Buy Beauty Products? You Might Be a Terrorism Suspect.

I’m going to make a wildarsed guess and suggest that the Federal Government is doing a nationwide search to find out everyone who is buying large amounts of certain kinds of beauty products. And those people are likely now under investigation as potential terrorism suspects. 

I base that on three details that came out of the Senate Judiciary Hearing on PATRIOT Act Reauthorization.

First, at the start of the hearing, DiFi claimed that the investigation of Najibullah Zazi is the largest terrorism investigation since 9/11. Whether that’s hyperbole or not, she’s claiming that the FBI is doing more in the wake of the Zazi arrest than it did after all those false scares stemming from Bush’s illegal wiretap program, all those false scares arising out of torturing Abu Zubaydah, and all the scares hyped up around election time. She’s claiming this thing is huge.

Second, DiFi and Pat Leahy went through Leahy’s proposed renewal to the PATRIOT Act and made some changes–to make sure that current investigations are not hampered by any changes proposed. Significantly, she appears to have taken out this language (I haven’t been able to get a hold of the substitute amendment yet) which would have required investigators to have some connection between a person and a suspected terrorist before they could collect "tangible information" on them.

(A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the records or other things sought–

‘(i) are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities; and

‘(ii)(I) pertain to a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;

‘(II) are relevant to the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or

‘(III) pertain to an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power; and

That suggests they’re getting business records and whatnot pretty broadly and using them to find targets for further investigation.

Now, of the Dems who are on both SSCI and SJC, DiFi and Whitehouse agreed that putting that language in the bill would hamper ongoing investigations (presumably the Zazi one, given DiFi’s comments), whereas Feingold disagreed that it would.

Interestingly, Feingold pointed out that SJC unanimously approved such language in 2005, the last time they reauthorized PATRIOT, and DiFi said, then, that the relevant language was required to prevent fishing trips. DiFi’s answer to that is that something has changed since then that makes such language a problem. 

Now, I suggested that the federal government was investigating those who bought certain beauty products because that is one of the key pieces of evidence they have against Zazi:

In that period, Mr. Zazi and his associates allegedly scoured beauty supply shops and checked home improvement stores to get the ingredients for explosives favored by al Qaeda and similar to those used to bomb commuter trains and a bus in London in July 2005, killing 56. Among the products Mr. Zazi and his associates purchased — in some cases while being recorded on video — were "Liquid Developer Clairoxide" and "Ion Sensitive Scalp Developer," authorities said.

So if this investigation is as big as DiFi says it is, and if it does rely on Section 215 as currently written…

(2) shall include— (A) a statement of facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to— (i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or

(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; and

Then all they would have to do is assert that anyone buying this particular cocktail of chemicals (or products containing those chemicals) could be presumptively related to activities of a foreign power. That is, if you buy these chemicals it may be safe to assume (or the FBI might be claiming it is safe to assume) you’re doing so to build an al Qaeda-related bomb.

Now, again, this is just a wildarsed guess, but it would explain everything we know about Section 215 and DiFi’s refusal to require more specific language in the section. And I’m not really sure how I feel about this beauty-product related terrorist profiling, if that is indeed what they’re doing.

But I’m guessing this is the kind of thing that Senator Feingold wishes Americans knew about before the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act.

89 replies
  1. perris says:

    left this downstairs, right up your alley marcy;


    WASHINGTON—The military lawyer that represents an Afghan youth who spent roughly seven years in U.S. custody says the Defense Department has repeatedly ignored his requests for a war crimes investigation into the detainee’s treatment….

    “Why has no one–no one has been held remotely accountable for this,” Frakt said in an interview with Raw Story. “This is a mandatory investigation. It’s not optional, you can’t just sweep it under the rug…but they did as far as I can tell.”

    and add to that, this and you are just gonna have too much fun;

    Judge rules FBI can’t keep Cheney interview buried

    By Muriel Kane
    Thursday, October 1st, 2009 — 10:59 am

    Share on Facebook Stumble This!
    A federal judge ruled on Thursday that the FBI must release its June 2004 interview with then-Vice President Dick Cheney concerning the leaking of the identity of CIA

    links are downstairs

  2. bobschacht says:

    Beauty products sounds innocent, but one such chemical is hydrogen peroxide (remember “peroxide blondes”?) = H2O2, i.e. water with an extra oxygen atom. Explosives need oxygen, and Hydrogen Peroxide is one way to get it. For example, the ingredients of Liquid Developer Clairoxide are “Water, Hydrogen Peroxide, Etidronic Acid.” So maybe Zazi thought that buying Clairoxide would look more innocuous than ordering up gallons of hydrogen peroxide from an industrial supplier.

    Remember that Timothy McVeigh made his truck bomb using nitrogen fertilizer, another seemingly innocuous product.

    Bob in AZ

    • emptywheel says:

      Sure. But do we want the federal government to be able to conduct extensive investigations of beauty parlor owners (or farmers, in the McVeigh case)?

      THe point is that this makes the purchase of what are basically dual use goods enough to violate the privacy of innocent Americans.

      • njr83 says:

        The point is that this makes the purchase of what are basically dual use goods enough to violate the privacy of innocent Americans.

        we did scratch our heads over “dual use” as Judy Miller and company toured Iraq in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction… I recall CNN footage of pig sties, as well as factories for baby formulas

        for me, it developed “dual use = good excuse”

      • macaquerman says:

        Why would anyone give a damn if the government checked purchases of large lots of substances that are useful for making bombs?

