It turns out it was the FBI that, in 2012, asked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to track the mail of a local bookstore owner.
Surveillance of mail belonging to Leslie James Pickering, owner of Burning Books, a radical bookstore at 420 Connecticut St., was conducted between mid-August and mid-September, but the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Transit Security Administration would not say later whether Pickering was under surveillance or investigation.
David Hardy of the FBI said in U.S. District Court on April 29 that the FBI requested the mail cover assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service because of its “domestic terrorism investigation into eco-terrorism activities by a specific individual.” Hardy’s statement didn’t say whether Pickering was the target of its probe.
The statement was in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Pickering and Geoff Kelly, editor of Artvoice, which referenced a Freedom of Information request made to the U.S. Postal Service.
Hardy is the section chief of the FBI’s Information Dissemination Section, located in its Records Management Division.
Hardy also maintained 14 pages related to the mail cover should continue to be exempted from public disclosure to protect investigative techniques.
Pickering said he was glad to have confirmation – though not surprised – that the FBI was snooping in his mail.
“I’ve known that the FBI has been interested in me for 17 years, since I was 19, but I didn’t think their investigation would be that intense,” Pickering said. “I knew they would have old files on me, but why would they be paying attention to my running a bookstore?”
Pickering is believed to be targeted because of his involvement over a decade ago as spokesman of the Earth Liberation Front, which destroyed facilities, including with the use of arson and firebombs, involved in animal cruelty and environmental degradation. The FBI considered its activities “eco-terrorism,” and several members were later sent to prison for their activities.
Security agencies have shown revived interest in Pickering since 2012. The FBI questioned a past associate of Pickering that September.
The Transit Security Administration, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, detained him in March that year and reissued a United Airlines ticket with additional screening measures.
An entity the bookstore interacts with was presented that February with a federal grand jury subpoena to provide records.
A card appeared in Pickering’s home mailbox in the fall of 2012, indicating the post office at 465 Grant St. was providing surveillance of his mail from mid-August to mid-September at the request of an unspecified law enforcement agency.
Pickering eventually received copies of the mail photographed during the month-long period, along with a cover letter that said the information was also sent to a U.S. Postal Inspection Service department in Chicago, but with no mention of the FBI.