When Political Activism Gets Treated as Potential Terrorism

PA’s Department of Homeland Security has employed an entity called the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response to monitor the web traffic of anti-drilling activists in that state. The effort was purportedly started to fulfill national requirements to protect critical infrastructure.

As more attention was focused on this yesterday, Governor Rendell said he was embarrassed by the news and fired the company engaging in the spying; but he didn’t fire the guy who had hired the company.

Rendell, who claimed he’d just learned about the practice, said Tuesday that the information was useless to law enforcement agencies and that distributing it was tantamount to trampling on constitutional rights. In recent weeks, several acts of vandalism at drilling sites spurred the inclusion of events likely to be attended by environmentalists and the bulletins began going to representatives of Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry.


“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 at an evening Capitol news conference.

Rendell called the practice “ludicrous” and said the fact that the state was paying for such rudimentary information was “stunning.”

Still, Rendell said he was not firing his homeland security director, James Powers, but he ordered an end to the $125,000 contract with the Philadelphia-based organization, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, that supplied the information. [my emphasis]

But the first response from the Governor’s office–for the paper that first broke this story–was initially support for the program.

Gary Tuma, Gov. Ed Rendell’s spokesman, said, “It is part of Homeland Security’s responsibility to alert local law enforcement, local officials and potential victims” to any potential problems.

He said the inclusion of anti-drilling activity in intelligence bulletins “by no means brands groups that speak publicly on one side or the other of an issue as troublemakers.” The information has been included “because there have been acts of vandalism.”

Powers added that a lot of times anti-drilling activists show up without obtaining a permit to protest, “and that in itself is a violation of the law.”

When it was noted that citizens do not need a permit to attend public meetings and express dissenting opinions, Powers said, “You’re looking at it out of context. I get to see everything over time.”

Powers said that when anti-drilling activists attend public meetings, “their presence may spark something else.” He said he didn’t want to see public meetings “escalate to physical criminal acts.” [my emphasis]

Now, perhaps Rendell was ignorant about this effort. Perhaps his opposition to it is–as stated–that the information collected was not useful for law enforcement.

But I am rather curious by this detail: when the emails revealing the extent of the surveillance got sent to activists, James Powers–the guy Rendell didn’t fire–sent an email to (among others) the drilling industry’s lobbyist, saying he didn’t want this information to inflame anti-drilling activists.

He added, “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.”Powers sent copies of his e-mail to the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response as well as to Pam Witmer, a lobbyist with the Bravo Group, which lobbies for the gas industry.

Which sure makes it seem like Powers was about monitoring political activities–those “fomenting dissent”–rather than potential terrorists.

Among the others included in this surveillance?  Anarchists, “black power” groups, animal rights activists protesting a rodeo.

Because we all know rodeos are critical infrastructure.

  1. fwdpost says:

    Rendell would like to sell the PA turnpike to a private company,as well as put toll booths on other roads. He is not a progressive and has the odor of a Clinton/Ben Nelson philosophy, one that caters too much to the GOP ideas.

  2. TalkingStick says:

    It is well to remember that the first person the TSA refused permission to fly is a mainstream environmental activist. Sorry. I can’t recall her name. Any expectation that these immense powers will not be used for corporate and political interests is misbegotten.

  3. sabretoothedcritter says:

    I’m not from PA, but from what I’ve seen of Gov. Rendell, he seems a bit too much of a blue dog for me. His TV appearances are filled with the usual dem talking points, but Pennsylvania keeps making news with its drip drip drip of strangely regressive (might I say “police-state-like”) policies, many of which were enacted under Rendell’s watch.
    It could be that this is just how he comes across on TV. Since I’m not from PA and am not familiar with politics/life there, I can’t say. Anybody more familiar with him? Is he really the duplicitous bastard he seems to be?

    • szielinski says:

      Is he [Rendell] really the duplicitous bastard he seems to be?

      He’s a politician through and through, a Clintonista, as a matter of fact and to prove his guilt by referring to his associates.

  4. szielinski says:

    Ah, I remember fondly those days when hosting an anti-intervention speaker would bring out some of the ROTC folk, Young Republicans and a cop or two. You could tell who they were by their haircuts and the fact that they took detailed notes.

  5. Surrey says:

    Check out the friday lunch club blog today for the outfit collecting this information for the state of Pennsylvania and where the info was being sent and analyzed. You might be surprised.

