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.
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.  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.
 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.
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?
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.)
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...
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
My my, what trouble those "internet memes" get us into.
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.
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.
Edit: Note that this was well before the PRISM leaks.
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.
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.
Which makes me wonder, how do county police get access to a reporter's search history?
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
So yeah, this part of the story is entirely plausible to me.
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.
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.
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.
The Atlantic Wire piece points out that while the FBI "was aware of the visit...it was conducted by local police on Long Island".
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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 use of resources shows that we're serious - so yeah, they waste them. Profligately. Or haven't you flown recently?
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.
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.
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?
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 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?
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.
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.
(: 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.)
The mind boggles.
No, wait, that doesn't boggle my mind at all.
Does that make it better?
NSA Collects 'Word for Word' Every Domestic Communication, Says Former Analyst
There is absolutely nothing with waiting for definitive evidence before making your mind up about something.
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?
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?
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.
Unfortunately, this is an awfully huge assumption to make!
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.
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 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.
The author said this happened Wednesday (yesterday). The "few weeks ago" was when she searched for pressure cookers and imagined alerts going out.
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.
That said, I posted this specifically because I thought the discussion around exactly this would be interesting.
(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.)
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.
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.
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?
"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."
>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.
Section Chief: Mathematically, you shouldn't. Ergo, you don't.
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.
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.
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 think one place to start moving forward is to acknowledge that you really have no idea what I do or don't believe.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
@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.
Apparently it was the local police.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
"...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..."
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.
You mean like extremists? Seems like you're agreeing with the bit that you love.
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.
"Am I under arrest, sir?"
"Am I free to go, sir?"
"Am I free to go, sir?"
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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".
Always say no.
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.
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).
I don't believe the story at all.
"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
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Investigation by people IS how police and anti-terrorism work should be done.
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.
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 there is a number of guys with guns at my front door I'd probably have to let them in..)
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.
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. :)
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.
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.
Even if said agent was exaggerating his/her workload, this story sounds fishy.
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.
> 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).
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?
Yes, your response was too short; I would prefer you go into more detail. Otherwise, just vote and leave it at that.
Please participate only if you have value to add.
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.
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.
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.
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?
No FBI yet.
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.
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.
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."
Wrt. the topic of this discussion - FBI/NSA/etc... have been monitoring what people have been checking out in libraries, so it is only natural that they continue doing it on the Internet. Of course that is blatant violation of 4th, yet citizens of this country through their elected representatives have been strangely content with it.
The search was nothing like that article described.
My understanding is that any sane person would do this only if there was a paper signed by judge ...
And since Google is https now, that means the feds have a realtime hook into the data.
Say, I don't know, Amazon, where even if you try to visit it as https it redirects you to http.
* edit: On second thought, I'm not buying it. The whole thing reads too much like a bad police procedural. Thomas's commentary more or less sums up my thoughts on it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6141113