        • eCAHNomics says:

          Well, if you have to ask that Q, you clearly have no realization of the power of govt to trash ordinary citizens. Can’t even think of where to begin the educational process.

          If it’s peroxide, then the retaily availiable product is completely harmless, Need much higher concentrations. Is that factoid in the CIA press release?

        • tbsa says:

          Richard Jewell, first one to come to mind. Alleged “olympic bomber” only he was innocent. They ruined that poor man and didn’t give a rats ass.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          Richard Jewell is just a footnote in history, i.e., merely one person. What about the million people the U.S. killed in Iraq?

        • tbsa says:

          Agree wholeheartedly. They pretty much f’ed up the entire country. Was using Jewell as an example. We only prosecute the little people for crimes. War crimes and murder by the president is perfectly fine.

        • macaquerman says:

          I’m not unaware of the govt’s power.
          I would assume that larger purchases of peroxide are, in fact, of a higher concentration of the stuff that one would usually dilute for the usual purpose. When I used to buy barrels of alcohol, I was buying almost pure stuff.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          I would assume

          Key phrase. Also you know the cliche that assume makes an ASS out of U and ME.

        • PJEvans says:

          Well, they could be going into the beauty-supply business. Or doing other legitimate chemical-type things. Or playing with model rockets! (I know people who like to play with potato cannons and other things that go bang, at at least one has done his own reloading. Buying a pound of .45s and a pound of some other caliber will probably get you on someone’s list, these days.)

        • macaquerman says:

          Well, we would hope that they were, wouldn’t we? I sorta had the idea that cross-checking large chemical purchases s neither new nor very sinister.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          If large chemical purchases were neither new nor sinister, the FBI woulda caught the OK bombers in advance. Why dya think they didn’t?

    • Synoia says:

      Ammonium Nitrate (Fertilizer) is in no way innocuous. In the UK, in High School, we though it stupid that the US made it in bulk, and allowed anyone to buy it, It’s a very good explosive in its own right.

      So are many other easily available products. C2H2 is really bad news.

    • robspierre says:

      Maybe there are more facts that will emerge and prove the leaked claims. But I still think that this case stinks, both in the details that have been leaked and in the timing.

      I am not an organic chemist. But I remember enough from college and from more recent internet research to wonder whether beauty supplies are adequate for manufacturing organic peroxide explosives. So I wonder to what extent this may be another manufactured conspiracy initiated by an informant/provocateur.

      Based on what I’ve read, the 13% peroxide that the TV news was showing does not sound strong enough. When we used peroxide in college chem lab, it was 90%+. Given the sensitivity of organic peroxides to almost everything from shock to chemical impurities, I’d think you’d want pure acetone. Pure acetone is probably the easiest material to purchase: you can get it in paint stores. But probably not in beauty stores. Madame’s nail polish remover has lots of stuff in it besides. To make TATP, you also need strong, hydrochloric acid as a catalyst. The muriatic acid that Zazi is said to have purchased might also be understrength. The muriatic acid I have used for cleaning and pools has been about 30% undiluted.

      Everything about this that has been published seems startlingly naive and amateurish, too. The conspirators seemed to have little or no notion of security. Wouldn’t a competent conspirator spread his purchases around?

      So, given that Zazi’s lawyer seemed so confident that it could all be cleared up easily, I wonder whether Zazi didn’t identify the instigator of the plot right away, someone who asked him to buy those specific items from those specific locations. And I wonder if the reason that that did not help him was that the instigator was an FBI undercover operative duping or entrapping individuals that fit a politically correct profile–young, Muslim, but not Saudi.

      Everything we know about 9/11 implicates a state action. It was carefully planned, quite possibly by persons with engineering knowledge. It was elaborately financed by persons connected with Saudi royal family and intelligence services. It was carried out by an organization–Al Qaeda–that was founded, funded, and organized by the Saudi government. Yet we resolutely refuse to investigate that angle. Instead, we look for shuttle bus drivers who use their pocket money and passing the hat at the mosque to buy weak chemicals that they never successfully convert into explosives.

  3. bmaz says:

    Interesting theory, and I think it is pretty compelling. Would explain why the Zazi investigation is being pitched as being so huge. It isn’t just Zazi, they are trolling and plumbing the depths for all sales and purchases of certain product classes. Where I come from, this is called a non-particularized fishing expedition. Suppose my wife and daughter are going to tie dye 250 Tshirts for a school fundraiser, or suppose my daughter is doing some project for a science fair that uses hydrogen peroxide, and they send me out to buy a couple of gallons of it. Am I now a terror suspect? Does the federal government now crawl up every inch of my butt? What if they find I wasn’t a terrorist and had a rational reason for the purchase, but discover other, completely unrelated criminal activity, what do they do?

    • fatster says:

      Keep your file forever. That’s what they do. Only exception we know about is Walter Cronkite’s file. They did, supposedly, destroy his. (No surprise to learn there are others they’ve destroyed, but we’ll probably never know.)

