Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has just ordered his state's Homeland Security director to cancel a $125,000 contract with an outfit called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). The Associated Press reports:
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Information about an anti-BP candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian festival and other peaceful gatherings became the subject of anti-terrorism bulletins being distributed by Pennsylvania's homeland security office, an apologetic Gov. Ed Rendell admitted.
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.
A Philadelphia rally organized by a nonprofit group to support Rendell's push for higher spending on public schools even made a bulletin, as did drilling protests at a couple of Rendell's news conferences this month as he toured the state to boost support for a tax on the 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.
What AP does not say is that ITRR is an Israeli "security" and "anti-terrorism" company -- and like most of such companies has close ties to Israeli military and intelligence. According to ITRR's website, the group describes itself as "the preeminent Israeli/American security firm providing training, intelligence and education to clients across the globe."The site boasts of its "Israeli-style training" that "All ITRR courses are approved by the Israeli Ministry of Defense." ITRR lists among its "partners" such groups as "The Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute" and it lists its offices in Philadelphia and Jerusalem. ITRR also shockingly is a "partner" of Philadelphia University.
This nefarious outfit which boasts of its "approval" by the the war criminals at the Israeli Ministry of Defense has been caught red-handed violating the constitutional rights of Americans. How many more states or municipalities have contracts with this human-rights-abusing front? This is an urgent matter that media and civil rights groups must investigate.
Going through ITRR's website I found this item which states:
All of the information ITRR's staff creates is sent to its monitoring center in Jerusalem, where it is analyzed and verified with other local sources.
"We never have just one member of the ground truth network in a country," Perelman said. Right now, the institute has more than 15 people in the field. "We are constantly cross checking with ground truth sources and communications that we receive through other means."
ITRR's network is global but not all countries are currently monitored. "If a client feels the need for coverage in a particular area we will obtain the information and coverage," Perelman said.
This appears to confirm that ITRR is gathering information on Americans and sending the data to Israel -- almost certainly to Israeli intelligence. It would not be surprising if this firm were simply a front for Israeli intelligence and in effect being paid by US taxpayers to spy on them. In Pittsburgh, a city council member has demanded a probe into ITRR accusing the firm of "espionage."
• Philadelphia City Paper reports about ITRR in an article entitled “The mysterious institute that spied on Pa. anti-drilling activists”
Although the group claims nonprofit status on its website and is listed as a nonprofit corporation by the Pennsylvania Department of State, a search on websites Guidestar.org and IRS.gov yielded no indication that the organization enjoys tax-exempt status. An email seeking clarification of the group’s nonprofit status was not returned.
• The Phildelphia Inquirer quotes a former top aide to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell wondering why ITRR was given a no-bid contract to work for the state, when the state was perfectly capable of doing the work itself for less money:
HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell's former top emergency management adviser on Wednesday questioned why the state has been paying a company $103,000 for intelligence on terrorism threats, saying much of that work is already done by a specialized unit in the Pennsylvania State Police.
Adrian R. King Jr., director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) until late 2005, said the state police's Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center has trained analysts who supply intelligence information and investigative data to help law enforcement counter potential threats.
Instead, he said, the state was paying the Philadelphia-based Institute on Terrorism Research and Response for little more than a compilation of planned public demonstrations by activist groups, including antiwar, environmental, and animal-rights advocates.
"In my experience, the PA [Criminal Intelligence Center] is well-equipped to do this work, to do this analysis," said King, now a partner at Ballard Spahr. "They're trained. They understand the law. They understand people's rights. They understand what is credible."
King added, "For $103,000 a year, you could hire at least one if not two full-time analysts to operate out of the state police criminal intelligence center with, I believe, better quality control."
• Leaked memo shows Pennsylvania hired Israeli outfit ITRR specifically to spy on environmentalists on behalf of gas drilling firm Marcellus Shale. - report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
HARRISBURG -- State Homeland Security Director James Powers Jr. hasn't said much about the purpose of a $125,000 anti-terrorism contract that the state entered into last October with a security firm based both in Philadelphia and Jerusalem.
But in a recent memo that was leaked to the news media, Mr. Powers made it sound as if the deal with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Resources was aimed at helping Marcellus Shale gas companies learn about the actions of environmental activists who oppose deep underground drilling for gas.
•A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial demands a "full, independent investigation" into how ITRR was hired to spy on citizens.