ITRR and PA Homeland Security Violated Rights

The scandal over ITRR and the terrorism reports they disseminated is getting worse.  Last week The Reading Eagle reported that a local group meeting every Friday at 5 PM on the Penn Street Bridge to protest the wars was reported to the city police chief as possible threats.  I know these folks and have stood with them on the bridge on a few Fridays.  They are mostly Quakers and some local peace activists.  They are no threat to anyone.  

This report is especially disturbing:

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.

Why was a state agency doing intelligence work for private businesses?  This was a direct violation of these people’s constitutional rights for free speech and assembly.  In this country we remain allowed to express our opposition to corporations seeking to poison us, conduct illegal wars, rape the environment or demand equality.  At least the ACLU is sticking up for us:

“They’re not focused on illegal activity – they’re focused on people organizing, and clearly everybody’s in bed with the drilling industry,” said Witold Walczak, legal director for ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“It’s one thing for private industry to hire groups like ITRR to gather information, but for the government to get involved – you’ve got a nasty menage-a-trois going on here and the citizen activists are the ones getting fracked.”

Equating peaceful activists doing nothing more than exercising our constitutional rights with Al Qaeda is as outrageous as can be imagined.  I expect such oppression from someone like Tom Ridge or Tom Corbett but Ed Rendell?  The Governor didn’t even fire James Powers for such treacherous violations of our rights.

Senate Investigates ITRR Scandal

As lawsuits begin to be filed following the disclosure that Pennsylvania was spying on activists, comparing them with anarchists and terrorists then providing that intelligence to gas drillers concerned about citizen opposition the State Senate held a hearing on the issue.  They brought before them Jim Powers, still the head of the PA Department of Homeland Security which let the contract, and the head of the Pennsylvania Keystone Kops.  Obviously no one in the Senate seemed thrilled to listen to excuses brought forth.  One likened the reports to a “clipping service” since much of it was compiled by simply reading public websites of various groups.

Activist organizations use web sites to inform the public of their agendas, activities and goals.  All ITRR had to do for $103,000 was visit them regularly to note what and where they’d be doing.  Gee, I’d have done that for half the price.  The PSP says the reports actually impeded their work because almost none of these groups present any threat other than to traffic flow.  Sen. Jim Ferlo announced a group to which he belongs, Green Drinks, will be filing suit.  I think anyone who is a  member of any of these organizations spied upon has standing to sue.  This is going to cost taxpayers and I don’t understand why no one has been fired.  I understand Ed Rendell, like Tom Corbett is a whore of the gas drilling industry (both have been bought off and are putting out) but this is ridiculous.

ITRR Upset With Reports Online

The Post-Gazette says ITRR the organization which engaged in domestic spying of peaceful activist organizations, is upset that Gov. Rendell put their terrorism reports online.  I suppose this was the danger they risked when they decided to lump anti-war and anti-gas drilling protesters in with anarchists and terrorists.  Perhaps if these morons had been wiser about how and whom they were reporting upon their work wouldn’t now be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

I have no sympathy for the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.  They got a no bid contract and Jim Powers, Pennsylvania Homeland Security Chief gave those reports to Marcellus Shale energy companies to use against citizens opposed to having their water supplies poisoned.  Who, exactly, are the terrorists here?  The drillers are spending tons of money buying politicians so they can escape being taxed and are dumping toxic, radioactive fluids directly into our rivers and streams but we’re the terrorists?

As the legislature debates a drilling tax of between 1.5% and 5%, both rather low considering surrounding states levies, the Republican State Senate wants to allow most of the gas extracted to be free from most taxation.  Extracting Marcellus Shale gas is somewhat like squeezing a sponge.  Most of the water in a sponge comes out in those initial squeezes.  90% of natural gas extracted from fracking comes out in the beginning.  The drillers then keep fracking until they get the remainder of the gas but the vast majority is secured in the first five years of a well being drilled.  The GOP Senators want to exempt the first five years from most taxation by levying a 1.5% tax during that time period.  Its a clever ploy to create a huge loophole.

The fact a Democratic Governor is in bed with the energy companies after collecting $84,000 from them in campaign coing.  Anyone can be bought off and Ed Rendell was no exception.  His pretend outrage about discovering his people were in bed with the industry is unseemly.  If Donna Cooper knew what was going on so did the Governor.  It is time for Ed Rendell to do the proper thing as resign.  He broke the trust between himself and the people when he sided with gas drillers while hundreds of Pennsylvania families saw their water supplies ruined and their property values reduced to nothing.