  6. wagthedog says:

    HARRISBURG, Pa., April 14 /PRNewswire/ — Pennsylvania Governor Edward

    The Governor today signed House Bill 213 into law. The bill amends the

    state’s crimes code to include the offense of “ecoterrorism.”

  7. JDM3 says:

    I’m from Pennsylvania and I’ve met the man twice. Fat Stinky Ed Rendell is bluer than any Blue Dog you ever met, but the EmEssEm pic is that he’s a “responsible liberal,” Bullshit. Everything in the first four comments is spot on. He actually is probably closer to republiKKKan leadership in reich strongholds like suburban Montgomery, Chester and Bucks Counties (rich, historically republiKKKan suburbs of Philadelphia) than he is to mainstream Philly Dem leadership, which is already pretty damn republicrat. But nationally, he’s a “liberal Democrat.” Most recently brought us casino gambling after jerking off the gaming interests at $10-12 million a year in campaign contributions for a good fifteen or twenty years. Now, miraculously, when he’s retiring and doesn’t need their contributions any more, BINGO, we have casino gambling. Absolute scum bucket, our Fat Stinky Ed Rendell.

    • bmaz says:

      For all the caterwauling about Rendel, he promptly shut this odious program down immediately. Already done and with a forceful statement too. I do not necessarily disagree that Rendell is a very moderate DLC type of Dem, but the KKK crap is just a little much. Bringing the Klan and the the Third Reich into every negative statement (not just you, others too) is tiresome.

  8. cbl2 says:

    Good Morning Emptywheel and Firedog

    been reading of this on FB and I keep thinking of the events within the context of some other recent stories here

    – were they going through phone books and looking for ‘dissident-sounding’ org names ?

    – will they hold someone indefinitely, without charges and claim state secrets ?

    the Marcellus Shale is Spindletop for the mother-frackers, thank dog there’s a Democrat and not some mean old Repub in charge, eh ?

    Welcome to Gaslandistan !

  9. BOHICA says:

    From Huff Post

    The 12-page bulletin that was issued Aug. 30 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.

    “Burn the Confederate Flag Day” is a product of The General himself.

    As they say, “Teh stupid it burns”.

  10. parsnip says:

    Here’s all that’s left of an October 2008 article that had appeared in the Herald Standard, but that has been scrubbed:


    by Herald-Standard , Monday, 06 October 2008

    There is more of a threat in Pennsylvania from angry individuals and activist groups than from foreign terrorists, according to state officials.

    Pennsylvania’s Homeland Security Director James Powers noted that individuals such as Oklahoma City bomber Terry McVey and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph technically aren’t terrorists because they were not part of a larger organization aimed at overthrowing the government.

    “Tim McVey is not a terrorist, just very angry with the US government,” Powers said. “Whether a person is a terrorist or a criminal is irrelevant to me.”

    Powers said his office is charged with preventing damage to critical infrastructure in the state, including transportation systems, financial systems, and public health care, as well as other areas vital to the health, safety and financial well-being in the state. Threats not only include terrorist attacks, but also natural disasters and other major disruptions.

    Powers said his office deals with six working groups to identify critical infrastructure: the agriculture, commercial facilities, energy and environmental, government facilities, public health and transportation security working groups. Powers said his office relies heavily upon local responders such as police, fire, ambulance services, hospitals and utility companies to respond to emergencies and restore the situation to normal.

    There’s also this: FBI Looking for Informants to Infiltrate Vegan Potlucks. And the hamburger libel law. The slippery slope has already slumped. The DHS was conceived as the enforcer of corporate rule.


    Governor Rendell: What’s the point of poisoning the ground water and land, in order to frack fossil fuel, such that when we’ve finally used up the last drop, there’s no unpoisoned place left to scratch out a human existence from the soil, like humanity had done for 10,000 years before the discovery of oil and gas? Despite your canceling of this contract, we now know that you are still violating the Pennsylvania constitution by selling off our Commonwealth, and poisoning our well water forever, for a few pennies. Heck, PA doesn’t even have a severance tax on the gas. How stupid is that, practically giving away the gas? And what about the rights of the landowners who don’t want to let the drillers on their land? Their property values (and potentially their water) are being affected too, without their consent.

    • cbl2 says:

      ‘certain private business concerns’ might deem it in their best interests to gin up such stories – naaaah, that’s just shrill :D

  11. wagthedog says:

    Who are the Ecoterrorists?