  4. JimWhite says:

    Maybe they should check prescription meds, too. After going through airport security once, I suddenly realized what was in a 6 oz tube of liquid my daughter was able to bring on board because it had a prescription label from a pharmacy attached. The active ingredient in this acne medication is benzoyl peroxide and it is present at 5% as prescribed. This compound is explosive at concentrations above 10%, although it is somewhat less explosive than the acetone peroxide that Zazi was trying to produce and was used by Richard Reid and in the London subway bombings. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it would take about the same level of chemical expertise to make an explosive from this material as it would the beauty supply material.

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh you’re onto something. They keep harping on medical records. So they’re violating Hipaa by getting the records of all the teenaged girls with acne in the name of combatting terrorism.

      • Hmmm says:

        Well, for that matter they’re violating the Fourth Amendment by fishing rather than going on individualized suspicion.

  5. Hmmm says:

    Excellent inference, EW. Really seems to hold up.

    Here’s what jumps out for me, though:

    “… and checked home improvement stores…”

    Not purchased, but “Checked“? WTF!

    See, if there were a purchase, clearly there would be a record that could be gotten via NSL. But what record could there be of someone checking stores to see if a product were there? What data specifically is getting generated and collected that could possibly allow detection of “checked”?

    This sounds like either (1) data mining (or live internet wiretap) of e.g. Home Depot web inventory searches (y’know, use the website to see if it’s in stock in a store near you), and/or (2) high-resolution tracking of the target’s physical location, as is possible with 3G mobile phones (went to Home Depot and lingered in the domestic terrorism supplies aisle)(I think it’s next to the Disney interior decor paint line).

    • Hmmm says:

      On reflection, I guess they could also have gotten “checked” via old fashioned shoe leather once the target was identified using other methods, i.e. the beauty supply business records data mining. “Checked” in this context doesn’t necessarily need to have come from technical data gathering methods.

      • prostratedragon says:

        It was the suspects who “checked” the hi stores. So presumably they didn’t buy anything there, since it was the bs stores they “scoured”.

        Maybe they just asked about the products, in person, on the phone (those calls are monitored at bigger places like Home Depot), or via web (where your other conjecture sounds golden).

        [Now, what would they have asked? “We’re looking for a seemingly innocuous source of mass quantities of peroxide to assist in a … dismantling … project … we’re plan— hypothesizing. What do you have that could help us”]

        • tekel says:

          Or else they just called and asked, “Hey I’m looking to buy a couple of 50-gallon drums of 50% peroxide. Do you guys have it in stock?”

          A tangent: There is a story somewhere on the toobz by a guy who used to do (legit) amateur rocketry on a pretty large scale. He used to buy ingredients from standard laboratory chemical supply houses and mix his own propellant. The story is about how all of his suppliers all cut him off, one by one, because their lawyers told them that he was a liability risk- that is, if they sold him some peroxide, and he blew up his own house by accident, they risked having to defend against his lawsuit for negligently selling him a dangerous product.

          It starts out really good, and degenerates into the standard “Lawyers ruin everything let’s have tort reform and ponies” rant.

          anyhow. It used to be possible for individuals to buy industrial quantities of rocket-grade oxidizer, even as recently as the past three or four years. It’s likely that you can’t do it anymore.

        • njr83 says:

          It used to be possible for individuals to buy industrial quantities of rocket-grade oxidizer, even as recently as the past three or four years. It’s likely that you can’t do it anymore


          unless you are being set up by the folks who have been watching you and listening to your communications for a couple of months… and if you THINK you can trust the label, well, when you dial your cell phone to detonate, you’ll learn the product has been swapped for something harmless…

          didn’t the FBI even provide athletic shoes for one group???

        • bmaz says:

          Yes, the Liberty City Seven in Florida. The Feds had to buy them tennis shoes and cell phones, because they had none and couldn’t afford them. They were supposedly going to blow up the Sears Tower (Chicago) even though most of them had no idea where it was located.

  6. csoghoian says:

    Senator Feingold made a number of very interesting statements during today’s markup hearing (video available here)

    Between 58:15 and 58:46:

    Feingold: “I remain concerned that critical information about the implementation of the Patriot Act remains classified. Information that I believe, would have a significant impact on the debate….. There is also information about the use of Section 215 orders that I believe Congress and the American People deserve to know. It is unfortunate that we cannot discuss this information today.”

    Between 105.20 and 105:40:

    Feingold: “Mr Chairman, I am also a member of the intelligence Committee. I recall during the debate in 2005 that proponents of Section 215 argued that these authorities had never been misused. They cannot make that statement now. They have been misused. I cannot elaborate here. But I recommend that my colleagues seek more information in a classified setting.”

    Between 144:00 and 144:15

    Feingold: “I want to specifically disagree with Senator Kyle’s statement that just the fact that there haven’t been abuses of the other provisions which are Sunsetted. That is not my view of Section 215. I believe section 215 has been misused as well.

  7. tekel says:

    “DiFi claimed that the investigation of Najibullah Zazi is the largest terrorism investigation since 9/11.”

    ummm… anthrax? Anybody? Remember, some dude mailed out some envelopes full of white powder to newspapers and congressmen, and people died, and various post offices were shut down for like weeks… and even though there was some HUGE investigation, they never caught the guy…

    Maybe they just didn’t look very hard?

    Or maybe DiFi was so busy Keeping Us Safe(TM) by reading all of your email and keeping bottled water out of airports that she just forgot about it.

