In the wake of revelations that the state office of homeland security was monitoring peaceful citizen activist groups, the Rendell administration today announced plans to overhaul its intelligence-gathering operations.
Gov. Rendell's chief of staff Steven Crawford, told a Senate committee that there would be increased communication among agencies and no more outsourcing of intelligence gathering. Instead the administration would lift a hiring freeze and bring in five new employees dedicated to non-criminal intelligence gathering.
The new employees would work as part of the Pennsylvania State Police intelligence operations center, which currently handles multi-agency intelligence gathering related to criminal activities. Crawford did not say if there were plans to replace Homeland Security director James Powers, who resigned earlier this month amid the controversy.
Crawford headed a task force formed to respond to the outcry over the activities of the Philadelphia-based Institute on Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), which had a $103,000 contract with the Homeland Security Office to help track potential threats to the state's infrastructure. The attention followed revelations that the institute was reporting on the activities of citizen groups that posed no obvious threat to public safety, including student protesters and opponents of natural-gas drilling.
He also said the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the state police will establish intelligence information-sharing protocols.
"It is now well-established and all agree that the ITRR bulletins went too far," Crawford told the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. "Neither I nor anyone else in the Governor's office was briefed on the breadth and depth of concern that State Police and other law enforcement entities had with respect to the bulletins. The ITRR contract, however misused, was entered into legally and with good intentions. Unfortunately, the content of the bulletins rendered them of marginal value, inflammatory and hurtful, if not harmful."
Committee chairman Lisa Baker asked Crawford repeatedly if there were any connections between Rendell and any of his current or former staff and ITRR to which he responded, "Not to my knowledge."
Rendell ordered the contract be terminated last month, saying he was unaware of the arrangement and appalled to learn of it.