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Pressure cookers, backpacks, and quinoa, oh my (medium.com)
514 points by steveklabnik on Aug 1, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 273 comments

Many, many thousands of pressure cookers are sold every year. Terrorist attacks are extremely rare. Millions and millions of backpacks are sold every year. The intersection of those two products isn't helpful. The base rate theorem dictates that pressure cooker sales will turn out to be a very poor signal for terrorism.

This article posits (or is trying to sell you on the idea) that the FBI watches for pressure cooker sales on the Internet and dispatches teams of extremely expensive FBI agents to investigate them. Stipulate that the FBI has access to that information (I don't think they do, but whatever). What the FBI isn't going to do is compromise sources and methods in a pressure cooker dragnet. They are mathematically assured not to find terrorists that way. But they'd make a huge amount of noise. They don't burn sources for no good reason.

I don't buy this, at all.

Also not helpful, if you're trying to sell a hoax: the too-vivid callbacks to the Boston bombers, and to the FBI's television show image.


Note also that this story wants you to infer that the FBI told her husband that they were following up on Internet search leads. Not only did they roll trucks to a residence to do a search that was almost mathematically guaranteed to come up blank, but when they did that, they hinted around at the secret program that got them to do it.

TFA: "They asked my husband about his work, his visits to South Korea and China"

I'd say the NSAs '3 steps' policy is far more likely. The husband interacts with someone overseas who interacts with someone else who is on a list somewhere. [1] The NSA does the routine profile on everyone within three steps of the-guy-on-the-list, some key words generate hits, salaried agents get another address to visit.

That possibility doesn't get hung up on the problematic notion that anyone's setting up such visits based on google searches alone, nor implies a JTTF agent caughed up real information on how they actually got their lead or why they were actually there.

[1] If you're doing business on the Chinese mainland, it seems pretty likely you'll be within three steps of 'potential terrorists', given the whole cyber cold war and economic espionage thing.

I was disappointed that it took her 14 paragraphs to get to this. She starts "I was buying a pressure cooker and my husband was looking at backpacks" when she should have started "my husband makes frequent trips to China and Korea ..." Less frenzy that way I guess.

when she should have started "my husband makes frequent trips to China and Korea

Why is that? China is our second largest trading partner. Korea is our 7th. Is visiting countries that we do massive amounts of trade with suspicious?

> "Why is that?"

Mentioning the connection to foreign business casually, once, while spending the bulk of the 'story' hyping some implication that the government is profiling people based on web searches alone shows a tabloid-leaning lack of respect for the reader.

The writer's burying what should be a relevant example of "why even innocent people shouldn't like this NSA spying/profiling" (which we know to exist and know has policies that could likely result in their visit from the JTTF) under a largely-implausible theory (that has no substantiating evidence from any whistleblower or leak to date, nor does it present any) that ultimately serves no purpose but self-promotion.

(It looks like an attempt to make her experience the center of it's own story, as opposed to a contributing piece of the larger Snowden/NSA story.)

Truth and accuracy aside, why would her experience not be the center piece? I think the personal experience of 'everyday citizens' is enormously important in understanding issues of privacy and (self-)censorship.

In fact, highlighting the consequences for 'regular people' arguably contributes more to that understanding than the zillionth story about 'exceptions' like Assange/Snowden/RandomIranianBlogger. In the end those are (seen as) edge-cases.

Hackernews and other websites latching on to the 'technical' part of the story is understandable, but whether it was the quinoa or the pressure cooker or her husband's business dealings isn't the real subject of this story - the real insight provided by this story is the fact that she was left in a state of distress, leading to her questioning her every day communications/searches...

> "I think the personal experience of 'everyday citizens' is enormously important in understanding issues of privacy and (self-)censorship."

Which is what I said. "The writer's burying what should be a relevant example of "why even innocent people shouldn't like this NSA spying/profiling""

Her experience should be the center of her article. I'm talking about her pushing a silly theory that the NSA is doing a web search dragnet in an attempt to make her article the center of a fork from the larger story of NSA spying. And as the theory is generally silly, it simply distracts and detracts from the root NSA spying story, instead of reinforcing it and adding a direct human/emotional anchor for it.

The policy is not the issue. It's relevant to the story and she buried it to make her story fit a narrative.

Buried it? It's plain as day in her own story. Your characterization as "14 paragraphs" sure is dishonest considering the size of her "paragraphs" that are broken up only to make it more readable. Sure, it's not the headline but nor should it be. It's irrelevant if he travels to China or Korea. China and Korea are not equivalent to Afghanistan or Nigeria. And frankly even travel to those places shouldn't warrant a warrantless parade of police into your house.

Thousands if not millions of people make business visits to Asia - South Korea, Japan, China - every year. How it can be otherwise if most high-tech equipment used in the US is produced there? Are you saying it is completely normal for them to get a visit from the police and get questioned about their kitchen inventory, nothing out of the ordinary here?

"Potential terrorist" is a very vague term. Anybody who is alive and not brain-dead can be "potential terrorist". However I don't see how you explain the police asking questions about pressure cookers. Is that just a common thing - anybody that visits China gets a visit from the police that ask them if they make a pressure cooker bombs, just in case? Like the routine "How are you, sir? Is everything alright? How was your China trip? Did you make any pressure cooker bombs today? How about tomorrow? Good day to you, sir, then!".

"The NSA does the routine profile on everyone within three steps of the-guy-on-the-list, some key words generate hits, salaried agents get another address to visit."

By routine profile, I meant "of the data we all already know the NSA has access to, such as google search history/mail content/etc".

e.g. they may have been on an 'automated search' list for being at three-degrees-of-'terrorist'-kevin-bacon and then got on a 'physical visit' list for trips to china + a few keyword hits in the web activity logs. at which point it seems obvious they would ask about pressure cooker bombs, even though they weren't there just because someone had searched online for pressure cooker bombs.

Now, I'm certainly not defending the NSAs list-making justifications nor accuracy. The whole thing is bullshit.

But this story looks like a textbook use of the bullshit programs we (now/all) know about. And it gives us no reason to theorize the existence of some new (trivially unsustainable, useless) program.

Pressure cooker seems to be very specific topic. There are a real lot of ways to make bombs. Yet more to cause general havoc - terrorism doesn't have to be just with explosives. Yet the questioning, as reported, was very focused - which raises the suspicion that it was related to the other piece of information that was focused on the same topic.

As for if they got it from "old" or "new" NSA programs - I don't think anybody really cares at this stage. What one would care is if his next google search would lead to a 3am SWAT visit with flashbang grenades or just a friendly visit from a bunch of armed guys in SUVs. That's the worrying part, not the name of the program the government uses to make it happen.

Of course it's focused: they almost certainly used their web traffic to pre-screen.

We already know from the slides that they do searches of their ill-gotten web traffic against a laundry list of keywords. Probably, every single remotely terrorist-sounding keyword.

I'd imagine "Ruby Ridge" and "fertilizer bomb" and "jihad" are in there as well. But the agents only need to mention "pressure cooker bombs" because that's what they'd actually gotten hits on.

The question is whether it makes more sense for this visit to have been the result of google alone (unlikely-to-implausible) or was the result of being pre-targetted for other reasons, which then brought their web activity under scrutiny (which fits everything we already know about the NSA's processes and policies and the facts in this case).

Off topic: if Kevin Bacon ended up on a list of suspected terrorists....

Remember when the Secret Service visited the 13-year old boy at his school regarding a Facebook post? http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/national_worl...

What about Justin Carter, a 19-year old recently freed on $500,000 bail for another Facebook post?

So we know that Federal (and State) law enforcement spends resources following up very tenuous leads.

As far as burning sources and methods, what else would you have them do to follow up on this specific lead? Six agents interviewing someone for an hour seems less expensive than weeks or months of surveillance.

What does it matter if the account is true or false? It's completely plausible.

You're not following. Yes, Bayes says that following up on stupid Facebook posts is also a waste of time. But the cost of following up on Facebook posts is low; nobody is surprised that the FBI finds out about stupid threats you post to Facebook, because Facebook is essentially public. The cost of following up on a Google dragnet is very high; the whole artifice of the Internet surveillance program is that it's not used this way.

Note that I'm not saying that Internet surveillance data doesn't get used this way. I'm saying that when it does, the USG sure as shit doesn't advertise the fact. They don't burn sources and methods for no good reason.

It's almost totally implausible.

Why is this even a debate about expense? Even if it cost the government $0 to store data on all americans and send agents to search peoples homes and question them it would not make it right for them to do it.

This is a basic question of what freedoms individuals have. If you make the laws so complicated and or secretive that no one can comply with them then the entire system fails. You have 3 letter agencies running around selectively enforcing overly complex/secret laws then the very foundation of what the law is meant to do breaks. Selective enforcement equals political influence equals the Rule of Men, not the Rule of Law.

>Why is this even a debate about expense?

Because the thread of this conversation is plausibility, and the OP article lacks a great deal of that, as pointed out by tptacek. Nobody here is arguing that this surveillance is correct, only that the sequence of events in the story makes no damn sense.

What artifice? Edward Snowden has removed the need for the government to pretend that kind of thing isn't done.

No, he didn't. That's an Internet meme, not a revealed truth. The USG may very well be abusing SIGINT to profile the whole US population, but it is not true that they're doing that openly.

Didn't the NSA just admit the existence of XKEYSCORE in a press release? [1] They pretty much verified much of what the Guardian had reported, while denying widespread, unchecked analyst access to data. And this blog post reveals a "foreignness factor" which would justify the search.

