Quakers, anti-war rallies on alert list

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | September 18, 2010
By Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin

HARRISBURG -- Taxpayer-funded bulletins listed meetings of Tea Partiers, Quakers and Pittsburgh anti-war activists as potential security threats.

A year's worth of bulletins released Friday by the governor's office shows the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response warned state Homeland Security officials about events as far away as the Sinai and as easy to predict as looking at a calendar.

The reports ignited controversy earlier this week when opponents of Marcellus gas drilling learned that gas companies had received the "Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin" listing their planned participation in public hearings as part of a warning about potential terrorist threats to public infrastructure.

Gov. Ed Rendell denounced the reports on Tuesday and said he won't renew the institute's $103,000 contract when it expires in October. State senators plan a hearing to investigate. At least one activist plans to file a civil rights lawsuit.

A November report said two Tea Party rallies against illegal immigration might attract "white nationalists."

"I think it is one of the more bizarre things I've ever heard," said Karen Kiefer, a Tea Party activist from Scottdale. "A lot of people say they never feel safer than at a Tea Party rally. They got $103,000 in taxpayers' money to compile these bogus lists? That is absolutely shocking."

The co-director of the institute yesterday defended the bulletins and took issue with Rendell's criticism of its work, saying the governor is "regrettably, misinformed. ... We provide information on potential issues that may require enhanced security responses in the protection of clients' obligations to public safety and protection of their assets."

The co-director, Michael Perelman, a former York city police officer, said in a brief telephone interview: "The indications that the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response tracked gay groups is inaccurate and offensive."

Rendell had no response to Perelman's comments, press secretary Gary Tuma said.

Rendell on Tuesday said the information the institute gave the state "has no value. ... It may have some value to other people, but it had no value to us."

The reports were supposed to help state Homeland Security officials protect critical public infrastructure, a post-9/11 federal mandate. Most reports, however, are dedicated to possible terrorist action in places such as Ireland, Afghanistan, Turkey and Chile. It notes Pennsylvania colleges that have study-abroad programs in those countries.

One report, in August, listed "newly identified corporate targets of pro-life boycotts." The institute said the boycott list, which included the YMCA and Johnson & Johnson, represented a "low-to-moderate" threat because it could be used by "more militant anti-abortion elements and lone wolves."

The most recent report, issued Monday, listed the dates of upcoming Jewish holidays and noted they would result in "very high attendance at Jewish houses of worship and public gatherings in Pennsylvania."

A November bulletin noted an approaching anti-war protest in Philadelphia by the Brandywine Peace Community and the American Friends Service Community, a Quaker organization. The protesters planned to wear placards saying, "Dear President: Do Not Send More Troops to Afghanistan. War is Not the Answer," the terror institute wrote.

Another report alleged links between G-20 protesters and an anti-war rally in Pittsburgh. Protests of the September 2009 G-20 world summit resulted in 193 arrests.

Several reports issued this month warn that opponents of Arizona's immigration law planned to protest at the Pirates game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and that an animal rights group will protest the Lulu Shrine Rodeo in Plymouth Meeting. It quotes "activist material" that calls the rodeo "the worst of the worst."

"We're an open organization," said Kenneth Miller, an organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World, which had planned the Diamondbacks protest. "It's terrible that our government officials view our protest as a security threat. That's sick."

The institute's monitoring of drilling opponents led to the following headline in one bulletin: "Would-be protesters to become 'Citizen Journalists.' " The report attributed the information to a website run by the natural gas company Chesapeake Energy.

Luzerne County Republican Sen. Lisa Baker announced a Senate committee she chairs will conduct a hearing, saying citizens are "angry about what appears to be a serious abuse of government power."

The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee's hearing is set for Sept. 27, Baker said.

"People were targeted for no reason, other than they were exercising their fundamental rights of free speech and assembly," Baker said.

In his statement, Perelman said the institute identified "threats to critical infrastructure and to people."

The institute "operates within the scope of the law in fulfilling the contractual obligations of its clients," he said.