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Pa. Homeland Security Head Resigns Amid Controversy Over Tracking of Activists

Pennsylvania’s beleaguered director of Homeland Security is stepping down in the wake of a controversy over his decision to hire an intelligence firm that monitored gas drilling opponents and other activist groups.

The Pennsylvania Homeland Security director who hired an anti-terrorism contractor to monitor threats to state infrastructure resigned today, just weeks after confidential intelligence bulletins produced by the contractor showed surveillance of gas drilling opponents and an array of activist groups and protestors.

"Jim is a good man who made a very significant mistake in judgment," Gov. Ed Rendell said as he announced Powers' resignation, in comments reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Rendell said the choice to step down was made by Powers.

As we’ve noted, Powers, apologized at a hearing this week to the groups and individuals who felt their constitutional rights were violated. At the same time, Powers stood by his decision to authorize the contract with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, saying, “I still feel what we were doing was right for the people.”

Top officials of the Pennsylvania State Police had sharply criticized the intelligence bulletins, calling the documents “unsubstantiated gossip” and the work of “amateurs.” One lawmaker at this week’s hearing called for Powers to be fired.

Gov. Rendell had refused to fire Powers, but last month Rendell also said that upon learning of the matter, he was “deeply embarrassed” and “appalled” by the contract and the type of free-speech activities his state was monitoring.

Powers, in his resignation letter, said he decided to resign after considering the “emerging events surrounding the credibility of, and public/private-sector information sharing programs executed by” his office.

“Central to every task undertaken by this Office was the security and well-being of the Commonwealth citizenry – our greatest resource,” the letter said.

The contract with ITRR comes up for renewal in October. Gov. Rendell has said it will be terminated.

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