Long Island Freelancer Scoops Guardian on Surveillance State Implications

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

So anyone who thought I was too hasty in giving weight to Michelle Catalano’s story, detailed below, is perfectly within their rights to gloat. According to a recent piece in Gawker:

the Suffolk County Police Department, which visited Catalano, now says in a statement that they visited Catalano’s home yesterday because of an old-fashioned tip. A computer company discovered that one of their employees—presumably either Catalano’s husband or son—had been conducting suspicious searches on their work computer, and contacted the police.

So it was simply local freelance snitching born of surveillance state fear-mongering and not corporate complicity in government surveillance that triggered the visit by anti-terrorism specialists to Catalano’s home.  This is pretty disturbing in its own right, but for incorrigible Gawker asshole Adrian Chen, Google’s non-complicity makes it all better, at least better enough to warrant calling Catalano ‘paranoid’ in his headline and resuscitating unbecoming factoids about her past in his opening paragraphs.

It’s still a revealing story about how we live now, just not in the way I’d thought. I was too hasty. My complaints about the Guardian and Greenwald still stand, though.

————

So between the Guardian and WaPo, there have been what,  five stories or more about the NSA’s PRISM program? And amazingly, I still feel like I don’t know how it works. Specifically, the extent of corporate complicity, and the extent to which I, as a self-centered white male American, congenitally doomed to caring only about infringements on MY rights, am caught up in the net, remain open questions.

Which is weird, really, when you consider that Edward Snowden gave both the Washington Post and The Guardian a 45-slide Powerpoint deck that the NSA uses  to explain the PRISM system internally.  I could, of course, after throwing up my hands at yet one more prolix, half-assed ‘scoop’ in the Guardian or WaPo take a look at the slides and try to piece things together myself, but, darn the luck, The Guardian editors, who recently bragged to Charlie Rose about the regular meetings they have with NSA officials, don’t think it’s in the country’s interest that I see them. And so they have published  6 or 7, I think — if you include the ones that are pitch black with redaction — while dispatching whistleblower whisperer Glenn Greenwald to Twitter, where he fields perfectly reasonable questions about his reporting with snark, stonewalling and proclamations of concern for Snowden’s well-being. That is, when he’s not on tv savaging low hanging dipshits like Jeffrey Toobin by flatteringly comparing himself/Snowden to Wikileaks/Manning. (Professional! Deliberate! Lawyered! Editored!)

Carry on applauding, my rancid friends, but leave me the fuck out. Really, fuck this guy and fuck the shitty paper he works for. My new crush is Michele Catalano, who —  if she’s telling the truth —  told me more about my relationship to the surveillance state with one highly readable and rather brave blog post than any of those PRISM articles have:

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.

Apparently various members of Catalano’s family had Googled about pressure cookers, backpacks and followed Boston-bomb related curiosity about online resources for would-be terrorists. Various surveillance grunts took an interest and lo, three black SUVs showed up at 9 one morning and men with guns and badges got out. Catalano wasn’t home at the time but her husband was:

“Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.

They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf (nope, no bomb making books, no Anarchist Cookbook), looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be.

Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.

They searched the backyard. They walked around the garage, as much as one could walk around a garage strewn with yardworking equipment and various junk. They went back in the house and asked more questions.

Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.

By this point they had realized they were not dealing with terrorists. They asked my husband about his work, his visits to South Korea and China. The tone was conversational.

They never asked to see the computers on which the searches were done. They never opened a drawer or a cabinet. They left two rooms unsearched. I guess we didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for so they were just going through the motions.

They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.

Now, assuming this isn’t a hoax or hyperbole,  let’s review what we’ve [probably] learned here or certainly could with just a little follow-up:

  • The New York Joint Task Force does this 100 times a week.
  • The surveillance apparatus does not need a FISA warrant to monitor our data. Clearly the search was triggered by an automated process looking for key words.
  • You do not need to be in contact with a foreign target under investigation to become a target yourself, unless there is something Catalano is not telling or doesn’t know.
  • Google is either entirely complicit in the harvesting of American user data by the government or entirely negligent in protecting it from third parties.

That’s quite a lot, really, and not once did Catalano disparage a single other truth-teller, nor claim to be rescuing us from some mythical great decline.

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47 Responses to Long Island Freelancer Scoops Guardian on Surveillance State Implications

  1. Nemo says:

    Is Catalano the only source for the story? How do we know this is not a hoax?

    • Tarzie says:

      We don’t. But unlikely, I think. High risk hoax. Unlikely culprit.