    Individuals have every right to be very concerned givin the lawless practice of mountain top removal and fracking. The PA and Federal Government are not protecting the people and the natural public resources.

    There are no state taxes on extracting natural gas. There are no laws on what toxins a company can inject into a well. It will be the public that will end up with the bill to clean up the toxic environment disaster. And it will be Pennsylvania’s children who will end up suffering from cancer and other illnesses.

  12. Mason says:

    Notice the services provided by the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response:

    * Train to combat terrorism with experienced Israeli and American security professionals with ITRR’s specialized training.
    * Learn from highly-regarded Subject Matter Experts at professional seminars in the US and Israel tailored to your needs throughout the year.
    * Gain access to real-time actionable intelligence using ITRR’s Targeted Actionable Monitoring Center (TAM-C) and Ground Truth Network.
    * Get hands-on emergency guidance during an unexpected crisis.

    With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and a P.O. Box in Jerusalem, the institute is eager to answer all of your questions about terrorism and train you to successfully handle a terrorist event in your neighborhood.

    Mark down October 22nd on your calendar because I’m sure all readers will want to attend the exciting full day seminar at Philadelphia University entitled, “The Scenario Challenge,” co-sponsored by Philadelphia University Disaster Medicine and Management and The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR).

    Check out ITRR’s three-page brochure.


    EDIT: I corrected “office’s” to offices in the first sentence after the block quote. I hate lame grammar.

    • Mason says:

      I forgot to mention that the ever popular James F. Powers, Jr., Director, Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security will be a speaker at the conference.

      • Mason says:

        Oh, and one more thing. One must register to attend and attendees will have to provide acceptable ID before being admitted to the Sanctor Sanctorum.

        Please secure your fake IDs and WMDs in the trunks of your vehicles so that ITRR’s trained professionals will know where to find them.

  13. drweevil says:

    Rendell is only embarrassed because he got caught.

    A couple of points:

    – CBS says “Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry” as if the chief beneficiary to this industry were actually Pennsylvania. But to the extent that Pennsylvanians will benefit from this industry the benefits will be temporary and indirect. The profits will mostly flow out of state and the locals will be left with a blighted landscape and poisoned wells once the gas ceases flowing in 10-20 year’s time. In short, the residents of cbl2’s aptly coined “Gaslandistan” are treated as Third World citizens.

    – I’m shocked, shocked! to find that government is protecting powerful private interests at the expense of the public, once again. As George Orwell put it “I have no particular love for the idealised ‘worker’ as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.” (Homage to Catalonia 1938.)

  14. tjbs says:

    And those damn peace groups protesting the war.

    I was there almost every Tuesday after the invasion. The goons, with the black cars with tinted glass, showed up soon after we started. Don’t know how long they drove around till they could cop the parking spot with the unobstructed view of the weekly protest. What a waste, two clowns sitting there hour after hour, week after week snapping their stupid pictures.

    These creeps have my picture with some interesting signs. The full color 3′ X 4′ poster of prime Abu Grabh torture photos should stand out nicely among the polite signs.

    His nick name is “Fast Eddie’ so watch your wallet and privacy.

  15. Mason says:

    I do not understand why this asshole is still on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania payroll:

    James F. Powers, Jr., Director, Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security

    He obviously has no idea what the First Amendment means and he’s as clueless as clueless can be when it comes to understanding the meaning of the term, “chilling effect.”

    There is, of course, the possibility that he damn well knows about the First Amendment and acts that chill the exercise of First Amendment freedoms but he doesn’t give a damn.

    Either way, unlike the vast majority of the 15 million unemployed in the United States today, this dude deserves to be rewarded with unemployment.


    • phred says:

      Agreed. I find this quote of Powers (from comment #14) particularly concerning:

      “Whether a person is a terrorist or a criminal is irrelevant to me.”

      Ummm, the whole dismantling of the rule of law has been centered around ideas that one cannot treat terrorists as criminals, because criminals have all those pesky constitutional protections.

      Now, while I would suggest that we would all be better served by a system wherein terrorists are treated as criminals, I am wondering just what sort of legal framework Powers thinks he is working in. I’m guessing that he assumes our quaint little constitution is no longer in force. As you might imagine, I have a problem with that.

