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.