FBI and police deny alleged search of journalist's home after Web searches UPDATED

Eric Pfeiffer


Pressure cooker bombs have been connected to recent terrorist attacks. And now a New York woman says her innocent search for the cooking device led to a visit from law enforcement (ABC News)
Pressure cooker bombs have been connected to recent terrorist attacks. And now a New York woman says her innocent search for the cooking device led to a visit from law enforcement (ABC News)


***** UPDATED *****

Suffolk County Police now confirm that a search of the Catalano home took place on Wednesday afternoon. However, in a surprising new development, they say the search was prompted by a tip from a former employer of either Michele Catalano or her husband. Further, they say the search contained the words "pressure cooker bomb" and "backpack," not simply "pressure cooker' and not in separate searches from Catalano and her husband as she says. From the department's statement:

"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.'”

"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."

"Any further inquiries regarding this matter should be directed to the Suffolk County Police Department."

TechCrunch says the company in question may be Speco Technologies, where Catalano's husband, Todd Pinnell, was employed until April 2012. Catalano confirms this speculation in a newly published blog post but says she never intentionally misled people with her original account saying that the search was from a "joint terrorism task force" and solely based on her and her husband's Google searches from their home:

"If it was misleading, just know that my intention was the truth. And that was what I knew as the truth until about ten minutes ago. That there were other circumstances involved was something we all were unaware of."

****Original story begins below****

New York based journalist Michele Catalano claims a series of unconnected Internet searches, including one for a pressure cooker, led to her home being searched by members of a “joint terrorism task force.”

However, the FBI and the police department in New York's Nassau County, where she apparently lives, deny any such investigation took place.


“There has been no involvement from the Nassau County Police Department,” Detective Vincent Garcia told Yahoo News in a phone interview on Thursday.

A report by The Guardian on Thursday said the FBI also has denied involvement but said members of the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments visited Catalano’s home.

“We’ve received over 70 calls in the past hour,” Garcia said. “We think the comment from the FBI was a mistake based on the fact that she lives in New York. But we have no record of her in our system: no parking tickets, nothing.”

Garcia added, “We did some research on our own, reached out to anyone who could have possibly been involved, and we have no record of anyone in our department visiting the Catalano home.”

Despite the denials from local police and the FBI, Catalano's claims have ignited a flurry of attention online, especially following recent allegations concerning the National Security Agency’s domestic intelligence gathering program first reported by The Guardian.

“It was a confluence of magnificent proportions that led six agents from the joint terrorism task force to knock on my door Wednesday morning,” Catalano, a contributor to boingboing.net and deathandtaxesmag.com with more than a decade of professional journalism experience, wrote on the site Medium.com. “Little did we know our seemingly innocent, if curious to a fault, Googling of certain things was creating a perfect storm of terrorism profiling.”

Catalano said the search stemmed from her Web search for pressure cookers. Police say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers, used pressure cookers for making the bombs used in that attack.

Catalano says that the investigation happened while she was at work and that her husband told her about the incident. Catalano says authorities spent about 45 minutes searching her home and questioning her husband about Internet searches and his business travels overseas before leaving the premises.

“They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live,” Catalano says her husband told her in a phone call. “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.”

Her claims have been met with a mixed reaction from readers online, several of whom point out that Catalano, a former contributor to Forbes, has not provided any definitive evidence that the search actually took place.

Reporter Declan McCullagh points out that Catalano posted a picture to her Facebook page of M-66 “explosives.” However, that picture was posted on the Fourth of July, and M-66’s are in fact a popular form of firecrackers.

Catalano is standing by her claims but has refused to grant any interviews with the media. On her Twitter feed, Catalano writes, “You don't believe my story? Ask any of my followers about my credibility. Then kiss my ass.”

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