Reliable Security Information

Mission Creep: How not to reclassify civilian activities as potentials for terrorism

What to do if you're in the business of counter-terrorism in, say, a place like Pennsylvania? And there just aren't enough jihadists around to fill a decent report for the state government client. Answer: Reclassify democratic activity as trouble. Problem solved!

While perhaps effective for the short term bottom line, maybe not so good in the long run. Particularly if newsmen find out about it, which is just what happened, also illustrating why the war-on- terror private sector, particularly at the grass roots level, needs a good brush back.

From my old homestate of Pennsylvania, this bit of unintentional dark humor, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Information about an anti-BP candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian festival and other peaceful gatherings became the subject of anti-terrorism bulletins being distributed by Pennsylvania's homeland security office, an apologetic Gov. Ed Rendell admitted.

Also in the anti-terrorism bulletin: "[Events] likely to be attended by environmentalists ..."

And who was getting the funding for this valuable intelligence on the state of homegrown terrorism?

Something called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, in Philadelphia, to the tune of $125,000.

It's website is here, listing a POB in Philadelphia as well as a branch in Jerusalem.

It emits a bit of an unpleasant odor.

For example, to collect intelligence for its clients is relies, it says, on something called its Ground Truth Network.

And apparently the company's Ground Truth Network, or analysts, have been eying the protest movement against gas drilling (and even a public showing of the documentary "Gasland," a scathing look at the industry nationwide).

The drilling, now commonly called "fracking," was the subject of "Gasland" which also profiled the rural Pennsylvania community of Dimock where it was employed. In great detail, the movie shows how the place was despoiled and its water contaminated by drilling. The locals became quite disturbed.

The ITRR anti-terrorism document came to light when it was posted on a pro-drilling forum on the web, whereupon it was also seized by anti-drilling groups.

The company distributes its intelligence product to the Pennsylvania director of homeland security, law enforcement and gas drilling companies.

James Powers, the Pennsy director of homeland security was quizzed on the anti-terrorism bulletin by the Harrisburg Patriot-News and that article is here.

Even though he was "appalled" by the news, PA governor Ed Rendell indicated to the Associated Press that state homeland security director James Powers would not be fired.

"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," the governor said.

"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," reported the Patriot News.

"When asked if ITRR was tracking groups -- specifically, people opposed to drilling in the Marcellus Shale or attending showings of 'Gasland' -- [James Powers, PA director of homeland security] 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."

Rendell informed the public the firm's contract would come to an end.

"Gasland" has also recently been showing on HBO. It has gained many favorable reviews and generated no shortage of bad news for the natural gas drilling industry.

For all the hoo-haw the anti-terrorism briefing generated, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response was virtually mum.

However, a search of the web shows Erik Miller, "the Director of Security Studies at the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), where he serves as project-manager, case officer, researcher, and intelligence writer," as author of an article in the recent issue of Counter Terrorism magazine.

On analyzing Sweden and alleged radicalism in that country, it begins:

To many, Sweden is a leading model for what a modern, liberal democracy should be; an exemplar of tolerance, humanitarianism, and diplomacy. To those who monitor global jihadism, however, Sweden has shown a severe lack of leadership in confronting the growing problem of Islamic radicalization within its own borders.

Sweden is seemingly embracing its homegrown jihadists in "a new form of nationwide 'Stockholm Syndrome,'" the piece asserts.

That article is here.

And here is what looks like one of the company's reports -- originated perhaps from its Jerusalem office, posted on another website.

A sample ITRR intel anti-terrorism briefing booklet from 2009 is posted here, also on the company website.

It is not particularly insightful, only a .pdf collection of bits anyone interested in terrorism could assemble from sifting public news.

But it is probably the type of briefing discussed by the AP and Harrisburg Patriot News.

The AP, on the material included in the ITRR intel report distributed by Pennsylvania's homeland security office says:

It listed demonstrations by anti-war groups, deportation protesters in Philadelphia, mountaintop removal mining protesters in West Virginia and an animal rights protest at a Montgomery County rodeo. It also included "Burn the Confederate Flag Day," the Jewish high holidays and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as potential sources of risk.

On page 11 of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response's sample May 2009 anti-terrorism briefing, the organization lumps a number of equally surprising activities under the topic "Domestic/Eco-Terror Alerts."

Among these, "the Rainforest Action Network is holding training at campuses across the [continental United States]. The training is designed to inspire ecological activity -- from legitimate canvassing to illegal direct actions."

The very legit Rainforest Action Network is here. It looks like a happy place.

In another posting, the ITRR bulletin, entitled "Actionable Intelligence Briefing," reads: "Ecological activists in [San Francisco, Phoenix, Tuscon and Sonora} will be protesting the intent of Mexico to build a toxic waste dump on land belonging to the O'odham Indians."

Other "domestic/eco-terror alert" entries include notes on protests of the Bank of America bailout scheduled for Senator Dianne Feinstein's office, "a protest march ... held by people opposed to the closing of some schools in New York City, "eco-activists" from Earth First! holding a summer training camp, institute analysts noting an appearance by Karl Rove as an opportunity for "anarchist groups," as well as a variety of anti-war and anti-cruelty-to-animals protest events.

The anti-terrorism briefing booklet makes a practice of classifying people and groups who protest corporate activities as anarchists.

"Working with organizations that refuse to surrender their domestic or international operations to terrorism," reads the pamphlet.

Terrorism, in this case, seeming to broadly rope in constitutionally protected activities contrary to the interests of corporate and government clients.

Another article by ITRR experts, this time on al Qaeda's use of the Internet is here.

It is, many will agree, a trifle underwhelming as an example of this type of counter-terrorism literature.

Pennsylvania's director of homeland security, James Powers, characterized the leaked ITRR anti-terrorism briefing .pdf in one embarrassing e-mail as "sensitive information" only for "those 'having a valid need to know.' "

An earlier version of this post was originally published at Dick Destiny blog.

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