[UPDATE BELOW] A Long Island woman says police searched her house and interrogated her husband because they used home computers to search Google for pressure cookers and backpacks. Michele Catalano, a freelance reporter, was at work when her house was swarmed with armed investigators on Wednesday. She believes the ensuing search of her home was triggered by "our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things was creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling." Here's an excerpt from her account:
Most of it was innocent enough. I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in “these times” now. And in these times, when things like the Boston bombing happen, you spend a lot of time on the internet reading about it and, if you are my exceedingly curious news junkie of a twenty-ear-old son, you click a lot of links when you read the myriad of stories. You might just read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet and you will in all probability, if you are that kid, click the link provided.
What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.
Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.
A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.
After partially searching the home and interviewing her husband for about 45 minutes about pressure cookers and bombs, the investigators left. The story is mysterious, because it appears Catalano's husband did not verify what government agency the investigators were from. She says they had badges and guns, and writes that they were members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but spokespersons for the FBI and JTTF told the Guardian they know nothing about it.
Meanwhile, confusion reigns at the press offices for Nassau County and Suffolk County police. A press liaison for the Nassau County Police Department told us his phone's been ringing nonstop with inquiries. "I am trying to find out what's going on with this," he told me. "I was told that Nassau County police had absolutely no involvement in this whatsoever. I called the FBI field office in Melville and they knew nothing, the Joint Terrorism Task Force said they knew nothing. But a press rep for the FBI in NYC said Nassau County was involved, so I have to go up the chain to bigger people."
20 minutes later, another spokesperson for the Nassau County police department told me, "We contacted all our commands within the Nassau County Police Department. We did not visit this woman, and we do not know what police agency did visit her." The Suffolk County police department spokesperson said she was still trying to determine whether they were involved. The FBI press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But whether these guys were with the Men in Black or just a group of amateur strippers who lost their nerve, Catalano remains rattled. "This is where we are at," she writes. "Where you have no expectation of privacy. Where trying to learn how to cook some lentils could possibly land you on a watch list. Where you have to watch every little thing you do because someone else is watching every little thing you do.
"All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online. I’m scared. And not of the right things."
[UPDATE] A statement just released by the Suffolk County Police Department notes that their detectives conducted the search after they "received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee."
A spokesman for the Suffolk County Police Department declined to provide the name of that computer company, saying that the company had requested anonymity. The spokesman said that it took so long to confirm SCPD's involvement in the visit because the investigator in charge of the case was "unavailable" for a period of time.
Here's the full statement:
As a result of numerous media inquiries, received today by the Suffolk County Police Department regarding an internet blog posting, the following statement has been made available. Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.” After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature. Any further inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the Suffolk County Police Department