HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell has terminated what he called a horribly misguided state contract with a Philadelphia firm that led to wrongful and improper reports being disseminated about environmental groups, tax protesters, people at gay and lesbian rallies and even supporters of more funding for education.
At a news conference last evening, Mr. Rendell said he hadn't known until Tuesday about a one-year, $125,000 contract between the state Office of Homeland Security and the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.
"I am appalled that this contract was entered into without my knowledge,'' he said. "I am appalled that information was disseminated about groups that were exercising their constitutional right to free speech and to protest. They shouldn't be on any list (of possible security threats). This is extraordinarily embarrassing.''
The contract started last October and was due to expire next month. Its original purpose was to inform state police and homeland security officials about "credible threats to critical infrastructure'' around the state, meaning potential attempts by terrorist to destroy roads, bridges, buildings, power facilities or other important facilities.
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, homeland security officials in each state are supposed to work with their counterparts in Washington to be on the lookout for credible, potential threats to security and then notify local police and emergency officials to watch out for attacks on infrastructure, Mr. Rendell said.
But somehow things went very wrong, he said, as the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response in Philadelphia began telling state homeland security officials about upcoming protests by environmental groups over drilling for natural gas in areas of Marcellus shale, or tax protests, or gay/lesbian pride days, or even a "children and youth education rally'' in Philadelphia.
One event that was monitorerd as potentially dangerous was Mr. Rendell's visit to Washington County last week, when he heard from protestors who want a moratorium on gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
"Were these people terrorists? Of course not,'' he said. "I disagreed with them about a moratorium, but they were just exercising their constitututional rights to free speech. I was surrounded by a group of them for 35 minutes and I never felt threatened even for a milli-second.''
The Philadelphia firm also sent out an "intelligence bulletin" about a recent Pittsburgh City Council meeting on gas drilling.
Councilman Doug Shields said last night that he's upset that the state "would use my tax dollars to contract with a private security company to spy on me and others with serious concerns related to the unsafe conditions presented with Marcellus Shale. If this isn't a concerted effort by the government and the gas industry to dampen free speech, I don't know what is. It is shameful. It is un-American.''