Wandering Eye: An update in a murder-for-hire case, carrying your Nobel Prize in the airport, and more

The Wandering Eye

The murder-for-hire case in Maryland federal court against Derrick Lamont Smith and Robert Harrison Jr., filed in March, in which the FBI alleges that the "normal and understood rate for a contract killing in Baltimore is $5,000" and that Smith has "committed a number of contract murders in Baltimore . . . over a number of years," just got more interesting: The cops nabbed Harrison by the warrantless use of a cell-site simulator, often called a "Stingray" or "triggerfish." The technology's "intrusiveness"—it can bypass carriers such as AT&T and Verizon and force phones to connect to it, thereby pinpointing the phone's precise location, while also collecting the content of voice calls, text messages, and web-browser activity on the target phone and other phones in area—means its use in the case "constitutes a search of Harrison's apartment, phone, and person," Harrison's attorney, C. Justin Brown, contends in a recent court filing, so a warrant should have been required before the government could use it. The FBI has been deploying this kind of technology for "about two decades and is well aware that its use . . . is in a contentious legal area" due to constitutional concerns, Slate has reported, based on FBI documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. (Van Smith)

If you ever wanted to know what it's like to take your Nobel Prize through airport security in Fargo, North Dakota, Brian Schmidt has the skinny. As Scientific American recounts, Schmidt (who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics with Saul Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley, and Adam G. Riess from Johns Hopkins) brought the medal to Fargo to show his grandmother. On the way out, the TSA folks stopped him:
"They're like, 'Sir, there's something in your bag.'
I said, 'Yes, I think it's this box.'
They said, 'What's in the box?'
I said, 'a large gold medal,' as one does.
So they opened it up and they said, 'What's it made out of?'
I said, 'gold.'
And they're like, 'Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?'
'The King of Sweden.'
'Why did he give this to you?'
'Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.'
At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, 'Why were you in Fargo?'" (Edward Ericson Jr.)


Shoppers at Giant Food and several other grocery chains operated by Ahold USA got a surprise a few weeks back: All the beef was marked "USDA Graded" but the labels omitted the actual grade. The Washington Post's Wonkblog untangles the story. U.S. beef is inspected for safety, and for a fee the USDA grades it in declining order of quality as "Prime," "Choice," or "Select." About 94 percent of beef sold in the U.S. gets these optional grades, and the better grades command a higher price. Perplexed shoppers called the USDA, and an equally perplexed official named Larry Meadows called Ahold's head of corporate compliance who, as WaPo tells, blamed the marketing department: "He indicated to me that the marketing team came up with the brilliant idea, as he called it," Meadows said. "But he also agreed that they weren't being as transparent as they were in the past." Ahold was ordered to put the grades back and promised to do so, though as of yesterday, WaPo reports, the old labels were still in the stores. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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