      • Nemo says:

        I just find it weird that there’s a hundred of these per week and nobody ever spoke up before. But I suppose authorities would already have attempted to discredit this if it was a hoax.

      • Tarzie says:

        I find that odd too, but a lot of people probably just accept it and move on. Most of them are probably aimed at Muslims or other communities that are reluctant to make an issue of it. Or it could be that someone, maybe the Joint Task Force guy, is exaggerating.

  2. 5200 of these raids every year. 52 apparently result in finding whatever they are looking for. You would think there would be a bunch of people/targets in the press with this, I bet they are not this nice with all their surveillance victims.

    I’m actually in the market for a pressure cooker, to cook beans and brown rice in. I have actually searched for vegan underwear online. Shoes, too. I have listened to Style Council’s “Dropping bombs on the White House” earlier this year. And then there’s the 70,000 other alarming buzz words they flag. I’m fucked.

    They probably think rancid honeytrap is some sort of evil code, although this story clearly shows that thinking is not their strongest black suit.

    • 5200 of these raids every year. 52 apparently result in finding whatever they are looking for. You would think there would be a bunch of people/targets in the press with this, I bet they are not this nice with all their surveillance victims.

      You do know how many “searches” are done under “Stop & Frisk” in NYC, right? Same thing here. Who is going to complain? And only when they got dragged into court by the CCR(or ACLU .. I forget which one) are Bloomberg and Ray Kelly crapping their pants over it. If you read anything about it, “Stop & Frisk” is just an excuse to harass people of color. Black, brown or what ever.

    • Romancing the Loan says:

      I DO want to know what happens on those 1% of visits. They said 99% of the time they find nothing, but NOT that 1% of the time they actually find terrorists. My guess is that the 1% is pretty banal criminality of the drugs’n’guns variety. If they were finding people with sex slaves locked in their basements or pipe bombs all over the place, I think we’d hear about it in the news.

  3. Nic108 says:

    You should NEVER invite bureaucratic thugs into your house. Or speak with them.

  4. Cheri says:

    Why you would find fault with Greenwald is beyond me considering he is pretty much the only one talking about this in any light that isn’t covering alphabet soup ass.

    • Tarzie says:

      My reasons for finding fault are clear:

      1. Sloppy stories, poorly defended
      2. Needless disparagement of Manning and Wikileaks
      3. Paternalistic and excessive withholding of information
      4. Me: Disinclined from infantile hero worship

      • Cheri says:

        I see no “hero worship”. What disparagement of Manning and Wikileaks? They often work together. What info do you feel is genuinely being withheld?

      • Tarzie says:

        Are you even reading my pieces? Apparently not, and I don’t feel like repeating myself in comments for you.

      • Cheri says:

        I read the whole thing. I honestly do not see what you are seeing here. I see something totally different and quite honestly if it wasn’t an important topic or I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have commented. But, it is important and I do care so here we are. I am not being rude to you so there is no reason for you to be rude to me.

      • Tarzie says:

        I guess we have different standards. You think it’s cool, for instance, that the Guardian is withholding most of the PRISM slides Snowden gave them. I don’t. You think it’s cool that in repeated TV appearances, Greenwald makes a point of how much better his and Snowden’s efforts are than Manning/Wikileaks/Cablegate. I don’t. You think it’s ok that when asked reasonable questions about his half-assed posts, Greenwald treats interested supporters as contemptuously as he treats obots. I don’t. I’ll put aside that I find a lot of Greenwald’s underlying politics — which are reformist and predicated on nostalgia for a past that never was — ill-informed and somewhat silly.

        How about I agree to accept differences in the weight you place on these things if you agree to do likewise with me. Otherwise you’re wasting my time and yours.

      • Cheri says:

        First of all, you posted the piece in the public realm. I follow your blog. I read your piece, if you cannot handle feedback or mere questions on what you have posted then how are you any better than the man you are coming down on?
        Second of all, I didn’t say — at any time, that I thought anything was, “cool” as you have implied. Do you consider yourself a journalist? If you do then you would understand several things here…No journalist is going to play all of their cards on a story of this magnitude. The situation is very fluid. Also, WRT Manning/Wikileaks, Greenwald learned a few things, from them, about how to proceed a little better than they initially did. His remarks are towards the protocol of getting the job done right with as little negative impact. People learn as they go, they learn from what has transpired before them. It’s no different than an updated “product” that you buy, like a cell phone. New and improved ways to do things. How lang has Manning been in jail? Sadly, he will probably never get to leave it.
        So, end result, if you feel a conversation about something wrote and YOU posted is a waste of your time, well it was nice of you to say so here so that ALL of your readers can see how you feel about their opinions or questions. If you have no respect for your readers, you don’t deserve to have any.

