Potential Terrorist: Everyone

In a story broken this week by the Patriot-News of central Pennsylvania, the state has been informing law enforcement of movements of anti-drilling activists as potential terrorist threats.  You read me right.  The state is charged by Washington to inform local officials of “credible real threats to critical infrastructure,” and in the interpretation of the state’s Office of Homeland Security, that includes assemblies to comment, protest, and speak out against the threats of natural gas drilling.  As part of briefings for local law enforcement, groups protesting gas drilling have been highlighted for attention as possible threats.  But not only that- the OHS director has also been sending them to the very same companies targeted by these activists for protest.

State Homeland Security Director James Powers explained that he has been including anti-gas drilling activist information in his tri-weekly intelligence briefings for about a month because there have been “five to 10” incidents of vandalism around the state related to the natural gas industry, which is one of the sectors he is charged with monitoring.

One of those incidents, he said, involved someone shooting a natural gas container tank with a shotgun in Venango County.

Who needs police work when you can just casually pin it on someone without evidence?

Comparing himself to the Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the film “The Fugitive,” Powers said, “I don’t care” which side of the issue someone is on — or if they’re innocent. “My concern is public safety.” However, the “intelligence” in the briefings includes lists of public meetings the state has determined anti-drilling activists plan to attend.

How unflaggingly noble!  Not taking any side!

When one of these intelligence bulletins was spotted on a pro-drilling Internet site and disseminated among anti-drilling activists, Powers sent an e-mail of reprimand to the woman who e-mailed it.

He mistakenly thought she was pro-drilling.

In the e-mail, Powers told the woman the “sensitive information” she disseminated is not meant for the public, but only for those “having a valid need to know.”

He added, “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders, while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.”

Oh.  Well, so much for impartiality, innocent-till-proven-guilty, etc. etc.

For his part, Governor Rendell apologized profusely and showed his disgust over the process yesterday.  It also came to light that gay pride parades, taxpayer rallies, protests in support of the governor’s education policies, anti-war groups, deportation rallies, mountaintop removal protests and animal rights events were indicated on the “threats to critical infrastructure” reports.  It seems the crux of the matter comes down to two retired cops who somehow finagled their way into a federal contract providing these briefings to the state.  Rendell himself stated that they were “absolutely ludicrous” and “of no value.”

Let’s be real.  Industry, particularly extractive industry, is going to do whatever they can get away with.  Without oversight, be it government or informed citizenry, a company is gonna do what a company is gonna do: maximize profits for shareholders, and nothing else.  And one sure-fire way to eat into profits is to abide by environmental regulations.  This also means downplaying potential threats such as expected pollution or damage to the land.  In the case of natural gas drilling, hydrofracking is surrounded by mystery as companies have not disclosed what these processes include.  Is it so absurd to demand openness and accountability, and the taking of precautions?  Is it criminal to demand that oversight be applied?  Hell no it isn’t.  It’s just inconvenient.  I will note that there is no evidence whatsoever that companies have demanded this information.  But they have it now, provided by government workers who put the well-being of corporate citizens ahead of that of private citizens.  Such as it was, such as it may always be.

So, my takeaway is this: in the eyes of law enforcement, particularly those concerned with terrorism and homeland security, anyone that goes against the status quo of business and social order is a potential threat.  A possible terrorist-in-waiting.  If you are concerned with the pollution caused by gas drilling, or maybe unhappy with the deforestation and habitat loss associated with drilling, you are painted with the brush of a potential terrorist, eyed as a potential cause of violence.  Are you OK with that?

Who is really in charge of our security?  Are they doing the right job?  Is this a suitable focus of time, effort and expense, or is it all just rigmarole and security theater?  At least in this instance, I think it is clear- the keys to security are in the hands of uninformed, or lazy, or highly overzealous men that have no real understanding or respect of the rights of American citizens.

Who watches the watchers?  It better be you and I, and everyone, or else this will continue to happen.  So keep those eyes open, it’s on all of us.

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