  8. Hmmm says:

    It sounds like the FBI (or maybe it’s the fusion centers) has been in significant part repurposed to run down leads automatically generated from section 215 data mining.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The approach and the resulting massive – at least partly outsourced – databases are self-reinforcing and legitimizing. Massive and expense efforts, the collect far more data than reasonably necessary for law enforcement or national security purposes as understood by the public.

    The game plan they are working to is undisclosed and unexplained. That’s not simply to make their “strategery” more able to stop threats. It is to create a fait accompli. It is to avoid having to sell their program(s) as legitimate – either in scope or cost (both undisclosed) – or worth the trade-offs made (also hidden from view, analysis or debate).

  10. Jeff Kaye says:

    The biggest thing since 9/11… happens to come along when the PATRIOT Act reauthorization is happening… not much hard evidence… a 24 year old “mastermind”…

    I think I’m with Larry Johnson on this one (and I don’t always agree with him), this is very suspicious.

    Zazi, for his part, was demonstrating his ignorance in trying to cook up a batch of TATP–Triacetone Triperoxide. It has been the explosive of choice in several Al Qaeda operations over the last 16 years but it is dangerous shit to make and handle. Richard Reid reportedly had it molded into his shoes. This stuff is so volatile that explosive experts are amazed that Reid did not self-detonate with the simple act of walking through the airport concourse.

    TATP, although a high explosive and fairly easy to make, is very unstable and very difficult to handle reliably. An old friend of mine who has his own range and conducts courses on building improvised explosives for engineers told me of a doctor in Louisiana who insisted on learning how to make TATP because he wanted to blow up stumps on his land. Well, seems the good doctor tried to cook up a batch in his kitchen and he ended up blowing up the back half of his house (he survived the blast).

    I see in the Time Magazine account that Zazi had racked up $50,000 in credit card debt by age 23, and declared bankruptcy! This doesn’t happen to most 23 year olds, and could speak to some mental instability, grandiosity, etc.

    Zazi may have been planning something, but the seriousness of it seems widely overreported. All the talk of “weapons of mass destruction” are a giveaway of hype.

    Then, we have this, also from Time (a separate article):

    But Robert Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan, believes the Taliban’s worldview has changed a great deal since the government it ran was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. “The Afghan Taliban see themselves quite differently now from 9/11: many of the leaders now see themselves as part of the global jihad,” says Grenier, who now heads the consulting firm ERG Partners.

    Robert Grenier!!! That should tweak all you Plame-ites antennae. (For those who don’t know, it was Grenier who was identified as telling Libby Plame’s identity. Grenier was also heavily involved in the covert ops in Afghanistan leading to the U.S. invasion, post-9/11, and in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.) Moreover, a web search quickly shows there is no ERG Partners, unless one considers the one outfit in Atlantic Beach, FLA a shell company, to be Grenier’s outfit. — Why is Grenier popping up as someone to be quoted in this story? Presumably because he was once station chief in Islamabad (and Zazi supposedly had training in Pakistani camps). But one wonders…

    I strongly suspect this whole thing is one of those government operations, using fools and/or mentally ill to hype the “war on terror”. Another Padilla. And they want to hold Zazi indefinitely, too. I think this guy is in real danger. I’m not saying he isn’t dangerous on some level, but a lot of things about this story smell very bad.

    • JimWhite says:

      The biggest thing since 9/11… happens to come along when the PATRIOT Act reauthorization is happening

      Couple that with tekel at 13:

      “DiFi claimed that the investigation of Najibullah Zazi is the largest terrorism investigation since 9/11.”

      ummm… anthrax? Anybody?

      And what was happening at the time the anthrax was mailed? Debate on the original Patriot Act.

      This one raises the hackles, big time.

      • Jeff Kaye says:


        AND just about the time (though I think this is coincidental more than anything) when the al Rabiah story comes along to show just how pervasive the frame-ups via false confessions were at Guantanamo (”worst of the worst”, etc.)

        • JimWhite says:

          And if you want to be even more scared, remember that Leahy, who at the time was opposing the original Patriot Act, was targeted directly with the most powerful anthrax mix ever seen. Now think about that in the background of him today co-sponsoring the switch to a more watered-down version of Patriot Act reforms, even though he was a co-sponsor of the more tough version, as well.

    • emptywheel says:

      Correction. Cheney was the one who told Libby Plame’s identity. Grenier testified that he also told him that. But even assuming Grenier’s testimony was honest, it was in a conversation that appears to have been an attempt by Libby and Cheney to get Grenier (or Harlow, as it happened), to tell Cathie Martin that.

      So by all appearances (if Grenier’s testimony was correct): Cheney tells Libby, then they call Grenier during a meeting to try to get that same information, after which, in response, Grenier “tells” Libby.

      Also note that Grenier was fired for not being sufficiently fond of torturing.

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        You are, of course, right about Cheney and Plame. I can’t pretend to know what role Grenier played exactly on all that, but in any case, I don’t trust anyone that high up at CIA. If he was insufficiently “on board” or hardass enough re Al Qaeda, and against rendition and torture (meaning EITs like waterboarding) — the thesis floated in the Washington Post, UK Times, etc. — then he certainly has changed his tune now.

        Robert L. Grenier, a former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, told Congress in April [2008] that Al Qaeda’s renewed capabilities increased the likelihood of a spectacular attack on U.S. soil. “Indeed,” said Grenier, “it is somewhat surprising that it has not done so yet.”

