Intel-gathering firm watched groups here - LancasterOnline: News

Intel-gathering firm watched groups here

Hired by state to track activists

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Posted: Thursday, October 7, 2010 10:41 pm | Updated: 7:28 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

An intelligence-gathering firm hired by the state to secretly track activist groups and report on potential threats had been monitoring numerous events here, documents reveal.

They range from a weapons-training seminar to anti-war protests and even a folk music concert, hundreds of pages of previously unreleased intelligence bulletins show.

The bulletins, prepared by a private firm and forwarded to law enforcement agencies across Pennsylvania, enraged activists because they tracked activities of those opposed to natural gas drilling, and were sent to companies involved in the drilling.

But they also included details about other types of gatherings, several of them in Lancaster County.

They include:

• A marksmanship "boot camp" put on by Revolutionary War enthusiasts at the Elstonville Sportsman's Association near Manheim in November.

• A July rally in Lancaster city opposing the possible elimination of the county Human Relations Commission.

• Ongoing anti-war protests held in Penn Square and on the steps of the old Lancaster County Courthouse.

• A protest by Native Americans of the desecration of graves, specifically those of the Susquehannock, held in Lancaster Township in March.

• A May music festival at Long's Park, where, according to the firm, an anarchist folk band was scheduled to play and anarchist training supposedly was to be offered.

Gov. Ed Rendell has condemned the private agency's monitoring of groups with no history of violence and believes "many of the events were included in the bulletins inappropriately," said Gary Tuma, a spokesman.

"I am deeply embarrassed and I apologize to any of the groups who had this information disseminated on their right to peacefully protest," Rendell said at Capitol news conference last month.

The director of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security resigned last week amid a nationwide furor over his decision to hire the Institute on Terrorism Research and Response to track potential threats.

State police officials have said the intelligence bulletins contain lots of unsubstantiated gossip and led to some wild-goose chases as law enforcement scrambled to prepare for nonexistent threats.

Rendell's office did not comment on specific information in the bulletins.

A June memo, for example, warned of increased attendance at anti-war protests across Pennsylvania, including the Women in Black vigils held on the Lancaster County Courthouse steps on Wednesdays since 1993.

Louise Imm-Cooper, one of the original members of the Women in Black in the county, was surprised to find the group named in the intelligence bulletin.

"I find it almost hysterical," she said. The group has not held its Wednesday vigils in some time, but the events were always silent and peaceful.

"All we did was stand there with our signs," said Imm-Cooper. "Once again, this is a way to suppress free speech and also conjure up fear in people's minds. You are being watched."

A November memo from the ITRR alerted Homeland Security officials to a marksmanship "boot camp" being held later that month at the Elstonville Sportsmen's Club near Manheim.

The "Appleseed Project" was put on by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association. The ITRR bulletin claimed that its analysts found "communications from individuals associated with this group that closely resembles the anti-government rhetoric of various militia and survivalist groups."

The report specifically mentioned a participant named Fred, who had been quoted as saying: "Times are critical. We're faced with a out of control police state, an engineered collapse of what's left of America, the end of a way of life that has become slavery. We'll need to survive. We'll need to know how to shoot. The Appleseed Project is designed to instill such knowledge.

"A weekend of instruction with a .22 rifle and your high-powered rifle - any high-powered rifle but preferably a military pattern semi automatic rifle followed by your diligent practice of what you've learned and you'll be able to hit man-sized targets out to 500 yards."

Officials with the Elstonville club could not be reached for comment. But its website describes the Appleseed Project as being about marksmanship and learning about Revolutionary War history.

In July, the intelligence-gathering firm alerted Homeland Security about plans by a group called the Committee to Defend Civil Rights in Lancaster to rally in defense of the Human Relations Commission. The bulletin noted, however, "There is no indication of planned or expected unruly or illegal behavior."

A May memo warned of anarchist training during that month, dubbed the "Month of Anarchy," and made reference to the musical event "Folk the Park" at Long's Park on May 29. The bulletin claimed the event was "organized by anarchist groups," though that could not be confirmed.

A March memo warned of a protest against the desecration of Native American graves held near a Lancaster Township neighborhood off Wabank Road. The event was organized by Spiritual Wolf Warrior, the American Indian Movement and the Indigenous Rights Movement, among others, according to the bulletin.

The bulletin indicated a "small but present risk" that the issue could be "taken up by more radical elements, potentially including anarchists or lone-wolf Native-American rights supporters."

Such a threat, however, never materialized.

tmurse@lnpnews.com

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