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Life in the Gas Lane: Big Brother Edition

What do PTA moms and dads, artists, farmers, teachers, hunters, blue-collar and white-collar workers, landowners, students, and retirees around Pennsylvania have in common? If they're members of an anti-drilling group or attended an anti-drilling meeting, their activities were being "monitored."

From the Centre Daily: via The Maddow Blog:

According to recently leaked documents, the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security 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.

The office has included the information in its weekly intelligence bulletins sent to law enforcement agencies.

The bulletins are also sent to gas companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale. [my emphasis]

State Homeland Security Director James Powers proved he doesn't understand either Pennsylvania history*, or the Constitutions of Pennsylvania and United States:

Powers said that when anti-drilling activists attend public meetings, “their presence may spark something else.” He said he didn’t want to see public meetings “escalate to physical criminal acts.”

Since this came to light, Governor Ed Rendell (D) has ended the tracking, saying he did not know about the program until he read it Tuesday morning in the [Harrisburg] Patriot-News.

From PennLive:

The state is charged by the federal government with determining and alerting local officials to “credible real threats to critical infrastructure.”

Instead, the Office of Homeland Security was notifying law enforcement of gay pride parades, taxpayer rallies and protests in support of the governor’s own education policies, Rendell said.

[...]

Rendell called the items included in the intelligence bulletins “absolutely ludicrous,” and said distributing it to gas-drilling companies “was against the guidelines set up for this program to begin with.”

And who was doing the tracking of anti-drilling groups? Bet you're surprised to learn it was a private contractor.

Which public meetings the anti-drilling folks 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.

When asked if ITRR was tracking groups — specifically, people opposed to drilling in the Marcellus Shale or attending showings of “Gasland” — Powers replied, “I don’t know, I haven’t asked them.”

Powers did indicate that someone — either ITRR or state employees, he wouldn’t specify which — was monitoring the “Web traffic” of anti-drilling groups.

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* See the history of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Homestead Strike, the Lattimer Massacre, the Molly Maguires, and the Coal and Iron Police, to name a very few shameful episodes in our state's history.

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Edited to fix a blockquote fail.

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votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

Do you think Rendell is on the level?
He's one of the few Dems left I sorta like.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

I watched his press conference and he seemed genuinely upset and angry; not pretending to be outraged. Mind you, he also learned that among the groups being monitored were those supporting HIS education policy, so he had reason to be just a tad miffed.

I did like the fact that he accepted responsibility for it happening on his watch, even if he didn't know what was going on, and for it being allowed to happen without his knowledge. He didn't fire Powers, however, saying that he (Powers) thought he was following federal law, and that responsibility lay in several directions not just Powers'. While I can sort of understand that train of thought, I think the guy who is the head of the state DHS office ought to be held to a higher standard than your average Joe Yuengling.

Personally, I've always liked Rendell and I think he's done a good job for PA -- as much as he was able to with our Republican-held legislature. The state will be screwed for a long time when Crazy Corbett wins the governor's race in November. (And, sadly he will win, in my opinion.) Imagine Karl Rove running a state...

Submitted by gob on

Yes, I'm sure he is disgusted, but he should fire Powers forthwith. He flatly refuses to consider a moratorium on Marcellus Shale drilling to let the state get its regulatory apparatus in order. He has helped install gambling establishments all over the state. And so on. In short, good intentions drowned in a cesspool of "realism".

Submitted by PA_Lady on

For all the good he has done, there is an awful lot of just-plain-bad that's been done as well.

A half-good Democrat these days seems about the best one can get -- and ain't that a sad statement?

Submitted by gob on

Powers' leaked memo:

But in his memo, Mr. Powers said bluntly, "We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against these same companies."

The memo stated that the bulletin "is not for dissemination to the public," but "is solely meant for owners/operators & security personnel associated with our critical infrastructure & key resources."

By mistake, Mr. Powers e-mailed the memo to someone who opposes the Marcellus Shale drilling instead of only sending it to gas drilling supporters, as he had intended. The drilling opponent, in turn, sent it to media outlets, including an investigative journalism group called Pro Publica and to the weekly Philadelphia City Paper.

Watch those addressee lists, folks!