NEWS

Government Contractor's Surveillance of Activists Causes Outrage Across Pennsylvania

By Matthew Harwood

 

Some activists believe Powers should lose his job. "Obviously I'm thrilled that Rendell apologized and everything, but I still think (Powers) needs to be fired," Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition co-founder Dr. Thomas Jiunta told The Citizen's Voice. "For people exercising their right to free speech and opinions about natural gas drilling to be put on the same level as terrorists is not only extreme, but unconscionable."

The next day, ITRR released a vague press release Wednesday defending itself and listing violent actions associated with certain kinds of ideological groups, including environmentalists.

"The mission of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response is to identify and analyze information that can be leveraged to prevent injury, loss of life and destruction of property," the released states. "At times, that means providing guidance on the potential for deadly actions. At other times, it means providing security personnel guidance regarding staff requirements for crowd control."

Speaking with the Inquirer, ITRR's co-director Michael Perelman said his organization does not spy directly on people."We track events, giving law enforcement a heads up for the potential of disorder," he said. "We don't track people."

But a leaked memo by Homeland Security Director Powers calls into question whether ITRR and the Office of Homeland Security didn't concentrate on monitoring the activities of law-abiding drilling opponents. Released this week after Powers mistakenly e-mailed it to an anti-drilling activist, the memo stated "We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against these same companies," reports The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition member Janine Dymond said "The whole picture is so alarming that our government is so in the gas companies' pockets." In an editorial, The Scranton Times Tribune agrees, arguing "Unless Mr. Rendell takes further action, he will leave the impression that the government has become the promoter and protector, rather than the regulator, of the natural gas industry."

The scandal has led to bipartisan calls from the state legislature for an investigation, hearings, and the release of all ITRR intelligence bulletins from the Rendell administration, the Inquirer reports today. "In private industry, some body's head would roll. This is inexcusable," Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said. "I want to see the contract. I want to see the parameters of the contract. I want to see who signed for the contract."

The seriousness of the intelligence bulletin's disclosure was apparent by Rendell's reactions to it Tuesday night.

"I am deeply embarrassed and I apologize to any of the groups who had this information disseminated on their right to peacefully protest," Rendell said during the press conference, distancing himself from the scandal.

"I am appalled that this contract was entered into without my knowledge," he said. "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. This is extraordinarily embarrassing."

Rendell has directed his chief of staff to head a task force to look into the ITRR contract and how the firm was hired.


♦ Screenshot of Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin

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