Ed Rendell Defends Material Support of the “Right” Terrorists

When I first read that Treasury is investigating Ed Rendell for his paid speeches supporting the MEK, I was gratified that the government might finally be showing some balance in its pursuit of terrorists.

Mr. Rendell, who asserts that he has done nothing illegal, said the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a Feb. 29 subpoena seeking “transactional records about what payments we received for speaking fees.”

The subpoena was sent to the office of Thomas McGuire, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, which handles all of Mr. Rendell’s speaking engagements, including those in which he has advocated on behalf of the MEK.

But this is the Moonie Times and Rendell alerted the press himself. So in truth, this is just an opportunity for him and Tom Ridge (who, as another paid MEK supporter, presumably would also be under investigation) to support MEK by saying that even though it is a designated terrorist organization, it doesn’t matter if people flout the law and provide it support.

“I’ve been in politics 34 years, and I can tell you right now that I would not jeopardize my reputation for any amount of money,” said Mr. Rendell. “I did my research extensively on this issue before I ever agreed to speak on it, and I am 100 percent convinced that the MEK shouldn’t be on the foreign terrorist organization list.”

As to the extent to which accepting payments for such advocacy may or may not be legal, Mr. Ridge said it is a “moot question.”
“Assuming there may be a question, and we don’t think there is, the bigger question is: Does the MEK belong on the list?” he said. “It’s kind of curious that those who don’t like our advocacy are suggesting that we might be doing something wrong.”

Ed Rendell is a lawyer. Yet when he did his research, he did not check whether doing paid speeches for MEK would be lawful. No, he says, he did research and is convinced that MEK shouldn’t be on the list. Tom Ridge, also a lawyer–not to mention a former top counterterrorism official who can’t claim to be ignorant of the law–says it’d be “moot” if it were illegal to give paid speeches in support of MEK, because the group shouldn’t be on the terrorist list.

But it is.

What’s funniest about this article–and the reason why this article would probably only appear in the Moonie Times–is that it makes no peep of recent allegations (confirmed by two US officials in the article) that MEK has been partnering with Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists.

Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders.

The group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980.

Mind you, this may well be where this argument is going. The US pretends it has had nothing to do with the serial assassinations of these scientists–in spite of hints to the contrary or an apparent CIA exception allowing assassination in non-terrorism contexts. While that puts the legal pressure on the US to delist the MEK in different light, it also means that the US will probably once again apply its own terrorist laws selectively, allowing our larger support for this particular terrorist to–as Ridge predicts–moot the law prohibiting material support–even if it involves just speech–for terrorism.

Update: Glenn Greenwald catalogs Fran Fragos Townsend’s hypocrisy on this issue in all its glory:

How reprehensible is the conduct of Fran Townsend here? Just two years ago, she went on CNN to celebrate a Supreme Court decision that rejected First Amendment claims of free speech and free association in order to rule that anyone — most often Muslims — can be prosecuted under the “material support” statute simply for advocacy for a Terrorist group that is coordinated with the group. And yet, the minute Fran Townsend gets caught doing exactly that — not just out of conviction but also because she’s being paid by that Terrorist group — she suddenly invokes the very same Constitutional rights whose ersosions she cheered when it came to the prosecution of others.

The Privatization of Citizen Informant Networks

Remember the former JSOC guy in charge of Homeland Security for PA who hired an Israeli-connected private intelligence company to collect information on environmentalists and peace activists? Well, it will surprise none of you that they were comparing Rainforest Action Network to Al Qaeda and trying to set up their own network of people informing on US citizens.

It turns out the homeland security office or its private consultant were doing more than just monitoring law-abiding citizens.

They were comparing environmental activists to Al-Qaeda.

They were tracking down protesters and grilling their parents.

They were seeking a network of citizen spies to combat the security threats they saw in virtually any legal political activity.

And they were feeding their suspicions not only to law enforcement, but to dozens of private businesses from natural gas drillers to The Hershey Co.

It was only a matter of time before the corporations running our country would equate–as ITRR did–embarrassing one of those corporations with terrorism.

And if that bugs you, just gorge yourself on some Hershey kisses. You can rest assured those Hershey kisses haven’t been damaged by scary peace activists or environmentalists!