1. http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/press_room/2013/30_July_2013....

Oh, "internet memes," such pesky things! Why, every time there's a new Chuck Norris joke there are congressional hearings and amendments being debated! Such trouble! And remember that last time someone posted a cute cat video, and congresspeople made statements left and right (some of them even validating what the cat video said)?

My my, what trouble those "internet memes" get us into.

You sure did a lot there to avoid refuting his point (and avoid saying anything substantial, I might add). His point is that the actual abuse hasn't been documented, and they surely wouldn't do it in such a silly way as this article suggests if they were abusing it in this manner.

I was annoyed at the condescension of "internet meme", and was commenting on that.

When the clear potential for abuse has been thoroughly documented, getting nitpicky on actual abuse seems like a waste of time.

Of course, were I to get nitpicky, I'd say there is documented evidence of abuse (with NYTimes reporting going back years): http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130731/16193324027/nsa-bo...


EDIT: I do believe there's a difference between the potential for abuse and actual abuse. But I further believe the potential for abuse from global surveillance is so significant that even the potential is a dire problem in its own right. I was a bit too flippant about that distinction above.

You're overestimating the competence of government.

No, I'm not.

Incidentally, I love the mentality that says that the USG is using optical splitters to record all the traffic on the Internet, built a data center sufficient to archive it, built the database technology sufficient to enable the entire NSA and FBI realtime access to that data, compromised SSL CAs, but is too dumb not to tell strangers about their secret programs on random visits.

It's like in the movies, when the evil mastermind has the hero tied to a chair suspended over the laser shark tank, but monologues long enough for the hero to find a way to escape.

Apparently at least one FBI counterterrorism agent did this very thing, on national television. I think you are seriously underestimating FBI agents' big mouths.




Edit: Note that this was well before the PRISM leaks.

> but is too dumb not to tell strangers about their secret programs on random visits.

The group of people that are doing this random visits are not imbued in the same culture of secrecy as the NSA. Furthermore, the larger a program, the more and more casual a group of people are going to be about protecting it. It's the fault of our social programming -- if nearly everyone I deal with on a daily basis is in on a secret, I am far more likely to share that secret. This is probably the reason that nobody talks about their own secret projects at the NSA.

Your line of reasoning was what I used to assume about the type of NSA style data collection: "Gathering and using data information about every American would be an immense task, requiring lots of people -- if such a program existed, we probably would have found out about it now."

It turns out -- we are finding out about it for precisely that reason.

You're picturing the organization as a single mind and mentality when it's composed of many thousands of people with many motivations and levels of competence. The agents on the ground aren't the same as those who build the fancy technology (and in this case the agents who visited the author of the blog post were from a completely different organization).

This is how spying works in general--find one of the inevitably many people in a secret organization who will, in the right compromised situation (alcohol, a romantic affair, etc.), brag about their knowledge of state secrets.

Or look at Bradley Manning, who among other things exposed the fact that low level operatives have access to far more secret data than one would have imagined. His motivation (which led him to release all the data) differed from the organization's overall motivation in an extreme way.

The FBI confirmed the officers who paid a visit were county police, not FBI agents: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/01/new-york-police...

Which makes me wonder, how do county police get access to a reporter's search history?

They probably got the tap on the shoulder…

Believe what you wish. Your mind is already made.

That's because the data has already been seen. (Did you expect "You're overestimating the competence of government" to change anyone's mind?)

I love the mentality that says that the USG is [doing complicated technical things], but is too dumb not to tell strangers about their secret programs on random visits.

That's not a mentality, that's being aware the USG consists of millions of people, exactly the opposite of

It's like in the movies, when the evil mastermind has the hero tied to a chair

Thomas, the sane HN readers have stopped venturing into the NSA threads. You've made a valiant effort, and its charitable of you to keep the truthers distracted from attacking other threads, but it's time to leave them behind.

The cops in question were apparently local members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force. They get these tips from "the government", check them out, the people are once again not terrorists, and they then talk to them freely like normal people, because (1) they are and (2) the cops aren't NSA, don't have training in this kind of secrecy and don't care, and (3) do pretty well by classifying people into sheep and goats without worrying that some of the sheep might be cleverly disguised goats or have goat friends.

So yeah, this part of the story is entirely plausible to me.

Not to pick on you, but this meme is so grating to read over and over. "Government is incompetent" is an easy, lazy narrative that distracts from the immense complexity that is government (especially the US government).

Government is neither competent nor incompetent. It is a vast collection of organizations composed of humans that vary from grossly negligent paycheck collectors to shockingly effective strategic geniuses. Bureaucracy is the friction inherent in the system; different people clog and lubricate its workings to different aims, which range from the purest altruism to the most cynical abuse.

A government may be incompetent in solving issues in the interest of their constituents, but these people are cream-of-the-crop professionals at accumulating power.

This does seem implausible and I understand why. This program couldn't last more than a couple weeks, right?

But 2 things, neither of which are solid, can't rule it out (for me): if all search engines are monitored, what does it matter if the sources and methods are revealed? The adversary won't have much use for that information, unless they stop using the Internet altogether. It's a dumb argument, sure, but I could see it used as justification.

Second: does FBI leadership think a program like this could have prevented Boston? If they think this program is a good idea, I would not put it past them to run it so openly. Security theater works best when everyone sees it.

If I was organising security theatre, I'd probably ensure the (first? only?) person I targeted was a freelance journalist who'd accidentally acquired a million Twitter followers too...

Burn sources? That cat is already out of the bag. Everyone knows what's happening. I bet the leaks are incredibly liberating to intelligence. They no longer have to maintain the facade and can actually use their data to the full extent.

So we know that Federal (and State) law enforcement spends resources following up very tenuous leads.

Approximately 18 years ago I had 4 local police show up at my front door at 11:00 PM because my roommate had broken up with a girl and she told her parents that I posted her phone number on a Prodigy message board. I didn't do it and have never even had a Prodigy account.

I also barely knew the girl and she was only doing it to get back at my roommate through me.

I was in bed when they knocked on the door, I went downstairs and didn't let them in. They threatened everything short of killing me, I told them I had no idea what they were talking about. They then grilled my roommate outside for about 20 minutes. Dumbest situation I've ever been involved in.

So yeah, local cops have way to much time on their hands.

What does it matter if the account is true or false?


The story is gaining traction via the Guardian [1] and Atlantic Wire [2]. That's not vindication, but it does offer an additional layer of fact checking.

The Atlantic Wire piece points out that while the FBI "was aware of the visit...it was conducted by local police on Long Island".

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/01/new-york-police...

[2] http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/08/government-k...

I do not believe that the Atlantic Wire did any fact checking at all. The Atlantic Wire is The Atlantic's in-house HuffPo operation.

The Guardian apparently discovered that County PD visited Catalano's house. That's all we know, despite the fact that The Guardian ran a headline that said that Google searches produced a visit.

Seriously? How could anybody doubt that their journalists would perform due-diligence?

These are their most-clicked stories this hour:

Google 'Pressure Cookers' and 'Backpacks,' Get a Visit from the Cops

So, You Want to Hide from the NSA? Your Guide to the Nearly Impossible

The World's Most Homoerotic Homophobes Are Now Mounting a Giant Pole in Tiny Pink Shorts

Fox News Is Rushing to Defend Its Reza Aslan Interview

China Owes U.S. Movie Studios At Least $120 Million

For a Split GOP, 2016 Can't Come Soon Enough

Taylor Swift Knows a Secret

Welcome to the Homeland, Mexico and Canada!

Don't Say Hillary Clinton Is Running for President

Netflix Has Made It Easier Than Ever to Share Accounts

Tptacek, when we have our government admitting that it's established a global complete electronic dragnet why are you surprised that it will be used?

I do not really understand HN's skepticism in reaction to this story. The surveillance apparatus is real, well funded and the large number of people employed by it take their jobs very seriously.

I think there's more to it simply on the basis that sending three SUV's with at least six agents to investigate people would be almost impossible from an economic standpoint. That is extremely costly and time-consuming, not to mention the amount of lead-time required to brief agents and investigate this family. If they did that for every suspicious search query combination, they'd be awfully busy.

I don't even doubt that their family was paid a visit by agents. However I wouldn't be surprised if certain details were left out to sell a certain angle on this story. For example, to create a headline-worthy story she might have gone to unreasonable lengths to create the illusion of suspicious activity without actually doing anything illegal.


I checked the Atlantic Wire story and was immediately turned-off by the photo. It is meant to mislead the reader into thinking the subjects are members of the family being described in the story. However if you scroll to the end you see in grayed-out type:

Photo: Massachusetts police search a home after the Boston bombings.

News these days is a complete joke. Anybody who thinks this is real journalism should go read Ryan Holiday's Confessions of a Media Manipulator. It's impossible to read or watch most news sources without a conscious level of skepticism.

Not sure about the financial side, the US government has a massive amount of resources to work with. The cost of employing 500 agents would be a fraction of the cost of say, a single military helicopter.

To say nothing of the bureaucratic fun that occurs when the US government is forced to work with itself in a JTTF-type situation.

1. Departments are territorial and image conscious (most being headed by elected officials or political appointees).

2. Individuals don't get promoted by passing up chances to work on those sorts of investigations. Even if they're nonsense.

If the feds want to check something out in a joint investigation situation, I can easily see 'federal agents want to have a talk' becoming 2 feds + 2 state/county + 2 local detectives.

