Pa. lawmakers press for probe on contract for private terror tracking firm

Posted: September 17, 2010

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.

"In private industry, somebody's head would roll. This is inexcusable," Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) 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."

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.

"I think that citizens have a right to see if they have been targeted themselves or been called part of a terrorist organization," Josephs said. "I'm fairly convinced that I probably was surveilled."

Michael Perelman, codirector of the institute, said his company did not watch or follow people.

"We track events, giving law enforcement a heads up for the potential of disorder," he said. "We don't track people."

Perelman added that his company "respects all groups' constitutional rights regarding free speech and assembly. We only provide information on potential issues that may require enhanced security responses in the protection of clients' obligations to public safety."

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.

Rendell also convened a task force led by his chief of staff, Steve Crawford, to determine why the company had been hired and to decide "the best way to disseminate information concerning credible, and only credible, security threats in the future," Tuma said.

Rendell has not reprimanded anyone at the state Office of Homeland Security or the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The contract with the institute was competitively bid, said Maria Finn, spokeswoman for PEMA, which oversees the Homeland Security Office.

James Powers, director of the office, declined through a spokeswoman to comment.

A unit in the state police already monitors terrorist and security threats in the state, said Adrian R. King Jr., director of PEMA until late 2005.

Republican members of the House State Government Committee have asked for hearings on the matter.

"If the state already does that with this criminal intelligence group with the state police, it's just sort of mind-boggling that we would have to go out and spend $103,000 to get the same kind of information," said State Rep. Glen Grell (R., Cumberland), vice chairman of the House State Government Committee.

Democrats may also call for hearings.

"Legislative hearings would certainly be in order to determine more about how this happened and to prevent these types of activities from happening again," said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne).


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or at jfarrell@phillynews.com.


Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.

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