State of Pennsylvania contracted Israeli ‘security’ firm to collect data on would-be dissidents
Pennsylvania‘s homeland security director quit in the wake of revelations that he hired an Israeli-American agency that reported peaceful protests as potential terrorist threats.
Jim Powers resigned two weeks after Gov. Ed Rendell said that he was “deeply embarrassed” by revelations of a $125,000 contract with the Philadelphia-based Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR).
Rendell announced the resignation at a news conference last Friday, although for weeks he had insisted that he wanted Powers to stay.
“Jim is a good man who made a very significant mistake in judgment,” the governor said at the news conference.
Rendell terminated the contract with ITRR immediately upon learning of it.
The state’s Office of Homeland Security contracted the institute to track threats, then relayed its reports to many law enforcement and private groups.
Its “alerts” included an animal rights protest, a natural gas drilling protest, a gay and lesbian festival, and a rally to support a Rendell-backed campaign for boosted education funding.
Powers subsequently apologized to the groups. State security officials who had been privy to the bulletins described them as amateurish.
The institute, which claims to have a Jerusalem office, is run by directors who among other claims list experience in Israel’s security services. It also runs training programs in Israel.
The above article can be found here: http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/10/02/2741096/pa-homeland-security-boss-quits-over-israeli-firm
‘Homeland Security chief Powers resigns’
Pittsburgh Post Gazette; October 2, 2010HARRISBURG — Critics of state Homeland Security Director James F. Powers Jr. got what they wanted Friday, when he announced he is leaving state government after four years.
The American Civil Liberties Union, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields and groups that opposed Marcellus Shale drilling had lambasted Mr. Powers over the past two weeks because of a so-called anti-terrorism contract he agreed to.
Mr. Ferlo urged Gov. Ed Rendell to fire Mr. Powers after word got out two weeks ago about a $103,000 contract he’d signed with a 6-year-old Israeli/American company called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.
The contract led the institute to track and monitor meetings, rallies and protests held by various groups around the state, including a Pittsburgh City Council meeting on Marcellus Shale, protests against taxes, gay/lesbian parades, school-funding rallies and protests by environmental activists against natural gas drilling.
The institute would find out where the protests were taking place and who was leading them and relay the information to state Homeland Security officials and law enforcement officials in affected towns, with some information also going to gas industry officials.
The ACLU and other critics claimed the institute was “spying” on legal meetings and gatherings, and urged that Mr. Powers be fired for violating people’s constitutional right of free speech and assembly.
Mr. Rendell was sharply critical of the contract, which he canceled, calling it a severe lapse in judgment and a waste of money. But Mr. Rendell refused to fire Mr. Powers and said blame for the ill-conceived contract shouldn’t be placed on just one person.
In announcing Mr. Powers’ resignation Friday, Mr. Rendell said the director made the decision to resign on his own. He praised Mr. Powers for serving the US during a 30-year career with the Army, some of it spent with Special Forces.
Mr. Powers said he was resigning “with deep regret.” A few days ago he had apologized for any unintended consequences of the contract with the anti-terrorism institute, and said he hadn’t meant to infringe on anyone’s rights. He said he was trying to protect public safety by keeping a watch out for potential terrorist attacks.
He said all his actions during his four years with Homeland Security were meant to foster “the security and well-being of the commonwealth citizenry — our greatest resource.”
Mr. Powers said that giving information and tools to municipal officials “to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from incidents resulting from all hazards (terrorism attacks, major disasters and other emergencies) has been and should remain the primary goal of commonwealth preparedness strategies; it will also remain our greatest challenge.”
Mr. Ferlo said he thinks Mr. Powers’ departure is “absolutely” good for the state.
Mr. Ferlo said he thought that both Mr. Powers and Robert French, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, should be fired. But Mr. French is remaining in his job.
As for the ITRR contract, the senator said, “It was a sham, certainly not a justifiable use of state funds. The information violated people’s civil rights and liberties.”
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, whose Senate panel held a hearing Monday into the contract, said Mr. Powers’ decision to leave was “the right one.”
“Given the troubling revelations about the security contract and his continuing defense of it, his position was untenable,” she said.
Mr. Shields said he’s glad about Mr. Powers’ exit but said he still needs to answer more questions about the institute, which, according to its website, has offices in Philadelphia and Jerusalem.
“Before he goes on his merry way, there should be a complete disclosure about this business between him and the institute,” Mr. Shields said. “How did he meet this institute? What was their relationship? And what was his relationship with the oil and gas industry?”
Gas drilling protesters were upset that some of the “anti-terrorism” information about their protests was forwarded to gas company officials.
Mr. Powers was being paid $106,602 a year. His resignation is effective Friday.
The above article can be found here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10275/1092061-454.stm
‘Pennsylvania Homeland Security director resigns amid intelligence-gathering controversy’
Philadelphia Inquirer; October 2, 2010
HARRISBURG – State Homeland Security Director James F. Powers Jr. has resigned, two weeks after controversy erupted over the hiring of a Philadelphia terrorism-intelligence firm to monitor activists statewide.
