency spokesman David Partenheimer said.

“It is an unfortunate fact of life these days that every organisation connected to the internet is a constant target for cyber intrusion activity,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a statement.

“The United States Postal Service is no different.”

Groups associated with the Chinese government are the lead suspects in the investigation, the Washington Post reports.

Such groups have been accused of hacks involving US private firms, including steel and energy companies.

The Chinese government has denied all charges of cyber theft and espionage.

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