There's a world of difference between "using it" and sending agents out to chase down leads that are statistically worthless. You can believe that they have and are otherwise using such a system while simultaneously rejecting the idea that they'd be wasting time and resources in this way.

Until the Snowden episode, sending agents to track down leads that were statistically worthless was worse than just a waste of resources, because the problem US they're actually trying to solve is "how do we monitor suspects whilst managing not to give away how much we know to journo-bloggers so passionate about their right to freedom of speech they might publicly question why the government is scrutinizing their search terms".[1]

The intersection of "pressure cooker", "backpack" and visits to overseas countries not known for sponsoring low-level terrorism is perhaps not the most obvious criterion for identifying terrorists, so presumably they'd also have to flag most of the ~12,000 people who searched for "bomb-making" last month, for example, and perhaps some more innocuous ones like independent searches for "martyr" and "white house" or "chechnya" and "aeroplane". That's a lot of resource.

Now even if they're pretty selective about who they actually pay a visit to, they're going to return a lot of false positives. No big deal, except that pre-Snowden the programme is supposed to be a secret and even within the subset of people flagging the "possible terrorist" alert they're going to investigate far more journalists (common occupation) than terrorists (rare occupation). Which is a bit of a problem if their modus operandi is instructing police to knock on people's doors and ask them whether they were searching for X on the internet. Was this really PRISM's raison d'etre?

The alternate hypothesis involves a freelance writer famous solely for her number of Twitter followers embellishing her police enquiry story with some very topical themes.

[1]If I worked in intelligence I'd solve that problem by not telling local cops what potential suspects had been doing on the internet...

The stated policy under the Bush Administration is that if there was even a 1% chance that a lead might be legitimate, then the government should pursue it with all available resources.

The use of resources shows that we're serious - so yeah, they waste them. Profligately. Or haven't you flown recently?

I'm not necessarily describing his thought process, but here's how I see it.

The bigger and more important something is, the more rigor, care and 'cool' should be applied to it.

A big part of me is just screaming about all of this crap. But it's important to settle down, and apply even more reason and rigor.

Be cool; stay focused; think about the problem; work the problem.

Isn’t it the NSA who does the mass-surveillance? Why whould they share their findings with e.g. the FBI?

Strictly speaking it's been the FBI doing the surveillance itself and turning the data over for storage to NSA, if I understand the org. structure correctly.

I must admit I haven’t read the articles about Snowden’s discloures that close. Do you have any links to share regarding the FBI:s involvement?

The original WaPo/Guardian articles on PRISM are a good start, and I think one of the followup NYT articles was even more specific about how the NSA manages to capture information from domestic providers even though they're legally not allowed to intercept domestically.

Instead they have FBI install data collection devices, have the FBI runs NSLs/warrants as needed, etc. NSA just does the spook work after all that is done.

Thanks. Ever since I read Clifford Stoll’s ”The Cuckoo’s Egg” I’ve been under the impression that the NSA and the FBI hated each other :)

Well that pretty much was the case, right up until 9/11. ;)

That's your backtrack? That we don't know enough?

How is it OK that the local PD (acting as part of DoJ's Joint Terrorism Task Force) knows any factors that would reasonably lead them to investigate this family?

Except the Atlantic Wire article states that both the FBI and the JTTF denied visiting the house.

FBI spokesperson Peter Donald confirmed The Guardian's report that the FBI was not involved in the visit itself. Asked if the FBI was involved in providing information that led to the visit, Donald replied that he could not answer the question at this point, as he didn't know.

We asked if the Suffolk and Nassau police, which The Guardian reported were the authorities that effected the raid, are part of the government's regional Joint Terrorism Task Force. They are, he replied, representing two of the 52 agencies that participate. He said that local police are often deputized federal marshals for that purpose — but that the JTTF "did not visit the residence." He later clarified: "Any officers, agents, or other representatives of the JTTF did not visit that location."

I believe in the literal truth of those statements.

I do not believe it to be likely that the local PD had evidence that would warrant a raid that they obtained on their own through normal local police procedures.

What's the reconciliation?

No, we don't know enough. What we know is that something here looks odd, and that warrants more investigation.

Perhaps this particular person was already under investigation for something else. We don't know.

I want to know more, but I'm reserving my outrage until more facts and confirmation come out.

I agree with sensible skepticism and reserving judgment to wait for more facts.[0]

tptacek, on the other hand, led with "I don't buy this, at all", and "if you're trying to sell a hoax", and many more sentences and comments that attack the author and the story.

([0]: The real life complication is that in most cases you will never get all the facts, and so reserving judgment forever ends up being the worst kind of inaction.)

I haven't backtracked an inch.

So you still "don't buy this, at all"? Despite a credible news organization's confirmation that the FBI was aware of a local PD's visit to this family?

The mind boggles.

What makes my mind boggle is that idea that people would rely on a single blog post to assume the conclusion that the FBI is dragnetting Google searches for lead generation for suspicionless searches.

No, wait, that doesn't boggle my mind at all.

Who said it was suspicionless? That's just the author's assertion. They could have been targeted for some other reason (the frequent overseas travel for example) and then the searches came up when they were already being targeted.

Does that make it better?

Yes that does make it better. If the FBI are calling around to people, purely based on google searches that's terrible. If they are calling around to people based on a whole pile of other things that might be suspicious that's much better.

Tptacek, it's called clustering and outlier detection. Look it up before you make a complete fool of yourself.

dyinglobster, it's called the Bayesian Base Rate Fallacy, and you just fell for it.

It's called common sense.

NSA Collects 'Word for Word' Every Domestic Communication, Says Former Analyst


All we know is that the local police visited her house. That is the entirety of what has been confirmed by The Guardian.

There is absolutely nothing with waiting for definitive evidence before making your mind up about something.

We know that the local police visited her house, and that the FBI knew about it.

I don't think I'm being unreasonable in trusting the author that the officers said they were with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is one of a few plausible ways the FBI would know about local PD activity.

Her credibility on the big fact is established. What are we missing, then? The details on what the questions were? Whether or not they were asked about their Google history? Where the intel came from?

For all we know, the FBI knew about it because so many people called them up to ask about it that they figured they'd call the local PD and ask them about it.

I don't think I'm being unreasonable in trusting the author that the officers said they were with the Joint Terrorism Task Force

From this WaPo article http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/08/01... :

“They were officers from the Nassau County Police Department who identified themselves as such,”

You might, justifiably, be suspicious of the police account. But all we have to go on are two contradicting accounts. Why not wait until we have some actual evidence?

The Guardian quote is incredibly weaselly (when ellipses appear in a quote it's a good sign that liberties are being taken). The same person stated that no one from the JTTF visited her house in any capacity, which includes police involved in the same.

So thus far -- assuming that the police aren't lying -- we've gone from terrorism task force visit caused by Google searches (that they do "100s of", apparently), to maybe, possibly, some local police visited her for some reason.

"assuming that the police aren't lying "

Unfortunately, this is an awfully huge assumption to make!

Your whole assumption is based on the fact that they want to find terrorists when I would put forward that their mission is actually to grow the institutional power. Budget share, it's what drives DC.

I'm sure there's a bunch of non-falsifiable fuzzy arguments you could substitute for this one. How about, "you assume they're looking for terrorists, but really they just don't like the texture of pressure-braised chicken."

I'm really having no problem seeing the situation as portrayed unfolding in a large bureaucracy.

1) Some dude adds pressure cooker to the dumb keywords list that's never found a valid lead, right after the only incidence in history of a pressure cooker being used as an implement of irregular warfare. (Reactive, CYA, ineffective, typical)

2) Whether they send out FBI trucks to people who came up on the filters: I agree that it's stupid. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't do it. How does "Investigated 46,000 terror leads last year" sound on the executive report?

It's not a matter of 'how could they be so smart and so dumb at the same time'. It's different people being smart and dumb.

Eh maybe so. But I've was raised in DC and worked for government many times and my family is in the intelligence industry so it's my own conclusion. I bet many in DC would agree with me.

Nope, sounds stupid to me and my neighbors were NSA agents.

Okay then. I appreciate your input.

I'm sure your neighbors told you all about the work they do at the NSA.

Never said they did. Looks like you should brush up on your reading comprehension.

Strictly speaking, he never claimed you did.

When I type in "pressure cooker", the very first suggested Google query is "pressure cooker bomb"...which means a non-significant number of people have either searched for that query or have written about it.

And this is the first dramatic account we've heard of this? We've heard of several National Security Letters, the disclosure of which is breaking the law...yet none of the presumably hundreds and thousands of people who have been visited by government black SUVs have not made a quip about being erroneously searched? Even though such searches, as the OP describes it, are mostly non-confrontational and end with the agents being non-threatening?

Yeah, I also have to express some skepticism here.

> I don't buy this, at all.

I got the same impression after reading the post and before looking at the HN discussion. Good to see I wasn't the only one.

Initially I was horrified by the blog post because we now know for certain that google search histories are readily available without warrant to certain subsets of NSA analysts. Then it hit me that the blog post content and timing was too perfect. If such an uproarious event happened to the author, why on earth hold on to the story for "a few weeks"?

Who knows, maybe the author's husband did get searched and she's only assuming it was related to interest in pressure cookers and backpacks. I have no real reason to assume the author is lying, but I also don't have to assume she's telling the whole truth and not just trying to attract page views.

> If such an uproarious event happened to the author, why on earth hold on to the story for "a few weeks"?

The author said this happened Wednesday (yesterday). The "few weeks ago" was when she searched for pressure cookers and imagined alerts going out.