“Jim is a good man who made a very significant mistake in judgment,” Gov. Rendell said at a news conference Friday in the Capitol, where he announced Powers’ resignation.
Powers’ departure follows a national uproar over his decision to award a $103,000, no-bid contract to the Institute on Terrorism Research and Response last October to help track potential threats to the state’s infrastructure.
The institute, co-directed by a former York police officer, Michael Perelman, says on its website that it has offices in Philadelphia, Washington, and Jerusalem. Perelman said recently that it gathers threat information from a variety of sources.
The institute’s contract came under intense scrutiny when tracking reports it produced showed it was monitoring scores of groups with no history of violence.
In his resignation letter, Powers told the governor he had reached the decision after “thorough examination and reflection” on “emerging events surrounding the credibility” of the information provided by the institute.
Rendell said he learned of the contract only last month and immediately ordered it canceled when it expires at the end of this month. He said he was deeply disturbed by the institute’s activities.
He said Friday he did not ask Powers to step down but accepted his resignation effective Oct. 8.
“I do so out of mutual concern for the function of homeland security and the belief it’s far too important to be set back by the distraction resulting from one operation of one man,” Rendell said Friday.
Rendell, who leaves office in January, said he would await the findings of a task force led by his chief of staff, Steve Crawford, before determining when and whether he will name a replacement.
Democrats and Republicans in the legislature said Powers made the right move by resigning.
Sen. Lisa Baker (R., Lehigh), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, convened a hearing on the issue, calling the monitoring of groups “toxic to the public trust.”
“Given the troubling revelations about the security contract and his continuing defense of it, his position was untenable,” Baker said of Powers. “So his decision to resign is the right one. His departure opens the door to some badly needed changes, but restoring credibility to the operation now looks to be a monumental task.”
Sen. Jim Ferlo (D., Allegheny), who called for the resignations of Powers and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Robert French, said Powers’ departure was a step in the right direction.
“I continue to remain concerned about the violative nature of his activities,” Ferlo said. “It is important that we end this chapter and that we never see the day when a government agency would engage in the suppression of people’s rights.”
The attention followed revelations that the institute was reporting on the activities of citizen groups that posed no obvious threat to public safety, including student organizations, gay-rights supporters, advocates for education and low-income services, and opponents of natural gas drilling.
That information was disseminated in thrice-weekly bulletins by the Homeland Security Office to law enforcement as well as a number of private companies.
Rendell said he was not aware of the contract or the bulletins until the recent controversy began.
But at least one high-level Rendell official, Donna Cooper, was quoted in an Inquirer story in July questioning the contract.
Powers, a retired Army Special Forces colonel, has said the state Office of Homeland Security hired the firm because other state and federal agencies weren’t providing information about local activity he thought was critical to protect nearly 4,000 sites in Pennsylvania.
At a state Senate hearing this week, Powers issued a blanket apology to any group or individual who felt their constitutional rights had been infringed upon because they were listed in the bulletin.
State police officials testifying at the same hearing blasted the Office of Homeland Security for ignoring issues they raised about the quality of information the institute was providing, saying it was useless, inaccurate, and caused unnecessary alarm.
Powers, whose salary is $107,678, has served as Homeland Security director since 2006.
His office was folded into the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency three years ago.
Shelly Yanoff, director of the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children and Youth, said she was surprised when she learned in July from an Inquirer column that her group was on the watch list.
Yanoff said her group rallies peacefully at the Capitol several times a year to try to secure adequate funding for education and government services for needy families.
“It’s a misuse of the function of government,” she said. “It’s laughable on one hand; on another, it’s a serious infringement.”
The above article can be found here: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/20101002_Pennsylvania_Homeland_Security_director_resigns_amid_intelligence-gathering_controversy.html
‘Pa. lawmakers press for probe on contract for private terror tracking firm’
Philadelphia Inquirer; September 17, 2010
Pennsylvania lawmakers want to know why the state paid a contractor $103,000 to monitor possible security threats in the state. They’ve also asked Gov. Rendell to release intelligence bulletins the company produced and an accounting of who received them.
Legislators from both parties sent letters to Rendell Thursday and requested legislative hearings to explore a deal between the state and the Institute of Terrorism Research & Response, a company hired in October to provide intelligence reports to the state Office of Homeland Security. Rendell terminated the contract this week when he found the company included peaceful protests and demonstrations in its alerts, which were disseminated to people in law enforcement and the private sector.
“In private industry, somebody’s head would roll. This is inexcusable,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said. “I want to see the contract. I want to see the parameters of the contract. I want to see who signed for the contract.”
State Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.), chairwoman of the House State Government Committee, which oversees the state Homeland Security office, has asked Rendell to reveal all of the intelligence reports produced for the state, which included information about protests over Marcellus Shale natural-gas drilling, a gay-pride event, and an anti-BP candlelight vigil.
“I think that citizens have a right to see if they have been targeted themselves or been called part of a terrorist organization,” Josephs said. “I’m fairly convinced that I probably was surveilled.”
Michael Perelman, co-director of the institute, said his company did not watch or follow people.
