The story involves the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security (PA DHS), and its use of a private company, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), to provide it with intelligence information concerning potential threats to likely terrorism targets within that state.
The outcry surrounding this appears to have resulted in the cancellation of the contract by Governor Ed Rendell, and this past weekend's report of the resignation of the Director of PA DHS, James Powers.
As it happens, ITRR's classification of individuals and activities as 'threats' included people and organizations involved in lawful protest and dissent, largely directed toward the extraction of energy resources from the Marcellus Shale formation. They also reported on activities surrounding campaigns for gay rights, and even on a non-profit supporting an education bill that also happened to be supported by Gov. Rendell.
The resulting revelations have been unfortunate to both the causes of providing credible information on potential threats to our nation's critical infrastructure, and the right of our citizens to use their constitutional rights to petition their government, and express themselves freely, without fear of reprisal.
Gov. Rendell and his staff were quick to address the issue publicly, even in the face of questions regarding what the Governor knew and when he knew it. They then ordered PA DHS to publish online every single intel bulletin they received from ITRR.
While privately operated by American and Israeli (?) concerns, ITRR can be compared in some context with the fusion centers operated by many state governments since after 9/11. The US Office of Justice Programs defines a Fusion Center as:
"..an effective and efficient mechanism to exchange information and intelligence, maximize resources, streamline operations, and improve the ability to fight crime and terrorism by merging data from a variety of sources".The national ACLU office has been monitoring and attempting to address issues arising from fusion centers for several years now. According to a 2007 report, the ACLU cited the following bullet-point concerns:
- Ambiguous Lines of Authority - Who is really in charge, and what are their policies concerning effective operations that are within legal boundaries?
- Private Sector Participation - See the ITRR above.
- Military Participation - Involves the regular military in domestic law enforcement, a questionable and potentially illegal practice.
- Data Fusion = Data Mining, and associated privacy concerns.
- Excessive Secrecy - I could tell you why I'm looking for this information, but I'd have to kill you.
To that end, on September 24 I sent an e-mail to Evan Dreyer from Governor Bill Ritter's press office, requesting comment on the current situation in Pennsylvania, and what policies are in place or being considered to prevent similar activity at CIAC.
To date I have not received a reply. I sent another request today, and will publish whatever reply I receive.
Have a great week ahead.