Good catch. My bad. Apparently my reading comprehension skills aren't as strong as I like to think.

You're calling her a liar based on her second hand account of what JTTF (not FBI) agents told her husband. But the Google searches might have been only one element of what led the agents to go knocking on her door. We know for a fact that the feds do get people's Google searches after they've convinced some rubber stamp court that someone is suspicious.

I have no trouble believing that the FBI would do things that would compromise the fact that they collect information about searches for targets of investigations. That's a very different compromise than the one that reveals they dragnet all Google searches for lead generation.

Per an update via the The Atlantic Wire:

" Update, 7:05 p.m.: Because the Googling happened at work.

The Suffolk County Police Department released a statement this evening that answers the great mystery of the day.

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. "


I agree that I'd like to see some actual evidence. The author _is_ someone with a degree of credibility, but it is a little hard to believe.

That said, I posted this specifically because I thought the discussion around exactly this would be interesting.

Can you tell me more about the author's credibility?

(She could be the US National Security Advisor and I still would not buy the idea that the FBI is simultaneously (a) dragnetting Google search teams and (b) noisily following up on suspicious ones; if the FBI is watching Google, they sure as fuck don't want you to know that.)

She's a writer who's been published in Forbes and BoingBoing, and has almost a million Twitter followers. So not a random nobody. Doesn't mean she has specialized knowledge in this area, and it _could_ be an experiment to see how fast a story would grow...

However, she is only Twitter famous, due to a self-acknowledged quirk in Twitter's system:


I've never heard of her except to remember that she wrote that Boing Boing piece on finding a million followers. And before you say, "Well how the fuck do you know every writer in existence?"...I'd say that I read way more than I should :) But I also do work in media, an industry which obsesses way too much about Twitter.

To make some comparisons...the OP's twitter account has 980,000 followers and rising.

Xeni Jardin, who is as household of a blogger name in the tech circles as one can get, has 77,000 followers

Cory Doctorow has 300,000.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has 1,339,448 followers


So am not arguing against the OP's credibility, per se, but just pointing out that having 1,000,000 twitter followers and yet not being a well-known name probably means that the followers didn't come because of the writer's credibility and fame. She may be great at Twitter, however.

Ahhh, interesting. Yes, absolutely, it's only a signal, not proof of relevance.

Oh, so she's a professional attention-seeker, low-effort blogger, and Twitter spammer. That certainly helps me adjust my posterior probability estimate of her legitimacy.

> I still would not buy the idea that the FBI is simultaneously (a) dragnetting Google search teams and (b) noisily following up on suspicious ones

The article doesn't really provide evidence for that. The family might have gotten the visit and they might have previously searched for terms the author thinks look suspicious to FBI. This proves nothing - the causal link looks like a typical hindsight mistake.

The visit might as well be a result of some kind of dumb screwup on the part of the forces. It's not like they never kick out the wrong front door or arrest the wrong person. We'll probably never know.

Edit, to clear my point: I have no problem believing the events described in the article but the causal relation is author's speculation and probably wrong.

The apologist begins to sputter.

Why are you so surprised? Mass surveillance isn't happening for no reason.

While, I agree this COULD all be a sham story for someone who may be a bit of an attention seeker ... I would like to counter your arguments anyways to show that this story is actually perfectly believable.

In the article, the 'Task Force' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Terrorism_Task_Force) probably has a set of "Tasks" that they must accomplish to be ... well ... worth being a department with a budget. And I imagine one of those is following up on "profile-perfect" households or individuals.

So what would make this household 'profile-perfect'? Well it is true that there were searches for Pressure cookers and backpacks but that alone won't mean much due to the massive amounts of searches for these products.

But BOTH searches were done; and yet still I have to agree that the intersection still does not provide an un-biased view.

However, what if we take into consideration the timescale at which these searches (and possible purchases) took place? We know that the searches were made WITHIN the same week. This factor could possibly give us stronger signals for a profile-match.

Now what if we couple that with 'international travel'(e.g. how often a passport was used in a system for out-of-country travel)? The profile match would become higher due to the husbands business trips.

And I don't know where these people live, but location could also be a factor as well (e.g. the closer you live to a major city the greater your risk potential factor).

Now the cross-section for these factors would have such precision that doing a dragnet on this profile-match set would be feasible. And I imagine it would amount to less than 100 households a week (although I think if the story is true that the agent said this just to 'console' the family that this is common practice and there is nothing to worry about).

What do you guys think?

EDIT: Also not to mention that another factor could be 'Copy-cat-syndrome'(made up the term) e.g. how many things were occurring at this household to make them appear like potential Boston-bomber copycats?

You're not engaging with my point. Manpower and expense is a problem with this story, yes, but not the main problem; the main problem is that it's a strategy that is practically guaranteed to betray the existence of a whole new domestic Internet surveillance program while at the same time being almost mathematically guaranteed never to find a single terrorist.

She's inferring that her searches are the cause. It's not clear that the agents ever explicitly stated that they used search history to profile the family. They asked, "Have you ever looked up pressure cooker bombs?" They might ask this question of everyone.

Someone posted this below which I find hilarious.

"Section Chief: You dispatched field agents without understanding the base rate theorem!? You're a loose cannon, McGillicutty...

McGillicutty: ...I get results!

Section Chief: Mathematically, you shouldn't. Ergo, you don't."

Actually I addressed both the Financial and Mathematical points of your initial comment quite avidly/thoroughly.

No, you think you have, but because you don't understand the base rate theorem you're just talking past me. It's not enough to filter the population down to 100 households. Nothing you do with a filter changes the base rate of terrorist plots, which is extremely low. Profile 100 households, you get 100 false positives. Profile 50 households, you get 50 false positives. The likelihood of any one house you investigate housing an actual plot is always going to be very, very low.

I don't think I could facepalm any harder. What you are basically stipulating is that because pursuing certain leads could be almost always wrong that this would prevent a government department from following up on them? Are you kidding me?

>Nothing you do with a filter changes the base rate of terrorist plots, which is extremely low.

In that case, I imagine the base rate of 'post-successful terrorist act plotting' is higher than 'pre-successful terrorist act plotting,' which would eliminate your argument.

Also, what you would be studying is the TYPE of terrorist activity not total plot numbers e.g. the stages of activity. If a successful terrorist attack was pulled off not to long ago in the past then that would call for an increase in the base rate of the TYPE of plotting. More terrorists would be more invigorated to pursue/look into similar methods as their next plot.

Maybe the cross-section of the plotting-type-pivot is what you could match against?

The simplest way to express my facepalm is: you are tremendously oversimplifying things.

Surely any increase in wannabe-copycat terrorists Googling for items used in recent terrorist attacks would be more than cancelled out by a much larger proportional increase in the much larger group of people that follow the news and don't want to be terrorists also Googling for items used in recent attacks

Section Chief: You dispatched field agents without understanding the base rate theorem!? You're a loose cannon, McGillicutty...

McGillicutty: ...I get results!

Section Chief: Mathematically, you shouldn't. Ergo, you don't.

I do not think so.

Filtering to target at high-risk sub-groups - which, among themselves, have different base rates than the general population- is entirely effective.

It is precisely the reasoning under which medical screening - ineffective, generally, due to the base rate - is aimed at, say, "Men Over 50", where the base rate grows sufficiently large to make screening worthwhile.

What trouble do you have with the fact that there aren't 100 terrorist plots in NYC? There might not even be 2 of them. If they're filtering down to 100 visits a week, something close to 99% of the visits are false positives.

tptacek seems hell-bent on not giving the side for which he has no factual data any mindshare at all--there are arguments for that mindset.

As for your filtering observation, yeah, I have no idea if he just mis-stated his position, is using different definitions, or today just can't into math.

One of two possibilities arise from this comment. The first is that you think that there might be many many terrorist plots ongoing at any time. The other is that you don't understand the simple idea of a base rate and how it applies to statistical filters.

So, your first possibility is incorrect.

The second is worth investigating, and in the interest of teaching others I'll provide a helpful link:


It's unfortunate, because that article and the base rate article have some contradictory conclusions--but, the linked article shows its math.

What's really troubling me here though is that you seem unwilling even as a thought experiment to entertain the notion that this sort of behavior could be purposeful by the government. In many, many prior discussions you've held this view, you've advocated for stripping rights, you've advocated for screwing over people scraping public unauthenticated APIs, you've advocated a great many things against the general notion of the public good, of privacy, and of exploration.

Perhaps come down here and--in the name of intellectual honesty--try and understand what exactly has so many of these people bothered. As it is, due to your choice of message and presentation, you often come off as at best aloof and at worst willfully ignorant.

I like how this comment goes from acknowledging that the author didn't know about an extremely basic and fundamental concept of statistics to a whole paragraph of (frankly weird) assertions about my character and beliefs. It's almost gymnastic.

I think one place to start moving forward is to acknowledge that you really have no idea what I do or don't believe.

How would you stack this against the Guardian article that was quoted further down the page?

A spokesman for the FBI told to the Guardian on Thursday that its investigators were not involved in the visit, but that "she was visited by Nassau County police department … They were working in conjunction with Suffolk County police department."

You're suggesting that the FBI always does the optimal thing. This may not be the case. To put it mildly. I refer you to Hanlon's razor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon's_razor

Surveillance of Google search terms wouldn't be revealed unless someone told the suspects directly (which these bumbling police officers essentially did).

