NY Writer Says She Was Visited by a Terrorism Task Force for Googling Pressure Cookers

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US News • Views: 20,881

New York writer/blogger Michele Catalano has a piece at Medium on a very disturbing experience her family had yesterday — a visit from members of the local Joint Terrorism Task Force: Pressure Cookers, Backpacks and Quinoa, Oh My!

What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.

Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.

A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.

“Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.

They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.

Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.

According to Michele’s account, she had recently been searching Google for information on pressure cookers, although it’s not clear from the piece whether this was the actual cause of the visit. I’m very interested to see how this story develops.

UPDATE at 8/1/13 12:53:22 pm

More info from the Washington Post: Google ‘Pressure Cooker,’ Get a Police Visit? Maybe Not.

But after reading the questions Catalano says investigators asked her husband, it’s clear that they could come from information that is not Catalano’s search history — say, an anonymous tip from a jumpy neighbor. (Maybe someone who noted this Facebook picture.) And there’s little to suggest Catalano is on a watch-list or that any terrorism investigators were involved, at all. A spokeswoman for the FBI’s New York field office, out of which the New York and Long Island JTTTs are based, said the investigation was led by the Nassau County Police Department with assistance from the Suffolk County Police Department, and the FBI was not involved.

“They were officers from the Nassau County Police Department who identified themselves as such,” said Kelly Langmesser, the FBI spokeswoman. But mysteriously, neither the Nassau nor Suffolk County Police would confirm their involvement in the investigation Thursday afternoon. An officer from the Nassau County Police repeatedly refused to even give her first name; a Public Information Officer in Suffolk County said she would comment when she had more information.

All of this sounds very shady, but it doesn’t exactly scream of an insidious, privacy-invading terrorism investigation. At least it’s impossible to make that conclusion without more information.

UPDATE at 8/1/13 4:02:50 pm

New info from Rob Prather at OTB: An Update on the “Pressure Cookers” Google Search Story.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 1, 2013

As a result of numerous media inquiries, received today by the Suffolk County Police Department regarding an internet blog posting, the following statement has been made available.

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

Suffolk County Police Department

Public Information Office

(631) 852-6308

UPDATE at 8/1/13 6:12:15 pm

Michele Catalano posts a Clarification and Update:

We found out through the Suffolk Police Department that the searches involved also things my husband looked up at his old job. We were not made aware of this at the time of questioning and were led to believe it was solely from searches from within our house.

I did not lie or make it up. I wrote the piece with the information that was given. What was withheld from us obviously could not be a part of a story I wrote based on what happened yesterday.

The piece I wrote was the story as we knew it with the information we were told. None of it was fabricated. If you know me, you know I would never do that.

If it was misleading, just know that my intention was the truth. And that was what I knew as the truth until about ten minutes ago. That there were other circumstances involved was something we all were unaware of.

Thank you.

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