      • Tarzie says:

        Like I said, you’re wasting my time. By wasting time, I mean you want me to rehash things I have already made very very very clear.

        Also I know how journalism works, so you’re wasting time there too. Yours.

        I am not going to be made to share your opinion of Greenwald, who I find useful, but also arrogant and sloppy, whatever his intentions are. Please stop trying.

        Best,

        T

      • Cheri says:

        You are far from a journalist and a disservice to truth telling and your little edit and removal was screen captured.

      • Tarzie says:

        I make no pretense of keeping everything up. If I think a commenter is just crufting up my comments with bullshit, I take it down. You’ve caught me at nothing. Keep it up and I’ll block your stupid ass too.

      • Cheri says:

        [REDACTED DUE TO NATIONAL SECURITY CONCERNS]

      • Cheri says:

        It’s OK, I took a screen shot.

      • Tarzie says:

        You are killing me with these screen shots. You know I can block you right? When you cease to be entertaining, I will. Please see my posts on free speech.

      • Cheri says:

        [REDACTED BECAUSE NITWIT JUST WON’T STOP]

      • Cheri says:

        [REDACTED LIKE 39 out of 45 PRISM SLIDES]

      • Tarzie says:

        Go ahead. Get it out of your system. And make sure you take screen shots.

      • Cheri says:

        [REDACTED BECAUSE ZZZ]

      • Cheri,
        so you don’t mind Greenwald redacting and keeping PRISM slides from you, but here you feel it is a great injustice?
        It also seems you are adjusting well to the surveillance state life. Do you regularly take screen shots of every comment you make on blogs?

        Greenwald compromise: dump the the whole goddamned thing. The media will ignore it, but I want to read it for myself. This is my life on the (The Guardian’s bottom) line.

      • Cheri says:

        No actually it’s not YOUR life on the line, it’s Snowden and Greenwald’s life on the line, lives apparently you here, see no value in or show any respect for. They are doing YOU a favor.

        And yes, I take screen shots when when people edit my words to suit their needs.

      • Tarzie says:

        Keep on Beliebing.

      • Z says:

        Hey, be happy! You found a couple of more people to categorize and hate.

        Z

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah. I am so much more full of hostility than Cheri here, with her insulting and seemingly endless trolling and you with your condescension and passive aggression. All because I don’t agree with you on how much sun emanates from GG’s behind. Well here’s the deal, I won’t agree with you and I won’t recriminate myself for not agreeing with you. As far as new people to hate, nah, I’ve always hated personality cultists. Maybe you should go read the Guardian, comrade.

      • dtaylor says:

        Please reread your posts. It seems that your and Cheri’s point is that because GG’s actions (however shoddy and paternalistic) are a net positive we shouldn’t critique him at all?

        This can’t be what your saying. Seriously…I have no words…

      • dtaylor says:

        Damn…total fail. This was in response to Z’s comment about people to hate.

      • Z says:

        You “have no words”, huh? Well, you have no words of mine to back the ill-founded conclusions that you and your “comrade” come to. Seriously, re-read my posts with less emotion and more cognition and tell me how you can reasonably come to the conclusion that I claim that “we shouldn’t critique (Greenwald) at all”?

        The person who runs this blog criticizes Greenwald’s methods of releasing the nsa information and I make the point that there may be a good reason for the methods he’s used and that those methods have been arguably more effective in advancing a sustainable movement against the nsa’s criminal spying on their subjects (us) than if he would have just dumped all of the info at once. That was my point. And then somehow you two come to the conclusion that I’ve stated that Greenwald is above critique when I even state in one of my posts that he does indeed deserve criticism for how he worded his comparisons between his and Snowden’s revelations and Manning’s and Wikileak’s.

        No one is above criticism … I never stated that, I never implied it. You got that from the host, not me.

        Z

      • Cheri says:

        [REDACTED LIKE A POWERPOINT SLIDE]

  5. Nemo says:

    I did find the story odd, but even corrected, it was, in fact, a case of corporate complicity in government surveillance. After all, this computer company apparently closely monitors its workers web use, and snitches to the cops whenever they find anything they deem suspicious. This story may not have the scale of PRISM, but it’s certainly creepy how eagerly this woman’s employers collaborate with the State to monitor her activity.