It is entirely plausible that searches for "pressure cookers" and backpacks are some of several factors used to flag suspects. There is almost certainly a mandate to prevent pressure cooker bombings. I would guess they allotted some resource budget to that task and then simply created search criteria that narrowed the set of cases into one that could be investigated using those resources. I am pretty certain they didn't make any calculations of posterior probabilities. There aren't nearly enough samples to make any kind of meaningful statistical assessment of efficacy, even if you believed that that was the primary decision making tool of the security agencies.

Assuming the story is true the NSA or FBI probably flagged these individuals using a number of factors (search terms, "anti-government" writing, etc) but not enough to merit use of limited federal resources. Still they hit on several risk factors so local police are informed, they may have additional information about these people and have boots on the ground to keep on eye on them (if something did happen then NSA and FBI could wash their hands: "We told the local police, they did nothing"). The comparatively unsophisticated local police, partly motivated by the same fear of being responsible if something did happen, then ham-fisted the investigation.

Agree on plausibility. Also, don't forget the 20-year-old son. Bet they checked the medicine cabinet.

First: On your assertion that federal government agencies (or agencies that work in tandem with them) act in line with mathematical probability like the base rate theorem and that they necessarily allocate resources in a cost-effective manner.

Has a federal agency ever been funded to the tune of 8 billion dollars a year, infringed on individual freedoms, harassed innocent civilians, all of which are tangible wastes and violations while based on a premise that also completely ignores the base rate theorem? Has such an agency been scrapped even though they have failed to negate the base rate theorem after billions of resources invested and negative collateral effects?

Second: On your point that revealing their methods in this case "burns a source" How is this burning a source?

1. As others have provided citations for, the FBI has already revealed that they surveil communications.

2. One would assume that competent terrorists are not in complete ignorance of the possibility that the FBI utilizes a domestic surveillance system. Thus, the "secret source" does not really provide the element of surprise.

3. If by burning you mean revealing to the masses and compromising public opinion, the federal government of the US has already shown that they believe in the checks and balances of their system (such as warrants, blanket or otherwise) and this is one of their major defenses of these practices. If they wholeheartedly believe that the system is legal (as they have demonstrated), then they would not feel the need to hide this kind of investigation.

Regardless of whether the story is true or not (I haven't made up my mind on this yet), I don't think the arguments you give for discrediting the story seem as strong as you present them.

Yep, doesn't stop NYPD from stopping and frisking random minorities (including a 3 star NYPD police chief who was not very happy about having guns pulled on him while sitting in his NYPD vehicle with a badge around his neck). Looks like this was local cops, never underestimate the desire of a cowboy to be a hero.

My takeaway from this article is that it was a piece of realistic fiction, not reported as fact and thus not a "hoax".

The author, Michele Catalano lists herself as a political writer not a news reporter.


Edit: I take it all back, she claims on her twitter that this is accurate and true. I share your reservations on the veracity of this account.

I was unable to find the reference where Ms Catalano claimed to be visited directly by FBI agents as you are suggesting in your posts, and not as she said (https://medium.com/something-like-falling/2e7d13e54724) the Joint Terrorism Task force, which includes local law enforcement members who are part of it and who work together with the FBI and other agencies. JTTF is generally overseen and investigation coordinated by the FBI, and the FBI also pays the participating agencies expenses for costs incurred during their JTTF work. (http://www.fbi.gov/page2/dec04/jttf120114.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Terrorism_Task_Force)

Searching the article which is linked to and which you are commenting about reveals that it does not even include the term "FBI". However that is hardly relevant given then connection to the FBI that the JTTF has, members are generally acting on behalf of FBI investigations when they do JTTF work. If someone were to call them de facto FBI agents it would not be inaccurate given they act with the authority of the FBI and are paid by the FBI for their work on the JTTF.

Please state clearly whether you are asserting that Ms Catalano's article here contains lies in your opinion, and clarify exactly what she said that you believe she is lying about or misrepresenting. Please provide a reference quote to the part of the referenced article that you are commenting on where she makes a claim to be visited by FBI agents specifically and not the JTTF.

Her twitter: https://twitter.com/inthefade

States: "Pro tip: don't do a search for pressure cookers right after your spouse does a search for backpacks if you don't want the FBI at your door."

Before later clarifying: "To clarify, they turned out to be a terrorist task force, not FBI. I wasn't home, my husband and son were."

This story doesn't mention the FBI at all, man. It mentions six plainclothes guys in three black SUVs who've obviously had some tactical training, and leaves it at that.

The point being that America has become a country where six armed guys can show up at your door with pointed questions and no warrant, and you will never be told why.

Your skepticism turns out to be warranted. Apparently the operation was conducted after local police "received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee."


It was implied in the story that the husband was looking up how to create a pressure cooker bomb as well out of curiosity. Even that might not be enough though. If FBI are smart they just classify each user into brackets of suspicious activity. The top N% get investigated, where N depends on the current available resource/budget. Not hard to believe at all.


100 visits a week, which regardless of your filter has a Bayesian assurance of a huge false positive rate, each of which has a (say) single-digit percentage chance of revealing a highly confidential intelligence source. No. Not plausible.

FWIW looks like you were right: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6146898

This was exactly my impression reading this. I fully expect -- if the author wants to regain any credibility -- that the author will say that it was a fiction "based on real events" of where society will be if the NSA moves ahead, etc (which goes along with the fact that they categorized it under "thoughts into essays". Read the other entries so categorized). That it was but an enlightened warning.

At first reading, I was wondering is this a think piece or is it real. Based on her twitter account, it appears it is real: "You don't believe my story? Ask any of my followers about my credibility. Then kiss my ass. Thanks." https://twitter.com/inthefade/status/362890947165564928 What do you guys think?

Seems to have difficulty keeping her word just talking to someone:


@jsin you're the only one doubting me, dude. Michele Catalano @inthefade 17h

To clarify, they turned out to be a terrorist task force, not FBI. I wasn't home, my husband and son were Michele Catalano @inthefade 16h

Going silent on the issue now. Michele Catalano @inthefade 16h

@jsin How the hell is it hearsay when it happened to ME? 4h


I don't think credibility like this can be meaningfully established by polling someone's twitter followers. How would they know if it were true or not?

I suppose if they've not been caught in a lie before, it's less likely that they're lying this time. But how persistent is their identity, how many do they have running at the same time, is it just a case that all the people who think they're lying have left? And are all the ones that question just banned?


I doubt the story. Whether it's a lie or not -shrug- It's not totally outside the realms of credibility I suppose, but her word alone isn't sufficient evidence.

http://news.yahoo.com/google-pressure-cookers-backpacks-visi... also an article from yahoo. the problem is that we have to wonder if this is real. it shouldn't be. it should be found in a book written about a horrible distopia in the future... but it's not.

Huh? That's not an article from Yahoo. That's a syndicated reprint from Atlantic Wire. And if you actually read it, you'll see that it contains no original material except, "This is what someone else said."

It's on Internet? Must be legit.

Guardian article about this incident: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/01/new-york-police...

Apparently it was the local police.

This confirmation is the legwork I was hoping for. "A spokesman for the FBI told to the Guardian on Thursday that its investigators were not involved in the visit, but that 'she was visited by Nassau County police department … They were working in conjunction with Suffolk County police department.'"

Isn't it odder that local police have access to this data?

Yeah, this is far more odd.

I doubt this story is real...

(5, at least, this has been going on) * (52 weeks) * (100 a week) = 26,000 homes would have been entered, averaging 3 people per home (on the low side)

= ~78,000 people have had this happen to them and I haven't heard about it?

Not to mention, I would say no to any plain clothes government official without presenting a warrant and badges.

There are plenty of other issues with the blog post, but those two alone are enough for me to call B.S.

Maybe you would but most people wouldn't. It takes guts to say no to six armed men with government documents, even if the law is technically on your side. They are very cordial and nice, they just want to ask a couple of questions, and they have the gigantic power of US government standing behind their backs. And you are in your pajamas and slippers and would you dare to say no to them, whatever the consequences would be? If you doubt what most people would choose, look how many people are completely OK with what TSA is doing. And that's your ass, literally, being inspected, not your kitchen.

I would not have let them in with out a warrant.

Same here. I'm at a point now where I've basically wholesale adopted the "don't talk to the police" mindset.

A few nights ago, I went through one of those DUI checkpoints. I handed the cop my license, and then he started asking me questions:

Cop: "Where are you headed?"

Me: "That's none of your business."

Him: <surprised look>

Different night, different DUI checkpoint:

Cop: "Where are you coming from?"

Me: "Sorry, I don't answer questions for cops unless I'm under arrest and have an attorney present."

Cop: "That's a pretty intense position, any particular reason for it?"

Me: "It's just a matter of principle. This is a free country and we don't have a Gestapo or a Stasi here that we have to answer to, and somebody needs to remind you guys of that."

Cop: <looking in my window with his flashlight> "You always ride around with all this stuff in your truck?"

Me: <forgetting for a moment that I'm not planning to answer any questions> "Yeah"

Cop: "You moving?"

Me: "I just told you, I don't answer questions unless I'm under arrest and have a lawyer present. If you think you have probable cause to arrest me for a crime, arrest me, I'll call a lawyer and we'll do this right."

Cop: <finally noticing all the anarchist and anti-govt. stickers on my truck> "Oh, I see the stickers now. I guess you think of yourself as sovereign, huh?"

Me: "I guess that's an open question, isn't it?"

Cop: "Good luck with that. Have a good night."

So yeah, technically speaking I did answer a couple of his questions, one out of sheer instinct, and two that were "meta" questions in a sense. But the point is, this is now how I routinely deal with the police. You want to search my car? Get a warrant. You want to play twenty questions? Arrest me and wait until my lawyer is in the room. Etc.