Tom Corbett, at least, is being honest that he’s been bought off.  The $372,000 he’s taken combined with his stern “no new taxes” pledge shows the voters exactly what he intends to do as Governor.  We thought somewhat better of Ed Rendell even though he’s a corporate Democrat in bed with business interests.  Calling a press conference to apologize that you spied on education activists, gays upset with the Catholic Church, people who don’t like Army recruiting tactics which are designed to convince our youth that war is just like a video game, peace groups upset with the way our military industrial complex is running our foreign policy, grassroots activists exercising their constitutional civil right to dissent being called anarchists and terrorists is a bit beyond the pale.  Posting the reports online only made things worse.  I grew angrier and angrier reading these as I saw friends and people I respect lumped in with real threats, real terrorists and repeatedly referred to as anarchists.

You are not an anarchist because you want a good education for your children.  You are not a terrorist because you oppose an illegal, unjust war based on lies.  To be called one or both by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania means someone has to be fired and someone has to resign.  To oppose unregulated drilling of your land with the real possibility you’ll be able to light your well water on fire then have your civil right to oppose this given to the industry along with your planned activities so they can threaten to kill you means Gov. Rendell has to pay the price.  The buck stops with the Governor, all of this is on his head and there’s no way to make it right.  No apology that your efforts to stop being poisoned were provided to your enemies, no public feigned shock will correct what happened to an activist who went to Clearfield County and was threatened by energy company security goons.  We have learned who the terror elements are in Pennsylvania and who is protecting them from us.  James Powers must come out of seclusion and answer questions.  He then must be fired and the Governor must resign.  It may be near the end of his term but the symbolism is what matters here.  No Governor can do something like this and remain in office as it was a massive abuse of trust.

The ITRR Reports

The Office of the Governor has posted all of the controversial reports compiled by a Philadelphia terrorism monitoring company for the state Department of Homeland Security.  This effort is designed to reassure citizens about violations of their constitutional rights though, after reading all of the reports I’m angrier than ever.  This private company hired on a no bid contract by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security did violate our constitutional rights by collecting intelligence on such dangerous, subversive and anarchist activities such as waving signs at motorist, distributing flyers and pledges, and marching in what they concede are peaceful protests.

The state has no business monitoring established, peaceful organizations such as the Brandywine Peace Community and reporting on their activities to the State Police and energy drilling companies.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania intercepted communications by known white supremacists who, apparently, were in frequent communications with Tea Party leaders to plan events.  They closely monitored grass roots organizations and seem to consider anyone who is against the war, against climate change, against the abuse of animals, for gay rights and other liberal causes as :anarchists.”  In fact the word “anarchist” appears so often in these reports I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a closet anarchist.

There are some names mentioned in the reports.  One was a man caught trying to board a plane with a handgun and another is an activist who, during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh reported police movements to protesters.  I imagine, though no reports are posted, that ITRR was instrumental in the G20 operations which have resulted in Pittsburgh being sued for massive civil rights violations.

Only a few real threats surfaced in the reports.  They identify John Kunkle, an Army of God anti-abortion activist who threatened to kill a Planned Parenthood doctor on his website and also obviously were closely monitoring white supremacists.  One report suspected potential violence during a Tea Party march in Philadelphia because the supremacists might get violent if they met Black Tea Party marchers at the protest.  African-American Tea Party members?  You’re more likely to find an intelligent analyst at ITRR.

Most of the information in these reports concerning Pennsylvania were probably gained by perusing various websites.  They reported anti-war marches, an effort to interrupt Catholic Church services by gay rights activists, animal rights protests against Land O’Lakes in Carlisle, protests at the Army Experience Center in Franklin Mills, Fur Free Friday events, environmentalists dressed as Santas objecting mountaintop removal by coal companies, and poor people protesting foreclosures in Philadelphia.  You can obviously see the essential threats to Pennsylvania by such groups and actions.  ITRR seems to consider all of these people as “anarchists.”

I believe a full investigation needs to be done by the legislature to discover the entire extent of the spying done by ITRR and the State Police.  These were mostly peaceful, legal, constitutional expressions of free speech and free assembly by citizens.  Were the events monitored and were people attending photographed and identified?  Just because few names are mentioned in the reports (there are several) doesn’t mean individual civil rights violations were not committed by Pennsylvania through ITRR.  The company was spying on people by the authority of the Commonwealth and acted as an agent of the state.  This scandal is not going away and the Governor, while credited with releasing these reports, must still fire everyone involved and with knowledge of this activity and allow further independent investigation.