Backpacks, Pressure Cookers, and the Truth

By:  Bob Adelmann
Backpacks, Pressure Cookers, and the Truth

Although  Michele Catalano's concerns about the surveillance state are legitimate, the people seeing her Internet searches for backpacks and pressure cookers were a lot closer to home.

When Michele Catalano blogged yesterday using the title “pressure cookers, backpacks and quinoa, oh my!” it didn't gain purchase until it was picked up by The Guardian. From there the story jumped to The Atlantic Wire which, 24 hours later, had more than a third of a million views.

Catalano used to be the music editor for Forbes but now mostly freelances at The Magazine, Maura Magazine, and Boing. Her husband, Todd Pinnell, used to work as a product manager at Speco Technologies but at present seems to spend most of his days at home.

And so when three black SUVs from the Suffolk County (New York) Police Department showed up in front of their home on Wednesday with six plain clothes detectives aboard at 9 a.m., Pinnell was there to greet them. Forty-five minutes later Pinnell called his wife, who then riffed on what happened:

It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning. Little did we know our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things was creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling. Because somewhere out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it is to piece together the things people do on the internet raised the red flag when they saw our search history.

There were enough errors and false assumptions buried in just this opening paragraph that it took a massive effort at The Atlantic Wire to make sense of it all. Catalano’s basic assumption was that the surveillance state is watching everything, recording everything, and storing everything. Revelations just in the past week have revealed that many of her assumptions were correct. But just not in this particular instance. 

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