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Ask HN: FBI showed up at my house this morning. What to do?
29 points by abba_fishhead on Oct 11, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments
Some background: I'm a citizen of a Muslim-majority country who migrated to the US to seek political asylum after being jailed by my government and hounded with death threats for insulting Islam. I've been living in the US for a year now, and in that time I've continued speaking up against Islam, the Qur'an, and the Hadiths.

Today 2 FBI special agents with badges showed up 7 a.m. in the morning, interviewed by neighbors and landlord, and finally spoke to me. This is roughly what they said:

"You're not in trouble. Based on uncorroborated sources, we have information that your life might be in danger from kidnapping by individuals with links to ISIL, and consequently your life is in danger. Try to reveal as little as possible about yourself to anyone or online, and move if possible. Here's my number: XXX-XXX XXXX."

What I'm worried about is that they're investigating me for other things and simply using a terrorist threat as a smokescreen.

How likely is it that they're telling the truth? I've informed no one about this except my lawyer. Also, should I be worried about my safety? I have a pretty big following online that follows me largely for my Islam-bashing posts (80k likes on FB, and it's even a verified account).

Should I also do anything now? I've never encountered this before, and I'm at a loss on how to react.

Stop posting online and go underground and vanish for a while. Although you have a large following online, your safety is more important. If something happens to you, you won't be able to post anyway and those large following won't matter. Just disappear.

And when the FBI is investigating you, they don't need a smokescreen. I'd take them seriously if I were in your shoes.

Based on what you've said above, I would believe them. I have heard, second-hand, of another person getting a very similar warning. That person is taking it extremely seriously, and the FBI wouldn't have any credible ulterior motives in investigating them. (Sorry I have to be so vague.)

1. If you've been posting content similar to the Danish cartoons or Charlie Hebdo's, your main worry is not the FBI.

2. "Uncorroborated sources" means little. If there was an imminent threat they would tell you.

3. If you were in trouble, you would already be under arrest.

4. This was a preliminary meeting to see if you have any interest in becoming an informant for them. Expect that request to come soon.

5.If you've purchased grow house bulbs in the past six months or dozens of packages of ephedrine, then rest assured that your online postings have nothing to do with their visit.

If you are really concerned, here's a tip: lawyers are plentiful in the United States. You are not eligible for a free lawyer, but call your local federal court and ask for the names of attorneys who handle CJA appointments. Or call the local chapter of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, or contact their Washington office for a referral. Your new lawyer will quickly discover the level of the Bureau's interest.

Thanks for the response.

1. I post worse. I quote the Qur'an directly (verses on violence, sexism, slavery) and receive death threats in return!

2. If it means little, why even make the trip to my home?

3. Good to know that too.

4. I don't know anything about anyone, so how can I even be an informant?

5. Not even sure what "house bulbs" or "ephedrine" are... so I guess I'm safe?

2. They want you to start thinking about your safety, to start paying attention to what's happening around you, and to start thinking about making yourself harder to find. It's not an emergency, it's not a panic, but it's time to start thinking and seeing what you can do (without totally messing up your life). Do what you can now. Think about how you can be in a position to do more.

5. Drug growing or manufacturing supplies. It's fine if you don't get it.

2. They made the trip to your home to see if you will work with them. 4. By following their directions and giving them information they send you out to obtain, even if you think you "don't know anyone." You do. You may not "know" your followers, but you have contact with them. The agency will explain how to target people. 5. Grow house bulbs are specialized light bulbs for the growing of marijuana indoors. Ephedrine is precursor to methamphetamine.

I generally trust the FBI about as far as I can throw them, but given the history of what ISIS has done, and given that you seem to have legitimately made yourself a potential target, I'd say this sounds somewhat legitimate. In either case, always talk to a lawyer before talking to the police, and definitely take your personal safety seriously.

I don't know how you feel about guns, or even if you're eligible to own a gun in the US (not sure how citizenship status affects that). But if possible, you might considering purchasing a pistol and look into getting a concealed carry permit (if required in your state). If you do, get some training and take training seriously.

Short of a gun, spending some time studying a martial art could be beneficial. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and/or Krav Maga might be good choices. Escrima could also be good... they put a lot of emphasis on "stick fighting" and you can certainly legally own a stick... and that may be more acceptable if you oppose guns on some kind of philosophical basis.

There are mace guns available online for about $40 which have a pretty long range. That might be a good option for protection if you can't or don't want to get a gun. You'll have to check the laws in your town/state, but I think you can concealed carry them anywhere.

Good point. A taser could also be a viable non-lethal alternative. Although personally, if I thought I was a target for ISIS, being "non lethal" would be the last concern on my mind. But mace or a taser may be more practical than a gun for other reasons anyway, depending on the circumstances.

Another thought, as obvious as it may seem, is to suggest simply trying to not be alone as much as possible. "There's safety in numbers" as they say. Maybe try to arrange to be in a (known friendly) crowd as much as possible.

I don't know if this is justified, but if I'd gotten death threats I'd be more worried about snipers than someone coming at me at close range. Your safety in numbers advice would be very good in that case too. The issue I have with Tasers is that they're as expensive as a gun and you only get one shot. I was thinking of non-lethal options because I don't know if the person can carry a gun if they aren't a citizen or if there are strict laws where he lives. If the person can afford it, I'd suggest looking into a lightweight bullet-proof vest as well.

