Pa. State Police says homeland security alerts caused problems, waste of resources

By Mark Scolforo, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

Pa. State Police says bulletins caused headaches

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Leaders of the Pennsylvania State Police told a legislative committee Monday that unsubstantiated or needlessly inflammatory listings in state-contracted homeland security intelligence bulletins caused a series of problems for their operations.

Maj. George Bivens, head of the criminal investigation division, said some of the notices about threats to Pennsylvania infrastructure produced by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response for the state Office of Homeland Security resulted in a waste of manpower to address nonexistent threats. He compared the bulletins to a tabloid magazine.

“Every so often they have something right. Much of the time it is unsubstantiated gossip,” he told the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

Also Monday, a civil rights lawsuit was filed against the institute and a copy served to an institute co-director before he spoke in defense of the organization at the same legislative committee meeting.

Gov. Ed Rendell has publicly apologized for monitoring that included reporting on the activities of political activists and others. He decided the state will not renew the institute’s contract when it expires next month and his administration has posted the bulletins on the state website.

The group’s one-year deal with the state was worth $103,000, paid with federal funds. The bulletins were issued several times a week, and sent to hundreds of people, most of them in law enforcement and private industry.

Bivens said his concerns about the Pennsylvania Critical Infrastructure Bulletins began shortly after they began to appear a year ago. He said they included information taken out of context and that some of the analysis was biased.

Bivens said state police higher-ups had to order local stations not to respond to some of the events because the department’s internal analysis determined there was no real threat to public safety.

He cited as examples a report of a supposed Islamic training camp in Wayne County, a warning of protests by natural gas drilling opponents at a Rendell appearance in Tioga County, the potential vulnerability to attack of the King of Prussia Mall and a family-oriented meeting of gun-rights enthusiasts in Schuylkill County.

He said he attempted to address the problems with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, in which the Office of Homeland Security is located, but felt it did no good. The state police asked that a disclaimer be put on the bulletins to make it clear they were not being produced by anyone in law enforcement, he said.

State police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski said a high-ranking aide to Rendell assured him police knew about the Tioga event and did not expect trouble. Pawlowski told the committee he responded to Rendell chief of staff Steve Crawford: “This is one of the problems you have when you contract intelligence work to amateurs.”

Mike Perelman, co-director of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response and a former York City Police captain, told the committee he has a staff of about 15 people, plus 70 more in locations around the globe, and an office in Jerusalem. He said his company did not compile a terror watch list.

“We didn’t track individuals, we didn’t track groups,” Perelman said. “No, there is no list.”

Perelman said his company is still performing work under the state contract.

“We continue to scan the horizon for potential threats against Pennsylvania’s infrastructure,” he said.

As he was heading to the committee table to testify, Perelman was served with the federal lawsuit filed by the Kingston-based Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, a citizen watchdog group. The defendants are Perelman, the institute he runs and James F. Powers Jr., the state homeland security director.

The lawsuit claims the bulletins characterized coalition actions and words “as some quantum of a potential threat to critical infrastructure within the commonwealth — all without any evidence that (the coalition) posed any remote or indirect physical threat to drilling interests or property.”

The lawsuit says the free speech rights of coalition members were affected because bulletins were distributed to the Marcellus Shale drilling companies, and by “publicly casting plaintiff as a potentially violent organization.” It seeks an injunction against domestic surveillance and damages.

Perelman’s lawyer Jeffrey M. Miller and Powers’ spokeswoman Maria Finn both declined comment on the lawsuit.

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