  6. rsmatesic says:

    I’m not convinced the only info the JTTF had was what they got from the employer. The police statement identifies the search terms the employer found suspicious as “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks”. In her post, Ms. Catalano doesn’t say she searched for either of these; her search was instead for “pressure cookers”. Also, it appears almost certain she performed her search on a different computer than the employer’s. And how did the the employer even learn of the search contents to begin with? There are plenty of unanswered questions here, arguably more ominous than whether Suffolk County’s agents spend most of their days playing ghostbusters.

  7. Daniel says:

    Details of the Catalano story notwithstanding, Greenwald and the Guardian are really undermining their credibility in their aggressive secrecy and propriety concerning these NSA documents. And their flat out refusal to even answer very direct questions only they can answer is frankly bullshit. Greenwald has confirmed they have the blueprints for how NSA mass surveillance is conducted, how can they not possibly answer:

    A) Is Prism directly accessing main servers of telecom companies?
    B) Is this being done with telecom company’s consent/awareness?

    And what this highlights more than anything is actually how flattering the Manning/Wikileaks approach is in contrast to Snowden/Greenwald. Maybe if we’re lucky someone at The Guardian can do a little whistleblowing of their own.

  8. Nemo says:

    “Really? I don’t see a shit ton of people rolling in to defend your assholeness.”

    For the record, the only reason I didn’t step in to defend your assholeness is because the little reply button doesn’t appear on Cheri’s posts. Your criticism of Greenwald is exactly the one I would do if I thought anyone’d read it.

    Ooh, by the way, you should do a Greenwald blog post one of these days. At the very least, it should get you quite a few pageviews from people like Cheri here. 🙂

  9. Z says:

    I think that Greenwald is dripping the info out slowly to maximize affect. If he threw it all out there at once, the issue would have been more easily parried by the government and its corporate partners. We know that the white house, most in congress, the majority of the corporate media conglomerates, and the corporations involved certainly want it to pass and they are quite skilled at changing the subject. This way he keeps the story moving forward and the government on its heels.

    I also believe that he is putting his cards on the table one-by-one to give the government the opportunity to lie to minimize public concern about their survellience. When he proves the government is lying it makes his revelations more powerful and reduces the government’s credibility with the people.

    I could be wrong, but that’s why I think he is proceeding the way he is.

    Z

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah. Greenwald’s playing 11-dimensional chess. That’s it.

      • Z says:

        Another thing: you criticize him for being “snarky” on his twitter, which is fair enough, but he’s also dealing with heavy twitter traffic and a ton of trolls … it does take its toll.

        Overall, I think Greenwald has done a good job of bringing the case to the people that the survellience state is something they ought to be wary of. Hell, look at the huge changes in public opinion since he’s started reporting on Snowden’s nsa revelations. And awareness is an necessary first step towards building a movement to fight back against it.

        Greenwald’s not faultless. I agree that he should be more careful about what how he compares Manning/Wikileaks to Snowden/The Guardian because I don’t think that he means to come off as critical of Manning/Wikileaks – in fact, he has recently wrote that. And I don’t idolize Greenwald. I don’t need a hero. But I’m glad that he’s done an effective job of making the people aware that the survellience state is pointing its recorders, microphones and cameras … and ultimately its guns … towards them and in a lot more comprehensive way than most of them ever realized.

        Z

      • Tarzie says:

        I never said Greenwald wasn’t a net positive, which is why these lengthy, condescending litanies of his virtues that perfectly reasonable criticisms always elicit are so very unnecessary.

  10. dtaylor says:

    Tarzie,
    I listened to the discussion between Pascal Robert and Yvette Carnell that you linked on twitter. It was great (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Osxfa7WpBb4&feature=youtu.be).

    I think Pascal’s point was a little difficult to ascertain. He heavily critiques the idea of the “black community” as a way to supress disent and action when it comes to poverty and justice. However, in the very next segment he talks about how “they” (meaning him and others not identified) should not expect Coates to represent interests that are foreign to the black elite.

    Nevertheless, I actually think it dovetails nicely with posts exposing shills and cable news heroism. I would have liked a Rancid Sector representative in the discussion to ask the question are these elites actually intending to steer the discussion AWAY form economics and justice TO race to further their status a la cable news heroism and basic shill-ery. His point appears to be that these elites are naive to the underlying systems that perpetuate the problems of poverty and incarceration. I am not so sure.

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