HARRISBURG – Gov. Rendell said Tuesday that he was "appalled" and "embarrassed" that his administration's Office of Homeland Security has been tracking and circulating information about legitimate protests by activist groups that do not pose a threat to public safety.
Rendell said he did not know that the state Office of Homeland Security had been paying an outside company to track a long list of activists, including groups that oppose drilling in the Marcellus Shale, animal-rights advocates, and peace activists.
The office then passed that information on to large groups of people, including law enforcement and members of the private sector.
"Let me make this as clear as I can make it," the governor said at news conference Tuesday night, pounding his fist on the podium. "Protesting against an idea, a principle, a process, is not a real threat against infrastructure. Protesting is a God-given American right, a right that is in our Constitution, a right that is fundamental to all we believe in as Americans."
Nice words. Except for this:
Rendell said that he will not fire or discipline anyone in the Office of Homeland Security, headed by director James F. Powers Jr., for the lapse. But he said he ordered the office to terminate its contract with Philadelphia-based Institute of Terrorism and Research Response, which he said has been paid $125,000 in the last year to gather data about possible security threats.
That, my friends, is scapegoating. An outside contractor loses a nice little paycheck and that's supposed to be accountability. But "security" officials who received the information -- and published them in a thrice-weekly intelligence bulletin? They get to keep their jobs, even though they should've known better. They didn't know better -- which suggests that Gov. Rendell wasn't really setting a "protect the civil rights of Pennsylvanians" vibe in office.
Say, who were the "threats" anyway?
The bulletin included information about a PrideFest by gays and lesbians; a rally that supported his administration's education policy; and an anti-BP candlelight vigil.
The controversy over the Homeland Security Office's intelligence bulletins came to light after one became public last week. The August bulletin included a list of forthcoming - and mostly public - hearings involving Marcellus Shale natural-gas drilling, and noted that they would be attended by anti-drilling activists. It also listed a planned screening of the controversial movie Gasland in Philadelphia.
It's laughable, really. And our lame-duck governor gets to say a lot of nice words about rights without holding anybody in government responsible for infringing on those rights. So I don't believe Ed Rendell. The surveillance of peaceful protest groups happens too often -- here and elsewhere -- for a reasonable person to believe it's anything but business as usual. The problem, for government officials, is getting caught.