Interesting. Sounds like a pretty intelligent officer to ask "Oh, I see the stickers now. I guess you think of yourself as sovereign, huh?"

Most of the cops around me couldn't find their home town on a map if you pointed to it, let along understand what anarchism is.

Yeah, I was actually a little surprised by that myself. I doubt most average street officers understand much about the notion of "individual sovereignty" or know much anarchist theory. In this case, give the guy even more credit, because my particular "flavor" of anarchism is anarcho-capitalism, and the stickers include a "Read Rothbard" sticker, a "V for Voluntary" sticker, one that shows two stick-figure cops beating another stick figure and has a caption "Government, protecting and serving the shit out of you" and one generic circle-A sticker, mixed in with a bunch of mountain biking and heavy metal band stickers.

OTOH, I know local police and state police do occasionally receive bulletins and notices and training stuff from the feds, and I think at least a few of those have mentioned anarchists and "individual sovereignty"... I think at least one of those got widely circulated on Slashdot, Reddit, here on HN, etc., under a headline like "The FBI Thinks You Are A Terrorist If You Read The Constitution" or something.

The reason the sovereign citizen movement caught the attention of law enforcement is, of course, this incident:

"...In 2010, two Arkansas police officers stopped sovereign-citizen extremists Jerry Kane and his 16-year-old son Joseph during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 40. Joseph Kane jumped out of the vehicle and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle, killing both officers..."

See: http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforceme...

I love this bit:

The FBI considers sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement, which, scattered across the United States, has existed for decades

What a load of shit. Sure, some people who refer to themselves as "sovereign individuals" have done things that would be considered terrorism, but by no means does believing in the inherent sovereignty of the individual automatically imply that someone is a terrorist.

> Sure, some people who refer to themselves as "sovereign individuals" have done things that would be considered terrorism...

You mean like extremists? Seems like you're agreeing with the bit that you love.

Apparently I parsed that differently. I took it as the FBI saying that everyone who believes in / advocates for, individual sovereignty, is a "sovereign citizen extremist" and therefore a "domestic terrorist".

You and I are on the same page in terms of political philosophy. There needs to be an organization called 'Americans for Voluntary Society' or something like that.

There probably is. For me though, the Libertarian Party gets close enough to the spirit of what I believe (especially when you factor in the "Radical Caucus" folks) and has more traction in terms of influencing public policy than any other libertarian / voluntaryist / anarcho-capitalist leaning group that I'm aware of.

Please do not refer to anarcho-capitalism as an anarchist school of thought. Capitalism and anarchism are mutually exclusive.

This is really a debate to have elsewhere - not in a hacker news comment thread. Libertarian socialists, which is most schools of anarchist thought, don't see anarcho-capitalism as a strain of anarchism, but there is certainly a long history of individualist strains of anarchism that anarcho-capitalism draws on and anarcho-capitalists certainly consider themselves anarchist.

And I say this as an anarcho-communist who disagrees with the economic theories of anarchy capitalists but am well schooled in anarchist theory - traditional and contemporary.

Sorry, but this really isn't the place for this argument. We disagree, that's all I'll say.

The officer was likely referring to the sovereign citizen movement. Most officers are aware of them.

Keep it simple to avoid slipping into trouble.

"Am I under arrest, sir?"

"Am I free to go, sir?"

"Am I under arrest, sir?"

"Am I free to go, sir?"

Yeah, this is called being unnecessarily combative with a cop, and is asking for some serious trouble. All you need is a cop that's at the end of a long bad day, and eventual vindication (with a possible settlement) probably won't make up for the several months of grief.

1) Don't talk to cops

2) Don't be rude to cops

lecturing the cops about your rights falls under #2. Ask if you're being detained, mention (politely!) that you only speak to cops with your attorney present if you must, and ask if you can go. Everything else in this not completely believable dialog is asking for trouble.

I was never rude with him at all. Text doesn't convey tone / etc. It was actually a very cordial conversation, and he seemed genuinely interested in why somebody would adhere to such a strict stance. I could tell that he probably doesn't agree with my political stances, but that's OK.

As for #2... fuck that. I'm not required to be "polite", and I'm not required to make their job easy. I'll be polite if it suits me and if they're polite to me. Otherwise, I see no reason to treat a cop like he/she is somebody special. A cop is just another douchebag with a gun and badge, IMO. Being unduly deferential / subservient to them only promotes the kind of abuses that we are constantly railing against.

All you need is a cop that's at the end of a long bad day, and eventual vindication (with a possible settlement) probably won't make up for the several months of grief.

That's a chance I'm perfectly willing to live with. That said, I'm 40 now, and I've been this way since I was probably 14 or so, when I got my mom pulled over because I flipped off a state trooper as we were passing by... Hell, I even flat out told one cop that he was just a glorified bean-counter, enforcing bureaucratic nonsense, and that if he really wanted to contribute to society that he should quit his job and go become a firefighter. They get huffy and annoyed, but nothing significant has ever happened.

Doesn't mean a pissed off cop won't shoot me to death tomorrow, but whatever.

Everything else in this not completely believable dialog is asking for trouble.

Why do you say it's not completely believable? Unfortunately I don't have a recording or anything, but I promise you, that's exactly how it went down, modulo small mistakes due to my imperfect memory.

Interesting. So you just forget about your rights, and accept abuse of them. You also think querying a situation is "combative"? Why use the word "lecturing"? Why not telling, or informing?

Sound all a bit "do as you are told little boy, as I have a gun" to me. I suppose its consistent with US foreign policy.

I suppose if the US gov expect to bully nation states around because the US has the most military power and can bomb folk back to the stone age if they don't comply, then treating its own citizens like that and expecting them to cower to the gun makes sense.

As I say, it consistent at least. Gotta respect that.

What in the world? I love that you and mindcrime took "don't be rude to cops" and turned it into grovelling subservience to the police state. Let me guess, "don't be a dick" reads to you as "be fake and politically correct at all times"? Yes, we all know your type.

You shouldn't be rude to cops for the same reason that you don't talk to cops: because if you catch one on a bad day who decides to charge you and then add a "resisting arrest" to the charge for fun (let alone shoot you...watch out in Oakland), you're going to have a bad time. The romance of civil disobedience might warm your heart, but the vast majority of false arrest incidents end with no compensation and no administrative action against the officer. You might get them out for a week on paid leave. Meanwhile you spent time in jail, you get your face on those mugshot sites, and all it takes is a DA waiting to make a name for themselves and suddenly you're being bankrupted in legal fees or praying to god the public defender isn't a complete moron. All because the cop asked you if he could search your car and you decided that a simple "no" would be "cowering to the gun" because you're fucking Robin Hood. Congratulations.

You sound like you're not in the US, but if you'd like to learn more, watch the don't talk to police[1] video. For people that are in the US (and aren't merely engaging in the intellectually laziest of solipsisms like the above), remember to always refuse a search and ask if you're being detained. If not, leave immediately. If so, tell them that you won't be speaking again until an attorney is present. If you think "informing" the cop of your rights is a good idea in that moment, watch the video again. Don't talk to the police.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

Let me guess, "don't be a dick" reads to you as "be fake and politically correct at all times"?

Sorry, no. Try again.

and mindcrime took "don't be rude to cops" and turned it into grovelling subservience to the police state.

Except I never said that. I don't know what you're on about, but whatever. I'm pretty satisfied with how my attitude has worked out for me to date.

Do you realize police look for people changing their behavior or "acting strange"? That is what you were doing.. inviting more scrutiny.

That's fine. At the end of the day, I know whether I've actually done anything wrong or not, and I'm not interested in supplicating myself to some overgrown schoolyard bully.

Fair enough.

Indeed, if searching for pressure cookers and backpacks really get law enforcement to your door (assuming this article is factual) then you definitely don't want them to look into your garage/toolshed where you may have some fertilizer, gasoline, metal canisters, bolts, nails, etc...

I've always been very curious about "bomb making materials" reported in the news. A reasonably clever person can turn common household items into "bombs" - a rapid exothermic reaction and a containment vessel with "good" failure properties and there you go.

Does anyone realize just what a person could do by just having bleach and ammonia!?

Extra paranoid: Think about how much shrapnel material you are "hiding" in your computer - all those little screws cleverly disguised as "holding it in the right places".

I'm looking at my piano (freshly tuned) in a somewhat different light now, thanks.

"I would not have let them in." No you should not get in their way. Don't give them permission if they ask if that is your desire, but don't get in their way. For what it's worth police don't need a warrant to enter your house, they just need probable cause a crime is in progress. If you try to stop police as they attempt to enter, you may find yourself arrested for getting in their way.

There's nothing in lizzard's post to suggest physically barricading the house against law enforcement. Meanwhile if you read the article, you'll see that according to the author's account, the police did indeed ask the husband "if they could search the house".

Always say no[1].

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

It's not real.

1. They don't show up in black SUV's.

2. The FBI will ALWAYS be there. (NSA/CIA/Men In Black/etc cannot physically interact with american citizens on US soil)

3. They don't show up in plain cloths.

4. They would have showed up with a SWAT team.

This is complete bullshit, I have first-hand experience with this.

The FBI showed up with two black SUVs and one local police car.

They were all in plain clothes except for the single uniformed police officer.

There was no SWAT team (in my case).

Secret Service shows up in a bunch of black cars, too. At least they did in the cases I'm familiar with.

I don't believe the story at all.

