State's homeland security chief goes in hiding
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HARRISBURG -- The former Special Forces colonel who has headed the state Office of Homeland Security for four years and who now finds himself at the center of a firestorm over an anti-terrorism contract is missing in action.
James F. Powers Jr. has basically gone underground since Tuesday, when Gov. Ed Rendell denounced a $103,000 no-bid contract that Mr. Powers had given to the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, which has offices in Philadelphia and Israel.
Mr. Powers, who makes $106,602 a year, hasn't been returning phone calls from the news media this week and was said to be out of his office when a reporter stopped in on Wednesday. He did not return a call to his home and his office turned down a request to interview him.
Mr. Powers, who lives in Carlisle, served in the Army from 1971 to 2001 in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Korea and Washington.
The Rendell administration chose him in June 2006 to direct the state Office of Homeland Security, part of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Before joining the state Mr. Powers had several jobs, including a "special operations" consultant for KWG Consulting in Virginia, an adjunct instructor for the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle and a senior fellow with the U.S. Special Operations Command in Hurlburt, Fla.
Mr. Powers also teaches guitar and banjo and lists Jim Powers Music as a financial interest in his Statement of Financial Interests filed with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.
"All I know is Jimmy's a pretty careful guy and he's a pretty smart guy," said KWG's president, Kenneth W. Getty Jr., who has known Mr. Powers for 20 years and served with him in the military.
The state news release in June 2006 said Mr. Powers' job would include coordinating the state's homeland security efforts with state agencies, counties, nine regional counter-terrorism forces and local municipalities.
As homeland security director, Mr. Powers "is an office of one with PEMA," said Maria Finn, a spokeswoman for PEMA. "He reports directly to PEMA director [and homeland security adviser] Robert French."
Although Mr. Powers hasn't been available to reporters this week, he was interviewed by the Harrisburg Patriot-News on Monday, the day before the firestorm broke over the anti-terrorism contract.
Mr. Powers told the newspaper he entered into the deal with the Terrorism Institute because "my concern is public safety." He said there had been about "five or 10" incidents related to Pennsylvania's growing natural gas industry, including one where someone supposedly fired a shotgun at a tank of natural gas in Venango County.
Mr. Rendell said Tuesday that he wasn't aware of specifics about any other such violent incidents related to the gas industry. He said he was "appalled" and "terribly embarrassed" by the monitoring of lawful protests that the Terrorism Institute had done for the state.
Mr. Rendell and numerous environmental and other citizens groups were angry because it seemed the monitoring was aimed at constitutional gatherings and expressions of free speech that didn't hurt public safety or promote terrorism.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville, on Thursday said that Mr. Powers should resign or be fired from his job.
"It's clear from his statements regarding the Marcellus Shale industry that the Institute of Terrorism Research and Resources was hired to track people engaged in the democratic process, and not to quell terroristic threats. He went too far, and to restore public confidence that citizens are not being illegally tracked we must take swift action and guarantee reform," he said.
Word of the Terrorism Institute's work first surfaced in July, in a Philadelphia Inquirer column by Daniel Rubin, who got hold of several intelligence bulletins issued by Mr. Powers' office.
Mr. Rubin said the bulletins listed "such potential trouble spots as pro-education rallies, anti-gun demonstrations and the coming of the circus," which was mentioned because animal-rights demonstrators might show up.
Mr. Rendell said the idea behind the contract was to learn ahead of time about "credible threats to critical infrastructure," such as road, bridges, airports and power plants, so state and local police could protect them.
Mr. Powers told the Inquirer, "The things I tried to blow up for 30 years, now I have to defend."
Some legislators have criticized the lack of competing bidders for the six-figure anti-terrorism contract. But Ms. Finn said Homeland Security couldn't find any other private firm with the Terrorism Institute's unique skills. The contract was signed in October 2009 and was to run for a year (until it was terminated this week).
"Director Powers believed at the time that it is the only U.S. private-sector, multi-lingual company specializing in collection and analysis of human intelligence that (Homeland Security) needed to carry out certain duties," she said in an e-mail.
First Published September 17, 2010 12:00 am