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Pa. Governor Apologizes for Tracking Enviro Extremists, but Questions Remain

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said he only learned on Tuesday that a state contractor was listing “environmental extremists” and others as security threats — but we asked his office about the issue last week.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said on Tuesday he was “deeply embarrassed” by his Office of Homeland Security’s use of a bulletin that labeled opponents to gas drilling as “environmental extremists” and said the information had come from an anti-terrorism consulting firm that produces information about potential threats to the state’s security and infrastructure.

Rendell said he had terminated Pennsylvania’s $125,000 contract with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, which produced the document. He also said that he had only learned of the issue on Tuesday.

"I am appalled that this contract was entered into without my knowledge," he told reporters at a Tuesday evening news conference. "I am appalled that information was disseminated about groups that were exercising their constitutional right to free speech and to protest. They shouldn't be on any list [of possible security threats]. This is extraordinarily embarrassing."

But Rendell’s office was informed about the leaked bulletin last Wednesday, when ProPublica broke the story and asked the governor’s office for comment.

“I didn’t know that he didn’t know,” the governor’s spokesman, Gary Tuma, told me when I spoke with him today.

Last week, Tuma told ProPublica that “all this security bulletin does is raise awareness of local officials.” He also said that information obtained through the contractor about potential threats was being shared with energy companies. Although Tuma said the state itself is not keeping a list of anti-drilling activists or groups, he did not know the methods that the state’s contractor was using to gather its information on potential threats.

 “It’s not that anyone was compiling a list of groups in any given area, it’s them compiling what they considered to be potential events of concern,” Tuma said. He added, “I don’t know how the contractor made their determinations.”

Yesterday, James Powers, the state's Homeland Security director  acknowledged in an interview with the Harrisburg Patriot-News that someone was monitoring the “Web traffic” of anti-drilling groups. Powers would not say whether the monitoring was done by state employees or by the consulting firm, but said the state was not tracking groups.

Mike Perelman, one of consulting firm’s directors, declined to answer questions about the contract or the bulletins, telling the Associated Press that the firm does not discuss client matters.

The last page of the Pennsylvania intelligence bulletin contained the following explanation of why it was produced:

The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) produces this document specifically for the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security in support of National Priority #3: Implement the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) and all public and private sector, critical infrastructure protection-related initiatives and strategies.

The bulletin also flagged antiwar events, animal rights demonstrations and Muslims observing Ramadan as among the potential security threats.

Gov. Rendell has now terminated the state’s contract with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response. But it’s worth noting that the information in the document relating to the threat of “environmental extremism” was originally from the FBI, and was extracted into the Pennsylvania bulletin.

That means the original association between environmental activists and threats to security originated on the federal level. The FBI has not responded to ProPublica’s request for comment.

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