Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pa. homeland security watching anti-drilling groups

UPDATE 9/16: Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell termed natural gas drilling protesters' inclusion in the Homeland Security bulletins as "absolutely ludicrous" and said the state would not renew its contract with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, which supplied to information to state regulators. Rendell, who said he didn't know of the contract until reading Tuesday's Patriot-News story, "said he was 'embarrassed' and 'appalled' that a state contractor tracked 'legitimate protest groups' and that a state agency then disseminated that information to law enforcement around the state," Gilliland reports for The Patriot-News. "Let me make this as clear as I can possibly make it," Rendell said. "Protesting against an idea, a principle, a process, protesting is not a real threat. Protesting is a God-given American right, a right that’s in our Constitution." (Read more)

The Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security thinks anti-natural gas drilling groups may be a threat as they have included the groups' activities in weekly briefings sent to law enforcement agencies. Leaked documents show the department "has been tracking anti-gas drilling groups and their meetings — including a public screening of the film 'Gasland,' a documentary about the environmental hazards of natural gas drilling," Donald Gilliland of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reports. The briefings were also sent to gas companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Information about which meetings protesters were planning to attend was supplied by "the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, a Philadelphia firm contracted with the state Office of Homeland Security to provide information for the intelligence briefings," Gilliland writes. "There’s something dead-fishy here. ... Something is rotten," activist Gene Stilp told Gilliland, calling for a formal House and Senate inquiry into the activities of the Homeland Security Office. State Homeland Security Director James Powers said he's been including the groups in the briefings for over a month because there have been 5-10 cases of vandalism related to the natural gas industry. "I don’t care" which side of the issue someone is on, Powers told Gilliland. "My concern is public safety."

The briefings include lists of public meetings the state thinks anti-drilling activists will attend. In an e-mail to a staffer who leaked the first briefing to a Web site, Powers wrote, "We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale formation natural gas stakeholders, while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies." Powers was non-committal when asked if he would include pro-drilling groups in future briefings. "I’m trying to think ... I see your point," he told Gilliland. "This seems to be a very polarizing issue around the state." (Read more)

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