Retiree claims privacy invasion

'Border Protection' opened letter to KU professor

Grant Goodman says this letter from a friend in the Philippines was opened by a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Goodman, a Kansas University professor emeritus of history, says the government's actions make him very

A retired Kansas University professor says the federal government has been poking into the mail he receives from abroad.

Grant Goodman on Monday showed the Journal-World a recent letter he had received from a friend in the Philippines; it apparently had been opened, then re-closed with green tape bearing the seal of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a message that it had been opened “by Border Protection.”

“Very uneasy. And very surprised,” Goodman, 81, a KU professor emeritus of history, said of his reaction to the federal snooping. “I never expected to see that.”

Goodman’s revelation came the same day that President Bush defended his decision to authorize – without permission from Congress or the courts – a secret program to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.

Goodman said the news about warrantless wiretaps prompted him to go public about his opened mail. He said he had last seen such intrusions during World War II, when as an Army lieutenant he was required to censor the mail of men under his command.

“I don’t know why they would censor this kind of mail,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

The U.S. government has been concerned about the Muslim insurgency in the Philippines, but Goodman said his correspondent – a devoutly Catholic Filipino history professor in her 80s – was an unlikely suspect to be connected to such causes. Goodman declined to reveal her name, saying he feared stirring up trouble for her.

“They were very upset it (warrantless wiretaps) was made public,” he said of the government. “They might be upset with this.”

The Web site of U.S. Customs and Border Protection says: “The Postal Service sends all foreign mail shipments to CBP for examination.”

A spokesman for the agency, which is under the Homeland Security umbrella, said he couldn’t speak specifically about Goodman’s case.

John Mohan, the spokesman, said he didn’t know how often the agency opened mail from abroad. And he wouldn’t discuss the criteria for opening letters.

But he said such searches had helped the government protect American lives.

“Obviously,” Mohan said, “it’s a security thing.”