Lawsuit planned after protesters put on terror list
By Andrew Conte, Mike Wereschagin and Brad Bumsted,
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010,
An activist who believes he was improperly included on a state terror threat list said this morning he is preparing a federal lawsuit.
"When people's civil rights are trampled it's a federal issue," said Gene Stilp of Harrisburg, who holds a Virginia law license but does not practice as an attorney.
Gov. Ed Rendell, speaking Downtown this morning, said he does not believe activists' Constitutional rights were violated.
The statement was a reversal from what he said yesterday. Asked in Harrisburg on Tuesday whether monitoring activists was "tantamount to trampling" on their Constitutional rights, he said: "I would say so."
Rendell said he is "deeply embarrassed" by the disclosure that state Homeland Security officials included information about protesters on what was supposed to be a list of possible terrorist threats.
"Being embarrassed doesn't cut it," Stilp said.
The list, which included information on public hearings that opponents of Marcellus gas drilling might attend, was sent to drilling companies.
Stilp said he believes he was among those monitored, based on Rendell's comment that a 25-foot inflatable "pink pig" Stilp takes to rallies was included in the monitoring.
"The pig! They were after the pig," Rendell said Tuesday. "That pig is what makes Harrisburg a very special place."
Stilp owns the pig and frequently displays it at the Capitol at protests over what he sees as government excesses.
Stilp said an outside investigation is warranted, by the attorney general or federal authorities.
The state paid a Philadelphia-based nonprofit $125,000 to compile the list as part of the state Homeland Security's federally mandated mission to protect public infrastructure.
The list included a Washington County meeting that Rendell attended to discuss Marcellus shale gas drilling, a screening of a documentary on the industry, a rally supporting Rendell's education budget and anti-tax protesters who took an inflatable pig to Harrisburg.
Homeland Security officials distributed the list in a security bulletin to government and law enforcement officials — including Pittsburgh City Council members — as well as universities and gas drilling companies.
City Councilman Doug Shields said he was "flabbergasted" about the bulletin he received by e-mail last week.
"The governor was outraged. I'm outraged. I'm glad this was put an end to, but we will be seeking answers. ... There will be requests of information from the state government for an explanation of who these people are, who made the decision to essentially engage in espionage and who is behind it."
Shields said he wants to see the financial statements of York-based Institute Of Terrorism Research And Response, a registered nonprofit, according to state records.
"Am I on a list somwehere• Am I on someone's dossier?" Shields said.
"If there's a list I hope we're all on it," said Councilwoman Theresa Smith.
Rendell said he "should have been notified" about the contract, but that it didn't warrant firing Homeland Security director James Powers. It was a "cumulative responsibility" and it would do no good to "make him a scapegoat," Rendell said.
The state will not renew its one-year contract with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response when it expires in October, Rendell said.
The nonprofit, which has offices in Washington and Jerusalem, provides "actionable intelligence briefings" and "threat and hazard monitoring," among other services, according to its website.
"We maintain confidentiality with our clients, and we respect that confidentiality," said Mike Perelman, co-director of the institute.
The gas industry has to know of physical threats to its workers and equipment, but it supports people's right to discuss the issues, said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group in Cecil.
"Where we have to be vigilant, I believe, is ... if infrastructure is being targeted and the safety of employees and the communities we operate in are at risk," Klaber said.
Drilling industry opponents said they pose no danger. Barbara Pribila, 45, a founder of the anti-drilling Lincoln Place Action Group, said she never considered herself a rebel — and certainly not a threat to homeland security.
"I thought this was a free country and I was allowed to have my own opinion," Pribila said. "Now what, you're going to watch me and every move I make• That's not right."
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