It isn't justified. Excluding nation-state assassinations and a couple of serial killers/mass murderers, people in this country generally aren't killed via sniper rifle. The majority of gun-related murders involve small caliber handguns like .22s, .38s, and 9mms.

>I'd suggest looking into a lightweight bullet-proof vest as well.

If you are worried about a sniper attack, lightweight bullet proof vests aren't going to help you. They don't stop high-powered rifle rounds. The only thing that stops high-powered rifle rounds would be the kind of body-armor the military uses, with ceramic plates. I don't think OP wants to spend the rest of his life wearing a 35lb vest. Fortunately, lightweight vests will stop small caliber handguns.

I was thinking more about the "close range" stuff since the OP's post mentioned kidnapping, which suggests "up close and personal" confrontation. But you have a point: if somebody just wants you dead, at any cost, it's hard to protect against a sniper, at least if they know your whereabouts.

If you want to get really paranoid, you can imagine a vector where somebody attacks by, say, intercepting your pizza delivery and adding poison to it or something. :-(

First thought: run like hell! Even if this is some kind of lie or trick, what risk do you take by going on a vacation for a few weeks?

This was my thoughts as well. It seems like laying low for a couple of weeks (if you can afford it) would be the easiest way to avoid possible threats. Rent a car and go to another state or something.

If we have to go all "Jason Bourne" on it, renting a car would probably make it harder for people to track where you are going, should they have access to flight-transfer systems etc.

>what risk do you take by going on a vacation for a few weeks?

But what about afterwards? Assuming this to be true, you just return to normal life after a few weeks?

See, I don't think the warning is at that level. If he needed to go on vacation for a few weeks, the FBI would say so. They (the FBI) don't think the treat is at that level at this time.

Uhhhh ... My gut reaction is usually anti feds but since in the case you actually have a track record of receiving these death threats before ... to the extent that it made you flee your home country ... it seems pretty legit. What other activities are you involved with that you think are a more likely reason for the FBI to show up at your door?

I'm not going to incriminate myself publicly, but let's just say .torrent files exist on my PC.

It's very unlikely that this has anything to do with your troubles. Unless you distribute content to the extent that other nations have requested assistance in stopping your operation, I can't imagine dispatching the FBI to deal with that.

Yes ... if it wasn't clear from context my question to the OP should have been read with snark. This is a good time to apply Bayes's theorem.

If that's a serious concern, now would be a good time to encrypt, backup your data remotely and re-format everything.

Not totally convinced that this post was your best move in any way whatsoever. I would be calling that number if I were you, I don't think this is a decoy unless you have more evidence that suggests it might be outside of general paranoia.

Well, one thing I know is that the less you talk to law enforcement, the less you incriminate yourself. So calling is out. And we all have secrets, e.g. downloading illegal IP for sure...

So take them seriously and don't tell them any more than you need to.

If you're worried that these agents are actually investigating you for illegal downloads, see if you can find out what division of the FBI they work for. If they work for the IP division, then your paranoia might be justified.

I've been trying real hard to find for info on the FBI.gov website, but I can't find any information on the officers.

The kind of sting you're describing sounds incredibly improbable. You should take what those agents told you seriously.

If you're actually concerned that the whole situation is an elaborate hoax to catch you torrenting episodes of Game of Thrones, then you should talk to a lawyer but still act as if the threat against your life is real because it very well might be.

The FBI doesn't give a rat's ass if you're downloading illegal IP.

You are wrong: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/white_collar/ipr/an...

And his admitted (on HN) misconduct could be used against him if the FBI wanted to. From his comment history, it also looks like he's dabbled in the porn business. I wonder if his records are correctly maintained and correct.

You can get a lot out of a potential informant by threatening to send him back to his original country for "crimes".

Just FYI, as someone who was arrested by the FBI for computer hacking and at the time had ~20 GB of illegally downloaded MP3s and SNES ROMs: They didn't even bother investigating it. They even returned my laptop to me mostly unmolested. (I assume they left an implant and quickly ditched it after recovering the stuff I wanted and backing it up online.)

It's probably in the government's best interest to keep you alive, even if you've torrented.

(Of course, I don't pirate stuff anymore. I doubt I'll ever feel like I'm off their radar ever again. Not worth the risk.)

I know a lot of people always think poorly about the police and FBI. I've only had positive run-ins with the police, perhaps because I'm female. I've heard of people the FBI really wanted to get but didn't have info on, and they were not nice to them or warning them of potential danger like they did with you, so it sounds like it's worth taking to be legit. I'm curious what your neighbors and landlord have to do with this? Have they heard something about threats against you? You have already received death threats online - take care of your personal safety in person. I like what another person said about not posting for a while, perhaps going to stay in a different city. Turn in any threats to the FBI and see if you have anything that could be leads for them.

If they are interested in you, how do you know they're not in this forum already?


HN is no place for religious flamewars.

Fortunately your comment history looks otherwise fine, but please don't post anything like this to HN again.

How is this question a religious flamewar?

The comment I replied to (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10379458) wasn't a question. The original Ask HN was, and of course was not a religious flamewar. So I think you may have misunderstood.

If you want to read the comment I replied to, set 'showdead' to 'yes' in your profile. That makes comments marked [dead] or [flagged] visible.

Oh, I see it now. Thanks for the explanation. The way it is showing up appears like it's a comment to the poster of the Ask HN question!

That's definitely a UI weakness, which we were not aware of.

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