Ex-Employer Tip Off Police Pressure Cooker Bomb Search
August 2, 2013

Ex-Employer Tipped Off Police In Pressure-Cooker Bomb Debacle

Enid Burns for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

News broke Thursday afternoon that a New York family received a visit from six police investigators who were tipped off about internet searches for "pressure cooker" and "backpack." While initial reports suggested that the family was targeted for web searches in their home, it later surfaced that the husband's former employer reported the searches in question.

The Catalano family of Long Island became the target of an investigation after a former employer reported the husband's search history, which included queries including "pressure cooker bombs" and "backpacks," the UK's Guardian reported.

When the news first surfaced, the suspect's wife, Michele Catalano, wrote about the experience, and reported it to a number of media outlets. Mrs. Catalano is a writer for the indie music and politics magazine Death and Taxes. The writer is also an occasional contributor to the online pop culture blog Boing Boing, where the story was covered on Thursday. Since its original post, the article was edited to include the update that initial reports that the surveillance was conducted by the government were false.

Though Catalano was at work when the police task force arrived at her house, she reported on her experience on Medium.com.

"I felt a sense of creeping dread take over. What else had I looked up? What kind of searches did I do that alone seemed innocent enough but put together could make someone suspicious? Were they judging me because my house was a mess (Oh my god, the joint terrorism task force was in my house and there were dirty dishes in my sink!)."

"Mostly I felt a great sense of anxiety. This is where we are at. 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," Catalano wrote.

She continued, "I'm scared. And not of the right things."

It was initially believed that this action was a result of the PRISM surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), though Gizmodo originally led with the headline "Yes, The FBI Is Tracking American Google Searches."

The details were shared later in a statement from the Suffolk County Police Department.

"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.'"

The police department interviewed the company prior to conducting its visit to the Catalano home.

"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," the statement read.

Initial reports of the story, which suggested government surveillance, bred a news frenzy.

"At a time where we're treated almost daily to new revelations about covert government surveillance, it's easy to see why this story found traction. But bogus claims of secret data mining and 'profiling' detract from the real news. So please let's stop," wrote Wired's David Kravets and Kevin Poulsen.