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."
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.
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.