        As for torture, I think that while Grenier may have been against waterboarding and possibly the entire EIT program, that doesn’t mean he was against torture (of the old fashioned Kubark variety). He still claims rendition can be made safe with “guanantees” (as he told NPR back in 07).

        He’s a dubious character, who was chief of CTC for a time during the heyday of the torture program. His association with Kiriakou is dubious as well.

        My main point was in regards to the government’s building up fear about the Al Qaeda threat and reasons for continuing intervention in Af-Pak, PATRIOT restrictions domestically, etc. The establishment is all out on this right now (consider, for instance, the George Packard puff piece on Richard Holbrooke in the recent New Yorker).

        Thanks for the correction, though, on Grenier and Plame. How quickly the facts of that case get scrambled in my brain.

  11. Blub says:

    I’m a little confused. I think its pretty well known that the FBI has been following up on unusual fertilizer purchases ever since OK City. How is this legally different and of greater concern? I’m not defending Federal overzealousness – if they’re doing something illegal in either instance, it has to be brought to light and stopped… I’m just wondering if there’s some sort of distinction here that I’m failing to appreciate. I’m also not sure I understand the legal principles involved and why it is illegal to investigate the cosmetics purchases but not the fertilizer, or are both practices illegal?

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Well, for starters, no one has destroyed a building using hair chemicals. Have you read a convincing article documenting that it is possible? If so please link.

      • Blub says:

        I have no idea. I don’t know the first thing about hair chemicals, other than the same shampoo I’ve used for two decades. My question was intended in good faith. I just can’t imagine that there is a legal standard that relates to how often and whether an otherwise innocuous substance has been used to commit past crimes. Lots of farmers need large quantities of fertilizer, for instance. It’s a little like Singapore banning chewing gum because vandals were using the gum to jam subway doors. I honestly don’t have an opinion on this except to say that I want the government to obey the law, whatever the law says. I just don’t know what it says in this case and it isn’t obvious to me what it should say.

        • eCAHNomics says:

          Your Q is NOT in good faith. You elide a known problem of fertilizer bombs, known before OK bombing, to an unknown problem, hair chemical bombs. Link before your type.

        • Blub says:

          I have no idea what you’re talking about. i have no idea why you’re attacking me. I am not aware that hair chemicals have ever been used to blow things up, but nor do I know that they haven’t. I honestly don’t know the law here either, and I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. I kind of like the idea of the FBI preventing wingnuts from blowing things up, quite frankly, as long as they are doing it legally. If there is a credible basis for investigating large volume purchases of beauty chemicals, the FBI should be called upon to explain what it is and to defend their actions. If its defensible, then they should investigate away. If it isn’t, they should stop. Whatever the letter of the law says.

          And who are you to say that I have to link everything I type? I said I don’t have a link. I am only trying to apply logic to my own understanding of the situation (see above), which is frankly why I participate in these discussions at all. If I have to prove every opinon or philosophical musing or question, I’ll go publish a paper on it, my boss will be happy, and I’ll advance my career. Whatever, eCAHN….

        • Blub says:

          as I’ve now said three times, I have no evidence. I am trying apply logic and common sense here to a problem, which is what I usually do here, and I’m also hoping someone can explain the actual law to me here. I am not prepared to say what the FBI should or shouldn’t be doing in ignorance of what they are legally able to do. That’s all I’m saying. Otherwise, legally, I have to assume that they are entitled to use logic to determine what to investigate, and your feeling that perhaps fertilizer is more culpable than hair products is not, to my mind, logic or, in my ignorance, what the law actually says. Who are you to say that I am expressing an opinion in bad faith?

          For clarity, my bias is not toward the libertarian or even toward extreme definitions of personal privacy rights. I like government.. including government police powers, so long as they are legally and consistently applied, subject to constitutional and other legal protections.

    • robspierre says:

      It is different because it is covert and because we aren’t talking about just any “fertilizer”. Ammonium nitrate is widely used with diesel to make explosives for commercial use, in mining and such. It is, in and of itself, a specialist material. You would not use it in bulk in a home garden. So, if you are not a farmer or a mining engineer with a license, large purchases are suspicious.

      Purchases of high-test peroxide might be suspcious. But low-test peroxide and the other materials would not be. The vast majority of purchases would be innocent. Going after innocent people is unfair, more likely to result in false prosecutions, and inefficient from a law-enforcement point of view. Trying to tace all buyers of acetone is like the no-fly list. It creates so many false positives that it is statistically likely to help criminals escape the net.

  12. sporkovat says:

    GG today:

    UPDATE II: Isn’t it so interesting how the phrase “Patriot Act” was the symbol of everything Democrats claimed to find so heinous during the Bush years, but now that there’s a Democratic President, Senate and Congress, it’s absolutely certain that the Patriot Act will continue, and civil libertarians are reduced to hoping that there may be some tiny modifications to it, and even that’s highly unlikely?

    my emphasis.

  13. aardvark says:

    Why would the government not be tracking unusual purchases of ammonium nitrate or concentrated hydrogen peroxide? Good God, my BoA credit card gets disabled when it makes a quarterly payment to Yahoo Singles, even though I am also signed up for eHarmony. you folks seem to forget that an FBI agent thought it strange that a Saudi national was taking lessons on how to fly an air liner and had no interest in learning to land it, passed it on to his supervisors, where it was ignored, and voila, 9.11. This thread has read like a right-wing government is bad, privacy is good, with no regard to the stakes.

