HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell's former top emergency management adviser on Wednesday questioned why the state has been paying a company $103,000 for intelligence on terrorism threats, saying much of that work is already done by a specialized unit in the Pennsylvania State Police.
Adrian R. King Jr., director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) until late 2005, said the state police's Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center has trained analysts who supply intelligence information and investigative data to help law enforcement counter potential threats.
Instead, he said, the state was paying the Philadelphia-based Institute on Terrorism Research and Response for little more than a compilation of planned public demonstrations by activist groups, including antiwar, environmental, and animal-rights advocates.
"In my experience, the PA [Criminal Intelligence Center] is well-equipped to do this work, to do this analysis," said King, now a partner at Ballard Spahr. "They're trained. They understand the law. They understand people's rights. They understand what is credible."
King added, "For $103,000 a year, you could hire at least one if not two full-time analysts to operate out of the state police criminal intelligence center with, I believe, better quality control."
State police officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The state Office of Homeland Security's $103,000 contract with the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response came under intense scrutiny this week after details came to light about the kind of activity it was tracking: much of it peaceful demonstrations by legitimate activist groups.
In a statement Wednesday, the group's codirector, Mike Perelman, wrote that the institute's mission "is to identify and analyze information that can be leveraged to prevent injury, loss of life, and destruction of property."
"At times," Perelman continued, "that means providing guidance on the potential for deadly actions. At other times, it means providing security personnel guidance regarding staff requirements for crowd control. . . . The [institute] is proud to provide this level of research and analysis to our many clients."
Rendell said he had learned of the contract with the institute Tuesday morning, although at least one of his top aides appears to have known about it since midsummer. Rendell policy chief Donna Cooper was quoted in a July Inquirer story about some of the groups that were being tracked, including groups that advocated for more education funding.
Rendell conceded Tuesday that "many" people in his administration had known about the contract - but was emphatic that no one had told him about it. He said he had been "appalled" and deeply embarrassed when he found out about the information the institute was providing to the state.
He ordered his staff to terminate the contract, but said he did not plan to discipline anyone in his administration who had authorized it.
He acknowledged there had been "a breakdown" in communication in his administration.
Maria Finn, spokeswoman for PEMA, which oversees the Homeland Security Office, said the contract with the institute had not been competitively bid.
Asked why, she said it had been "determined that there was no other company at the time who could fulfill the requirements."
She added that the Homeland Security Office "had researched possible options regarding this type of service and had concluded that, outside of the FBI and CIA, there existed no other service of this kind."
Incorporated in 2004, the institute is directed by Perelman, a former York police officer, and Aaron Richman, who served in military and counterterrorism operations in Israel.
In a 2009 letter to the state, the company promised to provide updates on potential terrorism threats three times a week, monthly reports on potential threats to the security of Pennsylvania's infrastructure, and alerts to a designated BlackBerry of potential threats, among other services.
On its website, the company lists offices in several locations, including Philadelphia, but the institute did not respond to questions about where its office in the city is.
The company also lists offices in Washington, London, and Jerusalem.
ITRR lists Philadelphia University as one of its partners. Richman is an assistant professor in the college's Disaster Medicine and Management Program, said Debbie Goldberg, director of media relations at the school. The university has cosponsored two educational seminars with ITRR, including one scheduled for Oct. 22.