Pennsylvania lawmakers press for probe on contract for private terror tracking firm

Pennsylvania lawmakers want to know why the state paid $103,000 to the Institute of Terrorism Research & Response, a company hired in October last year to provide intelligence reports to the state Office of Homeland Security. Governor Rendell terminated the contract this week when he found the company included peaceful protests and demonstrations in its alerts, which were disseminated to people in law enforcement and the private sector. Rendell called the practice “ludicrous” and said the fact that the state was paying for such rudimentary information was “stunning.” Rendell said he learned of the matter from a story in The Patriot-News of Harrisburg on Tuesday and was appalled that aides did not notify him before inking the contract a year ago.

“I think I would have said ‘no’ to this contract before we ever spent a dime and before we sent out any information that was wrong and violative of, in my judgment, the constitution,” Rendell said.

State Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.), chairwoman of the House State Government Committee, which oversees the state Homeland Security office, has asked Rendell to reveal all of the intelligence bulletins produced for the state, which included information about protests over Marcellus Shale natural-gas drilling, a gay-pride event, and an anti-BP candlelight vigil.

Rendell said bulletins were being used – wrongly – as a way to satisfy a federal requirement to protect “critical infrastructure” and notify law enforcement of credible information about real threats.

A unit in the state police already monitors terrorist and security threats in the state, said Adrian R. King Jr., director of PEMA until late 2005.

Republican members of the House State Government Committee have asked for hearings on the matter.

“If the state already does that with this criminal intelligence group with the state police, it’s just sort of mind-boggling that we would have to go out and spend $103,000 to get the same kind of information,” said State Rep. Glen Grell (R., Cumberland), vice chairman of the House State Government Committee. Democrats may also call for hearings.

“Legislative hearings would certainly be in order to determine more about how this happened and to prevent these types of activities from happening again,” said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus