Journalism in the Public Interest

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


Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announces his support for the creation of a National Infrastructure on Capitol Hill on Jan. 20, 2010, in Washington, D.C. (Chris Kleponis/Getty Images)

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.

How frightening! Proof again of how fragile our democracy is.  We fought a war against this type of government. Millions died as victims of fascism and champions of liberty.

Rendell should be forced to open up his government to Propublica to investigate further.  Otherwise he is defending the practice and should be sued by the environmental groups he is tracking.

If they were fishing for information from ProPublica for their list then I am proud to be included. However it makes one wonder if this “research” group has other Gov’t clients in other States. If they do DHS probably has lists not of use to them. Another example to fear our out of control Gov’t.

Uh, the real villain is the FBI official or officials who made the assertion that activist = terrorist.

Kudos PP for more excellent reporting in today’s media dessert.

Activists frequently top the FBI’s list of terrorism risks. Have for years. After Oklahoma City the list included things like throwing blood on people wearing fur, tree spiking and, years later, the infamous ELF and ALF arsons. As environmental extremists lead, in number of incidents, the domestic terrorism activity, so did domestic incidents lead, in number and impact, the total threats. Successful attacks from outside the country were few. That list has changed since 9/11, but it doesn’t surprise me that the presence of extreme environmental activists on the list hasn’t changed.

Nice touch that this organization has only a post office box and no street address.

The Govenor has to do more than apoligise.

The government tracks the activities of citizens with respect to Marcellus Shale, but citizens cannot track the activities of public officials with regard to the same. Something is very wrong with this picture. I hope PP will dig into whether there are financial ties between ITRR and Rendell. We’re working on it, but not getting very far with very limited resources. With Rendell giving more than $1 billion in no-bid contracts to political supporters over the past eight years, we are naturally suspicious. It’s also suspicious that Rendell jumped on this. Many think he was trying to prevent further questions, not answer them.

my wife and i live in pgh and we are on the list. amazing that the state government is protecting and promoting a private industry that is going to stomp all over your righte to clean air and water that is guareenteed by the pa constituion and your right to self government. the gas hogs are writing the laws and rendell is going to shove it down our throats. is this america iam 56years old and my wife is 54, if believing that the people have the right to govern themselves is being an “extremist” than i where that label proudly.  pittsburgh will not be a colony of harrisburgh and its phonies who are like the linesville carp during a feeding frenzy. pittsburgh is not going to bow to the new government corporatocracy

The privatized security activities of our out of control, domestic intelligence agency, Homeland Security, needs to be reigned in as they’ve repeatedly abused the authority they do have and have judged peaceful, constitutionally protected activities, protests, and activists who’s political goals officials seem to disagree with as a ‘threat’ on the same level as terrorists….Homeland Security is now a serious threat to our Constitution, rights and our freedoms.

Loren Dilmann

Sep. 17, 2010, 9:06 a.m.

Bad news for everyone who is “on the list” compiled by ITRR, the Israeli-linked security company whose controversial contract was terminated this week:

You are all now recorded on a computer in Israel, outside the jurisdiction of PA and US laws.

That is, according to ITRR’s own website: “All of the information ITRR’s staff creates is sent to its monitoring center in Jerusalem, where it is analyzed and verified with other local sources.”

“Espionage” was the word used by Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields, to describe ITRR’s intelligence-gathering operation:

Quote: “Am I on the list?” said Mr. Shields, who also wondered whether the institute’s representatives photographed or videotaped him at Frick Park during a recent airing of an anti-drilling documentary.

According to ITRR co-director Michael Perelman [PDF cited above]: “We never have just one member of the ground truth network in a country…  Right now, the institute has more than 15 people in the field…  ITRR’s network is global…” 

Do you see the problem here ??  Outsourcing “homeland security” to a foreign-linked firm with an offshore non-US “monitoring center” is worse than no security at all.  There is no way to know, for sure, what “they” do with “our” information.

Didn’t the agencies (FBI, DHS, etc.) who designed the “homeland security” matrix think of this ??

They are doing the same to groups in Oregon. We’ve been fighting imported liquefied natural gas that will go to California, and we have evidence that our environmental groups have been spied upon by paid fake energy groups. They appear to be paid by energy speculators and well established Wall Street oligarchs—two of which have been in the news a lot these past few weeks. They have dossiers on people who support them. This was a real wake-up call for those of us who are working to save our farms from eminent domain for use by private companies and the environmental groups that support us.

Patrick Walker

Sep. 18, 2010, 12:30 p.m.

The revolving door between government and industry is a major corrupter of public policy, perhaps even worse than undue influence through unlimited campaign contribution and lobbying dollars. Yet we’ve gotten so used to it that few expressed shock over the extreme appearance of impropriety when Tom Ridge, both former PA governor and, more importantly, former Homeland Security chief, took his highly paid “strategy adviser” post with the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

The sinister possibilities for influence peddling, especially for using DHS to clamp down on free citizens protesting a highly controversial, conflict-provoking industry, are off the charts here. (The Certus Strategies document “Managing Stakeholder and Community Resistance” discussing “outrage management planning” proves that the industry was highly conscious of the angry opposition it would generate.) For anyone, liberal or conservative, who cherishes civil liberties, getting Ridge to resign should be a high priority. If he protests innocence, we should scream back that he should have known better than to take such a post in the first place. Many already see PA as a fascist state run on behalf of the gas industry; MSC’s hiring the nation’s “chief spook” to a highly visible post seems a PR blunder stupid beyond belief. All lovers of freedom, everywhere in the political spectrum, should phone the MSC to say that Ridge is looking very sinister right now and should be dumped as a piece of PR “toxic waste,” if he doesn’t have the decency to resign.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition phone number is (724) 745-0100.

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