I've had the FBI at my door twice in my life. In both cases they were dressed in plainclothes (business casual), showed their badges, and gave me their business cards after I refused to talk to them without a lawyer present (and never came back). No SWAT team, no brandishing of firearms (though they were armed). Scarily pleasant talk. (I don't remember what their cars were. Nice sedan I think, not SUV.)

"Hello XXXX, We're here to ask a few questions about XXXX and were wondering if we could come in for a few minutes and talk with you"

"I'd prefer not to talk to law enforcement without a lawyer present."

"It's only a few questions, we won't take up too much of your time"

Repeat with different niceties for awhile, no threats.

Then, "Okay, I'm Special Agent XXX and here's my card if you change your mind"


On the other hand I've been arrested twice by local cops for refusing to talk to them, often with a bit of, ermmm, physical persuasion involved.

FBI are the smooth talking salesmen of the law enforcement world, at least when they want you to cooperate with them and don't have anything on you. They aren't really in the business of running around and cracking heads like your local beat cops.

But this story was "just" a visit from local cops, local terrorism task force, I think

Give evidence for any of this and maybe we can start discussing it. You've made 4 random statements with nothing to back it up.

It would be important for savvy readers to remember that HN has government/NSA shills that lurk about. Be careful what you believe without evidence.

Especially given that this is a new account, with only this comment.

They do have black SUVs so I'm not sure why the objection there. The joint terrorism task force is the FBI, whose agents are typically in plain clothes and not in a uniform. And they were asking questions why would they need the SWAT team? For all you know those guys were staged around the corner like they normally do anyway.

Wise up.

You've got to admit that this story does seem a bit strange. If they know what you've searched for, why would they bother showing up and letting "potential bad guys" know that they're wise to them? Now said "potential bad guys" will be more coy about their search habits. Further more, if said "potential bad guy" is not a bad guy at all, now you've just freaked out a US citizen who might turn around and write their congress-members about how big bad government is on their lawn. It seems like particularly odd policy for a law enforcement agency. Granted, the aforementioned hasn't stopped similar policies in the past from happening. I dunno. I'm still skeptical.

There is fair share of weird stories. Way back when cellphones were just getting GSM, I had a strange call person on the other end of the line was demanding private information and I just balked at that. About 5mins later my phone was dead, apparently some fraud depart of cellco revoked my cell account and billed me for 250$ dollars suspension fee. They wanted 3 pieces of government issued Photo ID and another 200$ dollars to restore the account. The Carrier was Fido I think. I was working as a developer, all my bills were paid on time. It was kind of weird to get such an abusive treatment, right out of the blue .. so there are some true and weird stories to go around...

my 2c

It's also a third person account. Humans are notoriously bad eye-witnesses.

she uses "join terrorism task force" 3 times in the blog post. She never mentions the FBI/police/government at all.

In my opinion 99% of america has no idea what a joint terrorism task force is (its basically an internal law enforcement word, not publicly used) and would simply say "the feds" or "the government" showed up. Her using that specific word all over the place leads me to believe she is hiding something.

She's not 99% of America, she's a writer who's been published in Forbes and BoingBoing, and has almost a million Twitter followers.

She has a Forbes "site", which is not exactly the same thing as being a writer "for Forbes". She's really a blogger, not an editor or staff member at Forbes per se.

> Her using that specific word all over the place leads me to believe she is hiding something.

She researched what went on with her family? You just used the words also, so according to your "logic" you have something to hide. Perhaps that's why you created a new HN account?

She is saying they are not from the FBI, but from the "joint terrorism task force"


The JTTF isn't an agency, it's a task force lead by the FBI in a local region with membership of local and state law enforcement. First one was in NYC, there are now task forces in most major metro areas. Most states and major cities have anti-terrorism/homeland security departments of their police forces. The agents could have been any mix of FBI, ATF, State Police, Local Police etc.

That seems like a lot of conjecture on your part.

Why not? The US has so many state and federal intelligence/terrorism/whatever agencies, I don't think those guys are just sitting in front of their XKeyscore :)

Maybe a lawyer can chime in, but if you said 'no' to when the police asked if they could see your residence, would they not be able to come in and then need a warrant?

I remember a friend telling me that when police come to your door and ask if they can come in (say for loud music or such), you can say 'no' and then put the onus on them to actually come in. And a lawyer said if you say 'yes' then you give them access to prowl through your stuff.

It's true, hard to remember when you have a bunch of cops telling you how much worse it is going to be for you if you make their job harder, but they can't enter your house w/out a warrant unless you invite them in.

FBI folks are usually MUCH more polite than cops. The times I have had FBI agents at my door (twice, regarding protest activity) once I told them I wasn't talking to them without my lawyer they thanked me for my time, gave me their business cards, and told me to call them if I changed my mind.

I'm not a lawyer, however I've been told by lawyers that the only thing that should come out of my mouth when a cop asks me a question is either "No" or "I'd like to speak with my lawyer".


Of course. You enjoy the protections of the 4th amendment at home, under normal circumstances the only way the police can search your apartment is with a warrant.

I get a little doubt. Its good, but I think we can all try to discern some facts here from what she's said.

1) She wasn't there so this is a second hand story. Most second hand stories are embellished to a certain degree. Fact is she just wasn't there. (from her twitter) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6140924

2) Government agents (who knows where they are from because who has time to remember THOSE details in the moment). FBI, Internal Task Force, MIB, it really doesn't matter that much.

3) Were they merely concerned with Pressure cookers, backpacks, and quinoa. That is all just conjecture and really not relevant to the story.

The REAL issue here is that government agents appeared on her doorstep and asked to come in, for no apparent reason. Then they asked a bunch of questions that made her feel as if she was a suspicious character. This all causes an atmosphere of fear, similar to what special police units in other countries have done.

This is about the fact that she doesn't know WHY they came by. Sure she's speculating to make herself feel better, who wouldn't but what's more important is that there is someone watching you out there and determining if a person is suspicious or not and we (US citizens) have NO control over that. Matter of fact we don't even know what it is all about.

Did she make this story up. Sure, in part. But there is a core set of facts here (assuming she is just elaborating and not lying out right) that are hard to ignore.

Big brother is watching you...

EDIT: For the comment below. If you are curious how they are doing this, the best theory I've seen has come from Steve Gibson on his Security Now podcast. He speculates that they are taking raw data before it goes to Google and explains how that may be possible. https://www.grc.com/securitynow.htm start with episode #408.

> The REAL issue here is that government agents appeared on her doorstep and asked to come in, for no apparent reason.

They search pressure cookers and backpack and got the visit from gov agents after boston bombing. how hard is it to put 1+1 ?

The REAL question is: what kind of cooperation is Google in this time that not long after doing one of trillion searches in a popular browser you get gov officials exactly at your doorstep?

It seems they have to be tapping into the google bloodstream, because I am not aware of any Google department that big that could weed through billions of searches and flag those as potential t. and hand them over to officials.


The truth is always more mundane. She posted a picture of explosives on her public Facebook timeline.


To verify credibility, all of us can just google pressure cookers and shop around a little. If true, then a few HNers will get a visit.

don't forget the + الله أكبر search function

Regardless of whether or not this happened, it's scary because I actually find it plausible. Similar themes have appeared across countless headlines over the last few months and if we aren't already here, we soon will be. The sad part is that like all such power struggles, things are not going to change before a lot of bad things happen.

More that Quinoa, backbacks, the rest, was "his visits to South Korea and China." Author is disingenuous in burying that deep into article and create a title that implies it was just normal stuff, regular people would like you! would have.

Investigation by people IS how police and anti-terrorism work should be done.

Tell me more about how to identify those regular people and this normal stuff of which you speak. You must be so proud to have such a level of searing insight.

By having a modicum of intelligence. To know that, almost no people living in USA have visited South Korea and China.

There are 1.7 million Korean Americans and 3.8 million Chinese Americans and the US has major military bases throughout South Korea and business interests throughout China and South Korea and there are tons of students from South Korea and China in the US. Do you think that the US gets most of its manufacturing done in the far east without loads of people having to go there on business?

Or perhaps you meant other than those people.

I do think that you are precisely right on one thing though. You do have a modicum of intelligence.

I'm surprised that her husband allowed them inside in the first place.

Many people do, that's exactly why they ask. It's not a good idea, but people do trust the police.

Yeah there was no mention of any sort of search warrant.

Make yourself more suspicious by not letting them in?

EDIT: Has the point been reached where people are more afraid of being mis-targeted (e.g. my Chinese gf has a pressure cooker for rice) than being an actual "terrorist" attack victim? I sure hope so.

If they don't have an order, they should not come in (unless invited to do so, of course). It has nothing to do with being "suspicious."

I fully agree. But you're saying that while commenting the situation from a distance. If it actually happened to you you might react differently.

(If there is a number of guys with guns at my front door I'd probably have to let them in..)

From a distance and another country. I don't know what I'd do in the situation, but at least I'd ask if they had it... So I could use the fact later

Or let them in to find bomb making material that's in every modern house and get sent to gitmo. Tough choice..

It doesn't actually make you suspicious, it just indicates that you're an informed citizen. If you paid attention in 8th grade civics class, you'll know that you get to ask if they have a warrant.

Reading the warrant will give you some indication of what they're interested in. If they don't have a warrant, then you can decide if you think you should let them in.

It's up to you; if I'm on a jury, I won't find you more suspicious if you question the police before allowing them into your home. I'd guess that there are other people like me.