    • OldFatGuy says:

      This thread has read like a right-wing government is bad, privacy is good, with no regard to the stakes

      And this post reads like you don’t know or don’t agree with the basic concepts that are in Bill of Rights of The United States Constitution. The fourth amendment, as well as the fifth, and a couple of others, was passed WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE that it would make catching “bad guys” harder.

      They could’ve given the government the right to investigate anybody, anytime, for any reason, with no limitations, and they were well aware this would make the governments job easier. But they CHOSE not too. They chose to limit the power of government, knowing it meant less security, and in fact one of the chief architects of the document is famously known for saying something like “He who would sacrifice liberty for security deserves neither, and loses both.” (That’s a rough paraphrase of Ben Franklin)

      Now if you disagree with that concept, that’s fine. If you think the government should be able to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, however it wants in investigations regarding it’s job of protecting us, that’s your right. But it ain’t an American ideal as envisioned by our forefathers, and is in fact an anti-American one, IMO.

      I really believe if we had a “vote” on the Bill of Rights today, the right wing would most certainly vote against it, with the possible sole exception of the second amendment, seemingly the only one they are aware of and yet even totally misinterpreted that one.

      • macaquerman says:

        On the other hand, since passage of the Bill of Rights there has been one or two legislative enactments formulating rules for the government to follow in performing investigations.
        Is there something about checking purchases of chemicals that is beyond the authority of the government?

        • OldFatGuy says:

          Is there something about checking purchases of chemicals that is beyond the authority of the government?

          If you believe in the concepts laid out in the Bill of Rights, then investigating citizens for ANYTHING is beyond the authority of government WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE. Whether it’s purchases of chemicals or posting on the internet.

          Now if you want to argue that someone simply buying these chemicals provides “probable cause” since those chemicals CAN be used to make bombs; then the government can investigate anybody anytime they buy a gun, since guns CAN be used to kill; and anyone that uses the telephone or email can be investigated because these tools CAN be used to organize illegal conspiracies or operations.

          So, again, we’re left with the government can investigate anybody, anytime, for anything. That might be what you or others believe, but IMO it’s not what our founders believed.

          Do you disagree with notion of probable cause??? Do you believe the government should be able to investigate all who purchase guns as well as all who purchase these chemicals?

        • macaquerman says:

          OFG, are you calm?

          I’m sorta aware of these notions about intrusive government, individual liberties, and one or two others. I do recall reading about them.

          This probable cause thing also came up. Bit I’m not too clear on all of the intricacies of this “investigation” thing.
          As I asked earlier, is there something about looking at purchases of chemicals that falls outside the authority of the government? If I remember anything about probable cause, it seems that there are quite a few things that are said to rise to that standard and therefore allow the government to became a bit intrusive. Sometimes they are allowed to examine stuff.

          tAnd didn’t I read somewhere, that sometimes the government does have some sort of investigation of people who want to buy gun? I think I even saw that the government actually attempts to STOP some folks from buying them. I bet that would really frost your ass if it turns out to be true.

      • aardvark says:

        Well, I actually do agree with most of what you say. I live in the only state where law enforcement does not have to provide the affidavit of probable cause for executing a search warrant. So, when they executed the search warrant on my house five years ago after my wife was murdered, they took all of our computers, including the business computer, all of our cameras and undeveloped film, and a whole host of items. Now, insofar as I am aware, the only “probable cause” was that I was her husband. FBI says 1/5 times the husband or boyfriend is the assailant; that means 4/5 times he is not. So, probability would suggest? So, I am acutely aware of the 4th amendment.

        I am the only psychologist in my state who has been publicly supportive of abortion and homosexual rights–thank you very much my feminist colleagues–and have been a long time member of the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

        That said, the government tracking high volumes of chemicals that can be extremely explosive? You have a problem with that?

    • Hmmm says:

      Don’t think I’ll change your mind about privacy, so a tip: Craigslist is free and you’ll meet far more fascinating individuals there. I know, The Sweetie is one and we’ve been together very happily for five years.

  14. stratocruiser says:

    More or less on the topic.
    I remember way back when the congress was debating the Boland Amendment, restricting executive freedom of action in Central America back in Reagan’s day, there was a whole day of breathless news reports tracking the movement of a Soviet Freighter off the coast of Central America that was big enough to carry disassembled Russian bombers that could reach parts of the Conus from bases in whatever the hell country the freighter was mere hours away from docking at.

    (Run-on sentance alert. Sorry)

  15. LabDancer says:

    Normally here, jumping in at the mere low 60s level doesn’t nearly expose one to being accused of a deliberate EPU response; but since so much of this thread has been taken over by macguffins, I feel emboldened to throw in a few observations going to ms ew’s, you know, actual post.

    The first point is that it’s wierd to think that the SJC in general, and Senator Whitehouse in particular, appear to be giving into a plea from federal law enforcement [to the extent they’re backing off due to input from FBI and Homeland Security types], when it could be weeks or even months before the “authority” in question is in any way more compromised than it already is.

    The second, and related point, is that, assuming the same concern has to do with timing in relation an ongoing investigation, what is there that would prevent the SJC from reporting on a draft bill that recommends the bill include a designated start date? Surely if this is really an ongoing investigation and not something starting up from scratch — which is the whole point in bringing in details about the investigation that led to the arrest of Zazi — there’s no reasonable basis for tolerating the continuing ongoing breach of the 4th Amendment for some number of years, leave indefinitely.

    Third, I’ve been around ‘temporary’, time-expiry measures enough in my time to know that at some point they assume status as part of the normal furniture; indeed, one of the impressions I have here is that the investigating agencies have become so comfortable with such weapons as 215s and NSLs that, like tasers, they’re after having them recognized by passage of time as standard issue. Every incident of continuing an ongoing breach is a step in precisely that direction. By the time these tools come up for ‘review’ again, half or more of this committee will have been mothballed due to various exigencies, and the new mix is that much more likely to look at these tools as ‘normal normal’.

    Fourth: if the continuation of the Zazi investigation truly is predicated on a bunch of solid evidence implicating Zazi in some big conspiracy, as is being implied by both federal law enforcement AND critical parts of the leadership of this committee, I’m really having a lot of trouble envisioning what possible problems the investigators could possibly be having satisfying the rather modest requirements not just in place now but even as envisioned by the most libertarian of the drafts under consideration by this group. Have they all gotten so wired rushing from suspected evidence scene to suspected evidence scene that they’ve lost the ability to sit down somewhere and type out a rationalization of where they’re at?

    Fifth, and related to the fourth, this smells to me awfully like a goodly number of out-of-control investigations clients of mine have been charged out of over the last twenty years, ever since the feds moved away from small-ball evidence-based crime fighting to resorting to volume sweep-ups of evidence and arrests and then trying to sort out what they’ve caught after the fact. Usually to little real effect, I might add; I can’t recall a single one of those out-of-control beasts that I was hired into at least, that proved in the least cost effective, under the most generous meaning being granted to the notion of benefits, in that whole period of two decades.

    All of this is meant in addition to the points and skepticism registered way higher up in the thread by mr bmaz.

    • Hmmm says:

      Re your #4 — Dunno. Maybe Sarah Flalin’s fixin’ to lead Joel’s Army and the rural guns+god Rs in a forcible takeover of the Lower 48, and they’re not finished collecting BB gun store evidence using 215 yet?

  16. b4real says:

    Maybe someone would like to actually answer blub’s question? Its starting to sound like the o’reilly show in here.

    • emptywheel says:

      What Blub seems to have missed is that the purchase of these chemicals in the volumes Zazi and his apparent co-conspirators bought them is not “unusual.” They are normal–something people who own beauty parlors probably do every day. And, if they are conducting massive searcing on it, and if they are going after all the likely pre-chemicals, they could be snooping on JimWHite’s daughter bc she takes a certain acne medicine (or maybe they just focus on the Muslims with bad acne).

      Now we don’t actually know what they’re doing, but DiFi would change the standard to make it possible to search on anyone who has these chemicals.

      My question was, why can’t they just treat them like they treat Crystal meth precursors? Put them behind the counter.

      • mocha says:

        “why can’t they just treat them like they treat Crystal meth precursors? Put them behind the counter.”

        I agree with this idea very much. It doesn’t stop someone intent on making a bomb from going from shop to shop, but it would slow him down substantially. And for more than a small bottle, make them show a beauty license. I hope you will keep your ear to the tom-tom on this EW, it may be that Zazi was caught by old-fashioned shoe leather investigating and now they’re worried there’s more out there and they’re thinking data-mining might give them a short-cut. I think beauty product profiling is as slippery a slope as anthrax, middle-eastern, you-name-it profiling. It’s the same question: are we really willing to give up our privacy for security?

      • bmaz says:

        Thing is, it is not just beauty parlors that could be innocuous consumers of these materials, it could be anybody. I usually have a couple of gallons of muriatic acid and acetone around. The muriatic acid I use in the pool and as a concrete cleaner; the acetone as a cleaner and paint thinner. Although I don’t have any currently, I have had a gallon or more of hydrogen peroxide before, it is a fantastic oxidizing agent. H2O2 can and is used for all kinds of stuff from mold removal to concrete whitening to a bleach substitute. It is a bleaching agent. And the H2O2 they sell at beauty supply houses would not be all that strong either; certainly not lab grade or anything, keep in mind the intended use there is on bleaching hair on a human head.

        None of these “precursor” elements are all that uncommon in their use. Auto paint shops, furniture restoration shops, doctors and medical providers offices, cleaning services, mold removal businesses, and even homeowners that know a few tricks of the auto paint trade like me purchase all this stuff in bulk (by Zazi standards anyway) all the time. So, if I am repainting a car in my garage over the next month and in the process buy a few gallons of acetone (depending on the type of paint being used, could easily use this much), have an algae and resulting chem imbalance in my pool at the same time and need muriatic acid and use a quantity of H2O2 to clean my garage floor and walls, shop rags etc afterwards I am now a terrorism suspect. Will I be put on the no-fly list? Will I be surveilled or watched by state and local police because of a fusion center? Will I be data mined and screened electronically? Will they do sneak and peek searches at my house when I and my family are away? Will they bug my coffee table and monitor me electronically?

        • mocha says:

          I didn’t think about those kinds of uses, bmaz. I wonder why these guys weren’t shopping at Home Depot for this stuff? Do you think purchase of certain items from Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc is already being flagged, the bad guys know it or suspect it and switched to beauty supply to go under the radar? It’s curious. Maybe it’s time for one of EW’s famous timelines to figure out how long they’ve been data-mining us for peroxide, acetone and acid!!

