James Cole: “Of Course We’d Like Records of People Buying” Pressure Cookers

Now that the Suffolk cops have revealed they investigated Michele Catalano’s family because of a tip from her husband’s former employer about his Google searches and not FBI or NSA analysis of Google data themselves, a lot of people are suggesting it would be crazy to imagine that the Feds might have found Catalano via online searches.

Which is funny. Because just a day before this story broke, this exchange happened in the Senate between Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy and Deputy Attorney General James Cole. (after 1:45, though just before this exchange Leahy asks whether DOJ could use Section 215 to obtain URLs and bookmarks, among other records, which Cole didn’t deny)

Leahy: But if our phone records are relevant, why wouldn’t our credit card records? Wouldn’t you like to know if somebody’s buying, um, what is the fertilizer used in bombs?

Cole: I may not need to collect everybody’s credit card records in order to do that.


If somebody’s buying things that could be used to make bombs of course we would like to know that but we may not need to do it in this fashion.

This is not a surprise. It comes two years after Robert Mueller confirmed they use Section 215 to collect “records relating to the purchase of hydrogen peroxide,” a TATP precursor.

So while we may not know how the government currently collects records relating to the purchase of fertilizer, acetone, hydrogen peroxide or — yes, after Boston, probably also pressure cookers and maybe even fireworks — and we don’t know just how broadly it collects such records, we do know that “of course” DOJ “would like to know … if somebody’s buying things that could be used to make bombs.”

So just one day ago, Cole didn’t deny they could use Section 215 to get search URLs, he affirmed they would want to get records of bomb-making materials.

He just didn’t tell us how they might do those things.

8 replies
  1. pdaly says:

    The New York woman who blogged this episode put an update on her blog post. Excerpt includes:


    We found out through the Suffolk Police Department that the searches involved also things my husband looked up at his old job. We were not made aware of this at the time of questioning and were led to believe it was solely from searches from within our house.”

    This story is still strange. She does not mention the terms he searched for at work. And what is the timeline from his work search to visitation at home by NY Suffolk cops? I wonder why and how someone at his old job looked through his google searches and felt compelled to report them to authorities (if they indeed reported them to authorities or just merely confirmed details for authorities).

  2. joanneleon says:

    Check out the language they use in this Wired article.

    Though Catalano declined all interview requests from reporters, and omitted key details from her story, news outlets pounced on the tale, speculating variously that NSA monitoring might have made Catalano a target, or that Google might be providing the feds with a feed of everyone who searches on suspicious terms.

    “Yes, The FBI Is Tracking American Google Searches,” read Gizmodo’s headline, one of many blowing up the story.

    But the local police department that actually visited Catalano’s husband finally explained themselves, and it turns out the story is more about a dispute with the husband’s former employer than rampant secret police surveillance. Here’s the statement from the Suffolk County Police Department:

    [Emphasis added]

  3. rg says:

    I find it amusing that above the title of this post is an advertisement for two models of pressure cookers and a stopwatch.

  4. Scott Lazarowitz says:

    These bureaucrat “investigators” are nuts.

    While the criminals in Washington continue to rape the lives of the American people, in the name of “keeping us safe,” they continue to provoke foreigners overseas that they have been doing especially since Bush 41’s 1991 Iraq War, thus making the American people less safe.

    The bureaucrats must have been reading Orwell.

  5. omphaloscepsis says:

    A comment on the Wired article linked by joanneleon:

    “Alex Mumme
    • 16 hours ago

    There is no such press release by Suffolk PD!


    Seems like most of the tech news sources are being punked by some doctored press release.”

    Same link is in this article:


    That article quotes the press release, but it doesn’t show up at that link.

    Nothing here either:


    And if this were just a local police department matter, would the initial inquiry require 3 SUVs and 6 officers?

  6. Peterr says:

    Around KC, there’s a whole lot of fireworks for sale during late June and early July. Now that I think about it, a lot of those sales are cash-only. Sounds mighty suspicious, if you ask me.

    Maybe Roy Blunt and the GOP ought to call some hearings to investigate why the FBI and DOJ have allowed this obvious terrorism-related activity to take place right out in public.

  7. Stewart Penketh says:

    In a related earlier post, Emptywheel wrote, “But this was just one JTTF squad. And that JTTF told her husband that they conduct 100 such investigations a week.” Perhaps this particular investigation arose because of a tip from her husband’s former employer, but what about the other 99?

  8. Jessica says:

    “If somebody’s buying things that could be used to make bombs of course we would like to know that but we may not need to do it in this fashion.”

    If it was indeed a tip from a former/current employer, one of the other “fashions” the government could use is a population trained to “say something if they see something”. We need to start a reverse-campaign against the government, if we see something fishy with them, we say something to fellow citizens.

    Oh wait. That’s called whistle-blowing. Or journalism. Or free speech. Which the government is taking care of already.

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