  16. Nell says:

    Powers still has his job after making it undeniable that this is about chilling dissent:

    After [the document] was posted online, Powers sent Cody an e-mail saying … “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.”

    [from article linked in main post]

    Not good enough, Governor.

  17. solerso says:

    anyone have any doubt where the security state is going? morons that give lip service and obedience to it because it was begun in the name of stopping terrorism by sinister foreigners should be worried. Many of the same morons will no doubt cheer when corporations in collusion with law enforcement decide that acts of minor vandalism associated with legitimate protests carried out by environmentalist or LGBT groups now qualify as “terrorism”. When tresspasing becomes an act of terrorism will the morons still be cheering?

    • Mason says:

      When tresspasing becomes an act of terrorism will the morons still be cheering?

      Come on, now!

      You gotta spell it the way they do because they created the subcategory.


      See that you don’t make this mistake again or I’ll sick Dr. Laura on you.

  18. daveotr says:

    Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields is asking for a probe of the non-profit that did the spying. Here’s the key quote IMO:

    “I want to see the 990s on this group,” he said, referring to the IRS document nonprofits must file. “Where do the fingerprints lie on this organization?” Mr. Shields said.

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out some of those fingerprints have names like Koch or Scaife.

  19. Mason says:

    Like Shields, I can’t imagine that the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response is a legitimate non-profit.

    Certainly should be interesting to see what’s going on with ITRR and who its directors are.

  20. randymacon says:

    There is a very Frank Rizzo-ish repressive streak that pervades all forms of law enforcement here. Philadelphia cops are as trigger-happy as any, and a compliant review board lets them all walk, to the approbation of the citizenry. It is no surprise that PA was spying on legitimate protestors. As others have noted, politics in PA is all about self-service and it wouldn’t surprise me if some relative or crony of Rendell made money somewhere in this fiasco.

  21. lakeeffectsnow says:

    this comment is from DDay’s news roundup for today

    We’re going to see more of this spying on activist groups as Homeland Security departments get more comfortable with the tremendous surveillance power at their fingertips.

    he linked to http://www.centredaily.com/2010/09/14/2206710/documents-show-homeland-security.html

    and as people have noted above, this Powers guy would be right at home in USSR or EGR / Stasi or current Red Communist China ( ChiCom ).

    he is scary and clueless and very very borg like.

    makes you want to talk to his parents and ask them did they program him to be a tool or did he get dropped on his head or something.

    Note the POLL that the paper ran with the article – the readers understand.

    too much $$$$$$$$$$$ too much power ( no pun intended whatsoever ) and in no way shape or form enough oversight.

    who watches the watchers is still an age old question that has never been satisfactorily answered.

    • Mason says:

      who watches the watchers is still an age old question that has never been satisfactorily answered.

      FDL. Taibbi. Scahill. Raimondo. Giraldi. Eland. Chomski, Klein. A few others.

      Not nearly enough.

  22. Nell says:

    These lovely people equate dissent with terrorism from the get-go (something increasingly common in Israel as public opinion has moved further to the right over the last decade). Think they’re not gathering intelligence for the Israeli govt? Good luck getting into Israel if your name turns up on one of their lists.

    ITRR’s “campus outreach” is just another small part of the large network of Israeli-government-approved/directed programs of its kind, involving trips to Israel (see the testimonials).

    From their website:

    Our US-based experts specialize in facing and overcoming domestic forms of terrorism like environmental, ecological, anti-abortion, anti-government, and “home-grown” religious extremism. We have expertise in a wide range of fields including law-enforcement, corporate security, homeland-security, intelligence, law, emergency medicine, and anti-terrorism. The Philadelphia office is also home to our campus-outreach initiative; a nationwide network and fusion-center of students and scholars united against terrorism.

  23. willaimbennet says:

    Reminds of of Kinsley’s “greatest generation” was the one my Dad’s from thing. You can’t have it both ways- you can’t call bullshit on part of the fake war on/of terror. especially the parts we like. the parts that make adults say things like “there are bad men that want to kill us.” There is no terrorism- well maybe the French Resistance, but it’s largely an eye of the beholder or Holder thing.
    When the baby is cross-eyed with severe spinal deformation, speaking in toungues and promising 20 percent returns this year and forever- it’s actually a good idea to throw it out with the bath water.
    Two out of three government gigs will be producing even less credible “intelligence” on the inside of five years I’m told.
    This is the wagon we hitched our star to. And it will be the end of us.