How'd the government know what they were Googling?

How'd the government know what they were Googling?

by digby

From the Atlantic:

Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks. Wednesday morning, six men from a joint terrorism task force showed up at their house to see if they were terrorists. Which prompts the question: How'd the government know what they were Googling?

Catalano (who is a professional writer) describes the tension of that visit.

[T]hey 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. ...

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.
The men identified themselves as members of the "joint terrorism task force." The composition of such task forces depend on the region of the country, but, as we outlined after the Boston bombings, include a variety of federal agencies.

The reporter got a massive runaround from the FBI and the dozens of police agencies involved in the Joint Terrorism Task Force about this, none of them copping to how this happened.

So the big question remains: how in the hell did they know what this couple was googling??? It's very hard to see why they would have had a normal law enforcement warrant to monitor their computer activity, although you would have thought the authorities would have said so if they did.

The government has determined that the act of revealing its secrets is a threat to national security, regardless of the real world effects, including even journalists. Once that happens, you know they have made an important shift in how they define a "threat" and how they are rationalizing their policies. Eventually they start to see all those who oppose them --- even average citizens --- as potential enemies.

All you have to do is look at these frightening brochures they put out to all federal agencies to explain the INSIDER THREAT PROGRAM. Here's the FBI's:

Everyone is now a suspect. Which, if you look at history, including our own, is inevitable when you allow these sorts of programs to develop in secret, without any real accountability.

Update: It turns out that the husband's former employer reported him to the police for suspicious google searches:
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.”

That makes a little more sense. If keywords "pressure cooker" and "backpack" were enough to set off the NSA they'd be rousting millions of people.

On the other hand, it looks as though the "Insider Threat" program is working quite well even in the private sector. Even if Big Brother isn't personally watching you, your employer is doing it on his behalf.