Activists say Pa. wasted money spying on them Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 By: Susan Phillips firstname.lastname@example.org Environmental activists critical of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania say the use of tax dollars to monitor their activity is a waste of money. Governor Rendell apologized to the groups this week after leaked documents revealed that the state office of Homeland Security monitored their activities with the help of a private contractor. The state gave a year-long contract to the Philadelphia based Institute for Terrorism Research and Response. The $125,000 contract is part of a federal program to monitor threats to critical infrastructure. The website of the organization describes itself as an American-Israeli non-profit with expertise in suicide bombings, weapons of mass destruction and "Israeli style training." An example of their work monitoring activists could be glimpsed in a recent Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin, which listed several public meetings and film showings that gas-drilling opponents might attend. And it warned of potential threats to the industry.
Austin Kelly helped organize the Philadelphia showing of the anti-gas drilling documentary Gasland.
HARRISBURG -- The former Special Forces colonel who has headed the state Office of Homeland Security for four years and who now finds himself at the center of a firestorm over an anti-terrorism contract is missing in action.
James F. Powers Jr. has basically gone underground since Tuesday, when Gov. Ed Rendell denounced a $103,000 no-bid contract that Mr. Powers had given to the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, which has offices in Philadelphia and Israel.
Mr. Powers, who makes $106,602 a year, hasn't been returning phone calls from the news media this week and was said to be out of his office when a reporter stopped in on Wednesday. He did not return a call to his home and his office turned down a request to interview him.
Mr. Powers, who lives in Carlisle, served in the Army from 1971 to 2001 in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Korea and Washington. ...
Pennsylvania lawmakers want to know why the state paid a contractor $103,000 to monitor possible security threats in the state. They've also asked Gov. Rendell to release intelligence bulletins the company produced and an accounting of who received them.Legislators from both parties sent letters to Rendell Thursday and requested legislative hearings to explore a deal between the state and the Institute of Terrorism Research & Response, a company hired in October to provide intelligence reports to the state Office of Homeland Security. Rendell terminated the contract this week when he found the company included peaceful protests and demonstrations in its alerts, which were disseminated to people in law enforcement and the private sector. ...
State Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.), chairwoman of the House State Government Committee, which oversees the state Homeland Security office, has asked Rendell to reveal all of the intelligence reports produced for the state, which included information about protests over Marcellus Shale natural-gas drilling, a gay-pride event, and an anti-BP candlelight vigil.
Michael Perelman, codirector of the institute, said his company did not watch or follow people.
Perelman added that his company
The team that produces the intelligence reports is made up of former military, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals who compile data from analysts throughout the world, according to information provided by Perelman.
The company has no other state contracts and has no federal contracts, Perelman said.
The governor's office is gathering reports the institute provided to the state and intends to release them, spokesman Gary Tuma said. ...
An obscure York nonprofit with ties to Philadelphia University and Jerusalem is behind the state Homeland Security agency's monitoring of protesters, environmentalists and gays, documents show.
The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response is headed by Michael Perelman, who formerly worked for the York City Police Department, and Aaron Richman, a former police captain in the Israeli capital, according to filings with the Pennsylvania Department of State. ...
"We are appalled at what we have learned so far about these reports," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "It all smacks of J. Edgar Hoover. Saying that no harm was done is simplistic." ...
The institute's website provides few details about Perelman and Richman.
They formed the company six years ago in York to provide
Richman works as an assistant professor at Philadelphia University, which identifies him as a former police captain in Jerusalem, a paramedic and a doctoral candidate in Public Policy and Homeland Security. ...
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, asked how the contract was awarded.
So, what was in the ITRR intelligence bulletins?
... The 12-page bulletin included a list of municipal zoning hearings on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, a forestry industry conference and a screening of the documentary "Gasland" as events likely to be attended by anti-drilling activists.
Aside from the drilling-related events, the bulletin mentioned other potential security concerns that it said could involve "anarchists and Black Power radicals."
It listed demonstrations by anti-war groups, deportation protesters in Philadelphia, mountaintop removal mining protesters in West Virginia and an animal rights protest at a Montgomery County rodeo.
It also included "Burn the Confederate Flag Day," the Jewish high holidays and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as potential sources of risk.
Rendell said he learned of the matter from a story in the Patriot-News of Harrisburg on Tuesday morning, and was appalled that aides did not notify him before inking the contract a year ago.
Mike Perelman, a co-director of the institute, would not respond to questions about the contract or the bulletins, saying by telephone Tuesday that he does not discuss client matters.
Rendell said the bulletin was being used - wrongly - as a way to satisfy a federal requirement to protect "critical infrastructure" and notify law enforcement of credible information about real threats.
He said he has asked several top aides, including state police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski, to come up with a way to satisfy the requirement.
Powers did not respond to interview requests Tuesday.
The bulletins, which went out multiple times a week, were not intended for public distribution.
But someone who received the Aug. 30 bulletin gave a copy to Virginia Cody, a retired Air Force officer who lives in Factoryville and is concerned about the rapid expansion of Marcellus Shale drilling in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Cody gave the document to a friend, who posted it on an online forum largely read by drilling opponents in the area, Cody said. She would not say who gave her the bulletin, just that the person works for a private company and was an intended recipient of it.
After it was posted online, Powers sent Cody an e-mail saying that the bulletin was intended for owners, operators and security personnel associated with the state's "critical infrastructure and key resources."
He closed by saying,
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