Rendell's office releases content of all bulletins on planned protests

Posted: September 18, 2010

One bulletin from Harrisburg warned that a protest over use of carriage horses in Philadelphia could turn into "a fertile recruiting or meeting ground" for militant animal-rights activists.

Another said convicted police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's supporters might turn desperate and "attack perceived enemies" after a prosecutor vowed to seek his execution.

And Halloween might bring "rowdy behavior" from eco-activists in masks and costumes at a lunchtime rally outside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Philadelphia office.

Those and other warnings about domestic political groups - ranging from antinuclear protesters to tea-party activists - can be found all through 137 state-issued intelligence bulletins that Gov. Rendell's office released Friday amid continuing criticism of the program that produced the bulletins.

The bulletins, issued to police, public officials, and commercial interests three times a week since October, were prepared by a private contractor that the state Office of Homeland Security hired last year for $103,000 without competitive bidding. Much of their content - such as announcements of protest events - was readily available through Internet searches.

The contractor the state hired, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, lists offices in Philadelphia, Washington, and Jerusalem. The state Homeland Security Office in turn disseminated the information to a yet-undisclosed list of police, elected officials, and others in the private sector, Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said.

Rendell said Tuesday that the contract would be terminated next month when it comes up for renewal. The state still receives alerts from the institute, but none has been disseminated since Monday, Tuma said.

At the center of the controversy is an e-mail written by the director of the state Homeland Security Office that seemed to take sides in the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling debate.

"We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies," James F. Powers Jr. wrote in a Sept. 5 e-mail to Virginia Cody, an antidrilling activist in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Cody said Friday she believed the e-mail had been sent to her unintentionally.

Powers declined Friday to respond to requests for an interview.

In a form signed by Powers and other state officials last year, his office explained the need to hire the security firm without competitive bidding. Officials said they had done an exhaustive search over three years and determined that "outside the FBI and CIA, there exists no other service of this kind."

The officials warned of the consequences of not having the bulletins the contractor would provide.

"Without this information, the ability to protect commonwealth assets and resources while simultaneously alerting/notifying private sector owners/operators of the potential and/or credible threats/warnings is severely hindered," they wrote.

Powers asked that the order be processed immediately so officials could get up to speed about protests planned for last fall's G-20 international summit in Pittsburgh.

Mary Catherine Roper, a staff lawyer at the Philadelphia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Friday that Powers should be fired.

"They are using these bulletins to support the Marcellus Shale gas industry against the people who oppose this industry, and that is appalling," Roper said. "They shouldn't be taking sides in a public debate over where and under what circumstances drilling should be taking place. That is not the role of our public-safety agencies."

Michael Perelman, a former York, Pa., police officer who is one of two directors of the company, said in a statement Friday: "The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response tracks events, giving law enforcement a heads-up for the potential of disorder as our bulletins provided to the [state] clearly show . . . [and] does not follow people, conduct surveillance, photograph, or record individuals."

Rendell has convened a task force to review the state's contract with the firm and determine what security tasks may be redundant with what state or federal authorities provide.

The bulletins list protests and parades as well as public meetings where controversial issues were expected to draw large crowds. They also note national and international terrorism threat alerts from government agencies, even if Pennsylvania was not specifically mentioned as a possible target of such threats.

Bulletins highlighted antiwar demonstrations by West Chester University students, gatherings of antiabortion advocates, and the protests by peace activists who have become a fixture outside the premises of defense contractor Lockheed Martin in King of Prussia.

"When their focus is not directed at Lockheed itself, protesters will likely gather at the traffic light on the corner of Mall and Goddard to wave signs at cars," the bulletin said. Still, it warned that the event could draw "radical protesters from the ranks of local communist and/or anarchist movements."

Two bulletins late last year included warnings about tea-party activists - one before a march in Harrisburg, the other before anti-immigration rallies in Hazleton and Valley Forge. "Analysts have collected disparate communications among individual white nationalists expressing an affinity for the tea-party ideology and a willingness to join the protest," the bulletin said.

Opponents of drilling in the natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation appear regularly in the bulletins, with listings of meetings where activists were expected to show up.

An Aug. 9 bulletin, for example, called attention to an event in the northeast corner of the state - a picnic at Montrose High School sponsored by one of the drilling companies.

"Of note is that the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition has released a special communication harshly ridiculing and criticizing this event," analysts wrote.

Cody said she and seven other antidrilling activists attended the picnic and set up a table with literature.

She ridiculed the bulletins. "Yes, I'm such a dangerous person," she said Friday. "I'm a 54-year-old woman who's making eggplant parmesan right now."


 

To read the state homeland security bulletins, go to


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-313-8207 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Angela Couloumbis contributed to this article.

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