Employer Tipped Off Police To Pressure Cooker And Backpack Searches, Not Google


EEV: Updated:2 AUG 2013 Current article proceeds : Still does not explain how the FBI does not know that quinoa is not a typical bomb making material.


Alexia Tsotsis

Alexia Tsotsis is the co-editor of TechCrunch. She attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, majoring in Writing and Art, and moved to New York City shortly after graduation to work in the media industry.  After four years of living in New York and attending courses at New York University, she returned to Los Angeles in…

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In what might be Medium‘s first widespread Twitter moment, music writer Michele Catalano used the platform to blog details of an unexpected visit to her home yesterday, from six men she identifies as members of the “joint terrorism task force.”

Catalano asserts that the visit was likely prompted by her husband searching for the term “backpacks” in close conjunction with her searching for the term “pressure cookers” and her son reading the news. Or something.

Turns out the visit was prompted by the searches, but not in the way most speculation asserted – by a law enforcement-initiated, NSA-enabled dragnet of the couple’s web history. It turns out either Catalano or her husband were conducting these searches from a work computer. And that employer, “a Bay Shore based computer company,” called the police on their former employee.

The Suffolk County Police Department has just released the following information related to the case:

Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee.  The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer.   On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”

After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.

Any further inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the Suffolk County Police Department

From what we can glean from LinkedIn, the computer company referenced above may be Speco Technologies, where Catalano’s husband Todd Pinnell worked as a product manager until last April (we’ve called Speco to confirm). This should be a teachable moment to anyone who thinks that their work computers are somehow not being tracked.

While Google’s, or PRISM‘s, tracking of  Internet activity wasn’t behind this incident, the fact is that Google does comply with law enforcement to hand over user data in general. Can the FBI or local police provide a search warrant to Google, and would Google possibly comply with such a request? Yes, and the company publishes all requests in a report every six months. This is nothing new.


And wider requests, like for the months of search history that would be needed to figure out the pressure cooker and backpack coincidence, may result in a push to narrow the scope of the investigation from Google’s end.

But, an industry source confirms, it doesn’t work the other way around: i.e. Google isn’t flagging searches for “pressure cooker” + “backpacks” for the cops.

It’d be crazy if it did though.

Update: Catalano confirms this interpretation of the story. For those of you wondering where we got the press release: I called the Suffolk County Police Department for a statement, and they emailed it to me.


Original Article:

 Woman believes feds searched her home because family googled backpacks and  pressure cookers

  • Michele Catalano, a writer for Forbes,  published an account of the raid today
  • She believes it was her families recent  Google searches that prompted the visit
  • The FBI, Nassau and Suffolk County Police  Department have denied responsibility in the search

By  Ashley Collman

PUBLISHED: 16:57 EST, 1  August 2013 |  UPDATED: 17:19 EST, 1 August 2013

Suspicious: Michele Catalano believes her family's Google searches caused a 'Joint Terrorism Task Force' to visit her houseSuspicious: Michele Catalano believes her family’s  Google searches caused a ‘Joint Terrorism Task Force’ to visit her  house

A Long Island woman believes her family’s  recent Google searches caused a Wednesday morning visit by federal  agents.

Michele Catalano, a writer for Forbes,  published an account of what happened on Medium today,  saying six plain-clothes cops showed up at her home, and proceeded to interview  her husband about pressure cookers and search her house.

She believes her ‘news junkie’ son reading  articles on the Boston Bombings, coupled with her hunt for a pressure cooker and  her husband’s online shopping for a backpack created the ‘perfect storm of  terrorism profiling.’

But so far the FBI, Nassau County and Suffolk  County Police Departments have denied their part in the call.

While she wasn’t at home at the time, her  husband was when three black SUVs drove up to their house and the cops exited  and started to approach their property, flashing badges with handguns in their  holsters.

Her husband went outside to meet the men and  complied with their request to look around the house and backyard.

They walked around the living room, looked at  books and pictures, and petted their dogs.

When they asked to go into the son’s room,  her husband said he was sleeping and they left him alone.

They also interviewed him, asking about where  he was from, where his wife was, and if they had any bombs. They  also asked about whether they owned a pressure cooker.

Her husband said no, but that they had a rice  cooker.

‘Can you make a bomb with that?’ they asked.

He told them his wife used it to make quinoa.

‘What the hell is quinoa?’ they asked.

What the hell is quinoa? After asking whether the family had a pressure cooker, Catalano's husband said they only have a rice cooker to cook quinoa. The officers were mystified by the ancient grainWhat the hell is quinoa? After asking whether the family  had a pressure cooker, Catalano’s husband said they only have a rice cooker to  cook quinoa. The officers were mystified by the ancient grain

Catalano said that ‘by this point they  realized they were not dealing with terrorists and the men wrapped their search  up.

Her husband called her immediately after,  laughing about the incident, but Catalano didn’t see the humor.

She said she felt a ‘great sense of anxiety’  when she realized that ‘this is where we are at.’

‘Where you have no expectation of privacy.  Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a  terrorism watch list,’ she wrote.

The FBI confirmed the visit to  The Guardian,  but said their officers weren’t involved.

A spokesman said it was Nassau County Police  officers working in conjunction with the Suffolk County Police  Department.

But a Nassau County police spokesman told  MailOnline they weren’t involved.

‘We did not, did not, go out to this  woman’s home,’ police spokesman James Imperiale said. ‘What agency went I  couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.’

A Suffolk County Police spokesman referred  media back to the FBI.

If the search were truly carried out due to  suspicious Google searches, it would have required a warrant.

In a company report on  transparency, Google detailed how  they deal with law enforcement officials looking for evidence online.

‘The government needs legal process—such as a  subpoena, court order or  search warrant—to force Google to disclose user  information. Exceptions  can be made in certain emergency cases, though even  then the government  can’t force Google to disclose.’

Which has led some to question the validity  of Ms Catalano’s story.

Today, she took to Twitter, writing that she  wasn’t giving interviews to the media.

‘I’ll say it once: I didn’t make it up,’ she  wrote. ‘Thanks to those defending my integrity.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2382791/Woman-believes-feds-searched-home-family-googled-backpacks-pressure-cookers.html#ixzz2amTvpWqN Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

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