The great quinoa plot foiled

Long Island resident Michele Catalano received a visit from six members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force because she was suspected of being a terrorist. Catalano describes what happened while she was at work and her husband and son were at home.

What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.

Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.

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.

Why the interest in this family’s cooking practices? Apparently a few weeks earlier, Catalano had been researching pressure cookers on the internet to learn how to better cook quinoa, and her husband had been looking up backpacks. So our intrepid NSA ‘connected the dots’ as they are so fond of saying.

After about 45 minutes, the investigators probably decided that they did not fit the profile of terrorists and left. Catalano’s husband said that “They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing.” I wonder what would have happened if the family did fit the profile. And so much for the claims that the NSA spying program only targets people communicating with those overseas.

Apart from the creepiness of the whole episode, if six people are assigned to this investigation, the mind simply boggles at the sheer number of people needed to investigate all the false positives that are being generated. If nothing else, the massive NSA snooping is surely a jobs program. No wonder the budget for DHS is so huge.

Catalano has strongly rejected accusations that she made up this story. But the fact that her story is so plausible is itself a damning indictment of the state of ubiquitous government surveillance. And it has become plausible because of all that we have learned from Edward Snowden.


  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    I think I’ll go look up pressure cookers and backpacks just to see what happens. But seriously, chemical weapons are more my style. Some swimming puul chemicals and industrial ammonia should make enough chloramine to cause multiple injuries and cause trampling deaths at a crowded mall at Christmastime. Or I wonder if that new Japanese suicide gas made out of toilet bowl cleaner and what they call “bath sulfur” would work.

  2. Ravi Venkataraman says

    I wonder if one is entitled to a lawyer when answering questions? Can we not simply close the door in their face or ask them to come back with a warrant, or until a lawyer is available? I would probably refuse to answer any questions, ask them to leave, and call 911 if they didn’t, But then, I live in a civilized country, Canada, which, despite Prime Minister Harper’s best efforts, still remains civilized and not a US territory.

  3. Mano Singham says

    You have the right, according to the law, to not answer questions without having a lawyer present.

  4. evilDoug says

    I suppose it wouldn’t do to search for a bomb calorimeter, how to make a bombe surprise or where to buy bombazine bolts.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Thanks so much for this. It is a great document and I am going to post it tomorrow to give it wider readership.

  6. Aliasalpha says

    I think they should be investigating people who actually eat quinoa, that stuff is disgusting! Anyone who eats it voluntarily has to be at least a bit weird

  7. Corvus illustris says

    Mrs Corva thinks it’s good stuff and that you’re a bit weird. 😎 I wouldn’t go that far on either subject. I’ve eaten it and it isn’t bad but I’d prefer oatmeal, thanks. It’s possible that what you tried was not prepared properly and a bitter natural detergent was left on the seeds; see the Wikipedia article. There is some concern that the export of quinoa may be depriving Andean populations of an important amino-acid source in the traditional native diet.

  8. kyoseki says

    You can have my quinoa when you pry it from my cold dead hands!

    … ok, not really, but there are quite a few good quinoa recipes, like this one (seriously, try it, it’s fantastic):

    I’m actually a little surprised I haven’t had a visit from these guys, given how often I tend to google explosive related stuff for both my job (visual effects) and arguing with idiots on the internet. Add to that the fact that I own both firearms & pressure cookers, along with being a dirty foreigner, I’m amazed I’m not on a list somewhere.

  9. says

    I enjoy working with quinoa. When prepared right, the taste is mellow and nutty and works well in a variety of dishes. I absolutely love the texture. My only regret is that it doesn’t seem to work well in soups. But I have barley for soups, and barley is my favorite grain.

  10. Dunc says

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that she was well known for vociferously denouncing anybody who questioned the WoT or the DHS as traitors – back in the days of Bush.

  11. says

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that she was well known for vociferously denouncing anybody who questioned the WoT or the DHS as traitors – back in the days of Bush.

    I suppose one may find some irony in it but, other than that, why is that worth bearing in mind?

  12. Dunc says

    It’s an illustration of the fact that people’s views on such matters are often entirely situational. I’m certainly not suggesting that it somehow legitimises the actions of the JTTF or the employer in this case.

    Also, I do like irony, and seeing authoritarians hoist by their own petards. It’s a personal weakness, I’ll admit…

  13. Corvus illustris says

    The Forbes link also provides some grim amusement with its digs at the Atlantic and the Guardian for those sources’ concern about the DHS and the NSA. See, they’re a couple of Chickens Little. Just stay calm as the Fourth Amendment passes through the shredder.

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