        • robspierre says:

          The H2O2 that you can buy in the drugstore is about 5%. The beauty supply stuff is about 15%. To get a really good oxidizer, I think you’d need to go to a chemical distributor for 90% or so, as I wrote above. This would be the hardest item to get, because it is dangerous, short-lived, and hard to ship. The distributor would want to know why you needed it.

          Remember, when someone bleaches his or her hair, they are applying peroxide to an organic material. The hair doesn’t usually explode afterwards.

          As with everything, it isn’t the ingredients that are criminal or even the mixing of the ingredients. It only becomes a bomb if you get the ingredients mixed the right way. And that is not so easy.

        • bmaz says:

          I agree with Robspierre, I think they just are not that bright, but figured out that the H2O2 at the beauty store was stronger than that at WalMart, so that’s where they went. I used to buy it in gallon containers at the local chem supply shop, but have not done so in years. Not sure I would even think about trying these days.

        • robspierre says:

          I am suggesting more than that Zazi and friends were just not that bright. I am suggesting that they lacked any real intent and that a provocateur told them what to buy.

          If my amateurish suspicions about the suitability of the chemicals are correct, a provocateur could tell them to purchase these things and maybe even mix them without too much fear of having a real bomb on his hands.

        • bmaz says:

          Maybe, maybe not, there is not enough information yet on which to make that inference. It should be noted that this process they were using is not new in the least and in fact was what the London transit bombers basically used in a variation; these dopes could just be experimenting trying to get a usable product Without more evidence, there is no way to say.

        • robspierre says:

          I agree that there is not enough evidence–only that the type of info that has been leaked is suspicious and therefore suggestive.

          I am sceptical about claims that this was the same process as the London bombing. At the time, the London bombers were said to have used hexamine (camping stove fuel tablets) and peroxide. MSM reports seem to make no distinction between any of these compounds. Instead, they just say they are “the same” to imply a linkage, somethng that I very much doubt is there.

          Also, the claim that Zazi had a bomb recipe traceable to Pakistan is suspect. Why would he. if he were the real deal? All he had to do was to google the compounds, as I just did, or even “bomb making” and he would get all he needed.

        • robspierre says:

          I can tell you, you do not need to do any of these things to be on the no-fly list. You just need to have a name. My name is the second or third most common combination of male firstname and surname in the country, depending on the year. I am on the no-fly list. There was even a 60 Minutes segment on us.

  17. mocha says:

    I guess the only thing I would say is there is no reason for a person who does not own a beauty shop or nail salon to buy large quantities of 15%+ Hydrogen peroxide or nail polish remover (acetone). And anyone buying large quantities of both is probably not buying them for beauty purposes. They are the primary ingredients of the new bomb-of-preference. If same person also happens to stop by the Ace Hardware and buy a lot of muriatic acid, or a lot of Drano, acid drives the reaction of H2O2 and acetone to become tri-acetone tri-peroxide, then odds are, that person is probably going to try to make some bombs. Before Oklahoma City, no one wondered about a non-farmer buying more than a couple pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Today, it’s a huge red flag. And Blub, I don’t know what the law actually says about data-mining credit card purchases, but it seems to me it’s wrong to blanket-check people’s purchases. ( BTW, Law and Order had an episode about this very issue last season.) However, the only places you can get the pre-cursors in sufficient quantities to make a bomb is beauty supply stores and suppliers. I think it makes absolute sense to educate the stores, the suppliers, the manufacturers that if someone comes in and buys a bunch of peroxide and/or acetone, the clerk should drop a dime to the police.

  18. YYSyd says:

    There have been references to WMD with regard to these would be explosives in the media. They appear to be more than a careless mistake but more a deliberate blending of things that go bang with things that take cities off the map. It was bad enough when mustard gas was conflated with nuclear bombs. Now we have cosmetic based explosives confused with end of civilization. I was hoping that things would get less stupid but that does not appear to be the case.

    • bmaz says:

      It was not a careless mistake, that is how the government charged the conduct in court; the defendants are literally charged with WMD crimes. That is not a careless mistake by the media.

    • robspierre says:

      They are definitely not WMD. Organic peroxides are very powerful explosives, but very sensitive–so much so that they have no military or commercial applications. Instead, in the US, they are mainly a danger in organic chemistry labs, where they form spontaneously in storage closets.

  19. SideshowRob says:

    I feel a little funny saying this. This may or may not be related: in the last two months, I’ve bought three of those little nail polish removal tubs. The first time: the liquid smelled like acetone but it felt like water. It didn’t take polish off my nails. I thought I’d bought some one-off failed product, so I bought another. The same thing happened. I emptied out the liquid and replaced it with a bottle of nail polish remover. This didn’t work either, but I tried that a second time. Then I bought another tub of a different brand, and polish removal was still not very successful.

    Listen, I grew up in a salon. I’ve polished my nails every week for two decades. That polish should not come off my nails is completely trivial, but not at all normal.

  20. timbo says:

    Coincidentally, the Federal Government is also investigating people who look fabulous and don’t buy ANY beauty products. So much for trying to stay out of a salon as a way to avoid being investigated for suspected terrorism…

Comments are closed.