My situation is actually even easier: I did not have 8th grade civics class as I'm German and live in Germany. While the government/police (to keep in power) wants us to believe that there are terrorists, I actually feel very safe living in a district with a very high muslim population. [0]

We just don't have that much police and secret services poking around in our private lives (yet), so let's see what I'll do when I actually come into the situation. :)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_population_statistics#P...

A part of me doesn't want to believe this story.

Same here, but... in light of everything we've learned about govt. surveillance in the past month or two, it seems a lot more plausible than it would have only a few months ago.

OTOH, if this is true, it screams "incompetence" pretty loudly, IMO. Two people googling for "pressure cooker" and "backpack" doesn't add up to squat. I mean, seriously, if I wanted a f'ng pressure cooker to build a bomb with, I'd just go to Wal-mart or Target and pay cash for it. Same for a backpack. You don't need to get on the Internet and do massive amounts of research to buy a pressure cooker and a backpack if you want to be the next Boston bomber. If they're really chasing down this many false positives with no additional evidence to suggest nefarious intent, they're wasting a shit-ton of tax money to do it, and probably overlooking all the real terrorists in the process.

You're right that it seems more plausible, but these surveillance programs have been going supposedly going on for years now. These guys in the story said they do this 100 times+ per week. Where are all the other stories of this happening? I'm not saying it didn't happen, but I am saying it's weird that all of a sudden the FBI would start making house calls after all these still-largely-unverified-by-various-agencies leaks would take place. Anybody hear any other stories like this?

These guys in the story said they do this 100 times+ per week.

That's a good point. If they were doing this even a couple of times a month (or probably per year) you have to expect that it would be getting reported.

And these officers are located where? Are they flying all over the country every day to investigate these 100's of incidents? Or, are they based out of the nearest city and following up on 100's of incidents local to that city's population?

Even if said agent was exaggerating his/her workload, this story sounds fishy.

Weirdly, the part I find hard to believe is that the agents hadn't heard of "quinoa."

Until recently, I hadn't heard of quinoa because I am not hip or a foodie, but then I googled it. All became clear.

I imagine that law enforcement officers aren't idiots, and thus if they ran into some word that could be relevant to the investigation, they'd type it into a search engine.

They only hit on that in the middle of a conversation.

> My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked

I could also understand not knowing what it is based on the pronunciation (I expected kwin-oh-a, but it's more keen-wah I think).


I too, am skeptical.

Sorry, the novelty of your gimmick is quickly lost here, this is not reddit.

Okay, I'll respond to this.

My token nod of agreement with darien was more or less just a vote to call bullshit on the article. I wasn't trying to be hilariously snarky, or win some kind of prize, or even add to (or perhaps inadvertantly detract from) the grand, and sweeping cultural touchstone that is Hacker News.

Why does my user name match my comment? Why not? It's available. Whether this practice is frowned upon isn't particularly relevant to my goal of participation, in voicing my opinion.

Why did I choose to create a pseudonym for this response? Why wouldn't I? I'm not sock puppeting, or stacking the vote by creating multiple accounts. Whether you can tell or not, I haven't been replying to myself, in an attempt to create a false impression of astro-turfed conversation. I'm not creating this account in an effort to unjustly manipulate the perception of reality that other users have.

I'm not interested in collecting Karma. I'm not here to establish reputation, or take credit for anything. I'm merely participating in the peanut gallery of comments. In this instance, pointing out that I don't believe the assertions of this particular blog entry is relevant, and material to the discussion.

If I create a new user for each topic of discussion, what does it matter to you? Does the fact that I'm creating a new account potentially discredit all other new accounts? Is my behavior somehow toxic and counterproductive to the reflected glory you wish to receive for participating on someone else's website? Am I being inconsiderate when I pollute the namespace of their user IDs? Are you simply worried about ycombinator's servers?

Maybe my respose was simply too short for your tastes. Would you like me to go into detail, regarding why I don't buy the story, which seems like fiction, but is reported as possible fact?

You can 'more or less' indicate a vote by voting.

Yes, your response was too short; I would prefer you go into more detail. Otherwise, just vote and leave it at that.

> "I'm merely participating in the peanut gallery of comments."

Please participate only if you have value to add.

Is the reddit chide really necessary?

I think it is actually.

People spend a lot of time not letting HN devolve into what reddit is now. Joke handles are a part of that. Downvoting "jokes" and jokes period is part of that.

Where is the most common place to find a not-insignificant number of novelty accounts on a large-userbase forum? Reddit is the only place that comes to my mind.

This story reads like fiction to me. but it does inspire me to search using the same phrases.

The question I'd like to pose (and it's something I have a hard time with answering myself):

Would you prefer that the government watches your Google searches, your forum postings, your Facebook messages, and your emails and potentially stops these terrorist attacks, or would you prefer to be free of government spying and possibly give up safety?

If another Boston Bombing happened and it was later found out that the terrorists had bought pressure cookers, nails, and other bomb-making materials on Amazon, wouldn't there be outrage that it didn't raise any red flags? Yet when the government tries to investigate potential threats like the one explained in the article, they're seen as bad guys.

I think the real problem is that we were never asked. 9/11 happened and the war on terror began. Americans never chose to be spied on in order to prevent attacks, it was just assumed that we valued our safety more than our privacy.

So when I read about NSA spying articles, or blog posts like this, I always have to ask myself "what if these really were terrorists?" because I know that there are hundreds or even thousands of lives saved through operations like this, and we never hear about the successes.

I would much prefer that we retain basic freedoms such as privacy than give them up for some small increases in safety. While the 9/11 attacks were truly terrible, our absurd responses have cost far more in both money and lives.

During the height of Soviet Union its citizens were very safe, except from their government. Crime rates were dramatically lower than in the United States, yet few Americans advocated moving toward a Soviet-style police state to increase their safety. That is exactly what we have been doing to combat terrorism though.

Suddenly it became okay to detain suspects without trials, eavesdrop without warrants, harass and demean travelers, and implement new Top Secret data collection programs, the likes of which would have been a KGB agent's wet dream. That is in addition to starting two wars which cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars each.

Am I the only one that thinks 10/26 (the date the Patriot Act was signed into law) should be remembered as a far greater tragedy than 9/11.

Sorry, but that is misguided thinking. It is a misuse of resources. A death by terrorism is no worse than a death by cancer, and cancer deaths happen much more often than terrorism deaths. So, resources should be allocated accordingly.

100 times a week? Maybe 1 is an actual hit? Blimey.

Presumably this little team don't run around all of the US. So, a state level team doing 100 per week? 50 states, right? So, that's a potential 5,000 searches, per week. 52 weeks in a year. So, 260,000 innocent homes searched by an armed team per year, purely from "suspect" searches on the internet.

People wise, average number of people in a US household? Say 4? So, that's 1.4M people affected, per year.

Ok, the maths doesn't include the 1 out of 100, however, we can be sure a good number of them still turn out to be nothing. Sadly, I bet the 1 is the Arab or dark skinned middle eastern looking family.

No mention of any sort of search warrant either.

Yeah, you terrorists hate US "freedoms" alright.

Well....... nothing to hide, nothing to worry about, right? I dont care if the authorities want my internet history to creep through, why would I be bothered, all I do is shopping........

Just to check, at what point are we allowed to use phrases like "police state", "fascist", "oppression" and what not? Whats the number? Or is this for ever fine as long as the government has the fig leaf of the American vote?

Why is this site (Medium) always so slow to load?

For me, all Medium pages were slow until I stopped using Ghostery in Chrome. If you're hitting the same problem I am, you might want to disable/remove Ghostery and look at the Disconnect extension instead. I have found Disconnect to be far less disruptive and break far fewer pages than Ghostery did.

It's also open-source. It always bothered me that Ghostery wasn't.

The license bothers you? Chrome extensions always have fully visible source, right there in your [config]/Default/Extensions folder.

I believe there are plans to open-source it. It's extension code is fully visible, anyway :)

I'm seeing a couple of seconds grabbing a kissmetrics url...

I routinely buy quinoa, as well as somewhat more obscure things, such as mayocoba beans and Salsa Lizano. I own two pressure cookers - a search of my e-mail history will show me asking my sister for a recommendation, followed by a purchase from Amazon. When my decade+-old computer backpack gave out, I asked my friends for recommendations.

No FBI yet.

Bla bla correlation and causation. I did not infere that ALL users whom exhibited the same online behavior got the same search. Other factors led the cops to the premises. To me the point was, yes they are looking at your search history. But as other users have pointed out, her husband could have been included in a 3-degrees of separation blanket warrant.

…and by now you've seen the rest of the story: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/08/government-k...

tl;dr: It was a former employer of her son or husband who called the local cops because of searches for "pressure cooker bombs" and "backpacks" in a work computer's browser history.

Reminds me of this ACLU link : http://privacysos.org/node/1048

Basically we're at the point where there is no benefit to be had, and great risk, in talking with law enforcement. That is a sad place to be.

When your intelligence and security services don't know what quinoa is, you're in trouble.

This story has a whiff of being fake, but that being said I'm glad I switched my whole family over to DuckDuckGo & Firefox. The mental overhead of "am I being watched" by Google/Microsoft/Apple/Facebook is not there anymore, and it feels good.

I am not hiding anything. I am a free, Canadian citizen with no criminal record. I am simply not willing to give up my freedom and liberty because other people are either scared or in the business of fear mongering.

Ol' Benny Frank said it best "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Perhaps you should be afraid that DDG is secrety tracking you, as well. Or do you naively believe that some tiny little company, without billions in the bank, has the power to stand up to the Feds?

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