“We track events, giving law enforcement a heads up for the potential of disorder,” he said. “We don’t track people.”
Perelman added that his company “respects all groups’ constitutional rights regarding free speech and assembly. We only provide information on potential issues that may require enhanced security responses in the protection of clients’ obligations to public safety.”
The team that produces the intelligence reports is made up of former military, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals who compile data from analysts throughout the world, according to information provided by Perelman.
The company has no other state contracts and has no federal contracts, Perelman said.
The governor’s office is gathering reports the institute provided to the state and intends to release them, spokesman Gary Tuma said.
Rendell also convened a task force led by his chief of staff, Steve Crawford, to determine why the company had been hired and to decide “the best way to disseminate information concerning credible, and only credible, security threats in the future,” Tuma said.
Rendell has not reprimanded anyone at the state Office of Homeland Security or the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).
The contract with the institute was competitively bid, said Maria Finn, spokeswoman for PEMA, which oversees the Homeland Security Office.
James Powers, director of the office, declined through a spokeswoman to comment.
A unit in the state police already monitors terrorist and security threats in the state, said Adrian R. King Jr., director of PEMA until late 2005.
Republican members of the House State Government Committee have asked for hearings on the matter.
“If the state already does that with this criminal intelligence group with the state police, it’s just sort of mind-boggling that we would have to go out and spend $103,000 to get the same kind of information,” said State Rep. Glen Grell (R., Cumberland), vice chairman of the House State Government Committee.
Democrats may also call for hearings.
“Legislative hearings would certainly be in order to determine more about how this happened and to prevent these types of activities from happening again,” said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne).
The above article can be found here: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/pa/20100917_Pa__lawmakers_press_for_probe_on_contract_for_private_terror_tracking_firm.html
‘The mysterious institute that spied on Pa. anti-drilling activists’
Philadelphia Citypaper (blog); September 15, 2010
Last night, Governor Rendell called reports prepared for the state by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) — which covertly monitored the activities of anti-drilling activists (along with such terroristic events as a gay rights parade) — “ludicrous.”
He also said the state would not renew its $125,000 contract with the company.
But who and what is the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response? The answer isn’t obvious.
The company is based in Philadelphia, and appears to have had some interaction with Philadelphia University; its website says it will host a “Hometown Crisis Management” seminar at the university this October.
Co-directors are listed as Aaron Richman, a former Israeli police captain, and Michael Perelman, a former York police commander.
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.
Co-Director Perelman, when questioned directly about the company’s nonprofit status, told CP over the phone only that “We’re releasing a statement, and that’s all you’re going to hear from us.”
ITRR’s website calls the company “the preeminent Israeli/American security firm providing training, intelligence and education to clients across the globe.” It describes its “Targeted Action Monitoring Center” as “no clipping service, but a powerful fusion center of battle-tested operatives, analysts, and researchers who have real-life experience fighting both terrorists and criminal entities […] distinguished among other agencies by its access to a vast network of on-the-ground key-sources in virtually every region of the world.”
Yet records of the exact nature of its work — outside of the recent scandal, that is — are scant.
A LexisNexis news search for the group’s name yields little, and there exists virtually no mention of the group anywhere in the mainstream media. What few hits do appear correspond mostly to a small number of reports in trade publications on “lessons learned” from international incidents of terrorism and one report, by an intern, on the use of Twitter by “religious, anarchists, anti-government, and anti-globalization,” extremists.
Beyond that, the group appears to have appeared at a 2008 Philadelphia “Emergency Preparedness and Prevention and Hazmat Spills Conference,” sponsored by the EPA, which included among its speakers ITRR directors Richman on “counter-terrorism techniques” and Perelman on “unlawful tactics used by eco-terrorists and anarchists.”
The only other publicized activity of ITRR appears to be a series of educational trips to Israel the group seems to have put together. An article by an Arizona State University teacher, published in the Journal of Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security International, describes a trip by ASU students to Israel in partnership with ITRR.
“Among the many subjects ITRR introduced to the students was the importance of public-private partnerships. The underlying message was that government alone cannot protect the country; private industry must also play a large role in national security.”
Another document — the only document, in fact, under the heading “client feedback” on the ITRR website — appears to be a “student report,” apparently by a Philadelphia University student, describing a trip by PU students to Israel with ITRR for a “Mass Casualty and Terrorism Workshop.”
Philadelphia University public relations director Deborah Goldberg told CP in a statement that Richman is an assistant professor in the school’s Disaster Medicine and Management Program, and that the program:
“… has co-sponsored two educational seminars with ITRR aimed at security professionals. The second meeting, scheduled for Oct. 22, also is co-sponsored by the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a leading international association for security professionals.”
The above article can be found here: http://citypaper.net/blogs/clog/2010/09/15/the-mysterious-agency-that-spied-on-pa-drilling-activists/
The ITRR website can be found here: http://www.terrorresponse.org/
Also see “Israeli ‘telecom’ front ops penetrate Montreal metro” here: http://800pg.co.cc/geeklog//article.php?story=20090315095225343