The Real Terrorists

I’ve started reading through J. Edgar Hoover’s files the reports a contractor developed for PA’s Department of Homeland Security that describe political activism as a terrorist threat; Governor Rendell has made them publicly available here. I’ll have more to say about them later (though feel free to add comments on them below).

But for the moment, I’d like to unpack the underlying premise.

The whole idea behind collecting this information and sharing it with private sector entities like oil drilling lobbyists arose as part of efforts to protect our critical infrastructure from terrorist attack after 9/11. US DHS describes the imperative to protect critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) this way:

Why is CIKR Protection Important?

  • Attacks on CIKR could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike and produce cascading effects far beyond the targeted sector and physical location of the incident.
  • Direct terrorist attacks and natural, manmade, or technological hazards could produce catastrophic losses in terms of human casualties, property destruction, and economic effects, as well as profound damage to public morale and confidence.
  • Attacks using components of the nation’s CIKR as weapons of mass destruction could have even more devastating physical and psychological consequences.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 provides the primary authority for the overall homeland security mission. This act charged the Department of Homeland Security with primary responsibility for developing a comprehensive national plan to secure CIKR and recommend “the measures necessary to protect the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States.” This comprehensive plan is the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), published by the Department in June 2006. The NIPP provides the unifying structure for integrating a wide range of efforts for the protection of CIKR into a single national program.

And here’s what the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security considers critical infrastructure, which is how the ITRR organized the reports it gave to PA’s DHS:

So you see, because “attacks on CIKR could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike and produce cascading effects far beyond the targeted sector and physical location of the incident,” PA (and surely other states) are collecting information about the lawful political organizing of anti-drilling and animal welfare activists, among others.

What I want to know is why we regard terrorist attacks to be the greatest threat to our transportation system? To our water? To our food system?

And most of all, to our banking and finance system?

Just to take one example, who do you think is a greater risk to our oil and gas infrastructure? A bunch of hippie protesters trying to limit drilling in the Marcellus Shale and thereby protect the quality of their drinking water (which is, itself, considered critical infrastructure)? Or PG&E, which sat on knowledge of an extremely high risk pipeline for three years even after setting aside the money to fix it?

Three years ago, PG&E asked state regulators for permission to spend $4.87 million to replace a section of the pipeline associated with the pipe that exploded in San Bruno last Thursday. The 1.42-mile section that ran under South San Francisco, which is more heavily populated than San Bruno, was considered extremely high risk and in need to replacement. Last year, the utility company made a similar request to replace a larger section of the same pipeline, at a cost of $13 million. Rate increases were approved and the plan should have gone forward. Sadly, nothing was done and lives were lost.

The South San Francisco pipeline replacement project was dropped down on the priority list and the money allocated for the work was spent elsewhere. Many experts and laypersons alike are now asking, why didn’t PG&E replace pipes they knew to be extremely dangerous?

And while multiple layers of government make sure the PG&Es of the world know about those hippie protesters, they can’t be bothered to require the utilities or pipeline operators to actually return the favor by revealing where the pipelines at risk of explosion are.

In a letter sent Friday, the executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, Paul Clanon, sought the location of each pipeline segment on the list as well as a “detailed description of the criteria PG&E uses in deciding which pipeline segments to characterize as high-priority projects.”

Clanon defended the delay in seeking the list, whose existence PG&E disclosed as early as 2007, saying the agency didn’t see the need for the information before. Just because a site is on the list doesn’t necessarily mean it is dangerous, he said, adding that it’s not his agency’s role “to run the day-by-day activities of the utility.”

Leave aside our wholesale neglect of these elements of critical infrastructure themselves–the crumbling of our pipelines and roads and financial system because neither the public nor the private sector want to spend the money and time to keep them together–and focus on the information gathering part of it.

Because terrorism is somehow a greater threat to our country than PG&E’s neglect or Wright County Egg’s negligence or Lehman’s greed, we collect and share information on hippies. But not on the pipelines that will explode of their own accord, with action from neither hippies nor terrorists.

Updated to fix typo, “Communities” instead of “Communications.”

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.