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Pennsylvania State Security Firm Drops Terrorist Tag for Environmental Activists

Pennsylvania State Security Firm Drops Terrorist Tag for Environmental Activists


by Derek Gilna


Domestic covert surveillance of peaceful political activists by law enforcement is not a new thing, although the newest manifestation of this practice is often justified on national security grounds. However, the state of Pennsylvania, who hired a private security contractor, Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, (ITTR), has been forced to pay $40,000 to a group of environmental activist objecting to fracking in the state.


ITTR claimed to be “one of the few organizations in the world specializing in both domestic and international counter-terrorism," and touted its knowledge of terrorism based upon its experience in Israel.  ITTR focused its attention not on terrorists, but on a group exercising its First Amendment rights to publicize and protest what it saw as an environmental threat.


The Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition,  an environmental organization operating in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area protesting Marcellus shale fracking, had been classified as a potential terrorist organization by ITTR, and that designation was then published in  the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency's (PEMA) “Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletins.” After the environmental group learned of its designation, it filed suit in federal district court, alleging violation of its First Amendment rights to free speech and various civil rights violations.


An out-of-court settlement reached by the parties on January 15, 2015 required the PEMA director, Glenn Cannon, to issue a statement that he could “state unequivocally… that this agency has no information or reason to believe that GDAC at any time in the past or currently could be fairly characterized as a ‘terrorist organization.’” For its part, the environmental activists also agreed to cease making "disparaging remarks" about the state agency or its officials.


PEMA had paid ITTR $103,000 to produce "intelligence reports," which characterized all environmental activists as suspicious, and assigned arbitrary "threat levels" to their activities, which involved the screening of "controversial" documentaries such as "Gasland," which showed that fracking could contaminate drinking water with known carcinogens, and also accued the activists of associating with "anarchists and Black Power radicals."


As part of the settlement, PEMA also agreed to retrieve and destroy the ITTR-authored bulletins from 2010 with the terrorist implication.  However, environmental activists and journalists allege that the FBI, the Pennsylvania State Police, and other oil companies continue to spy on environment activists protesting fracking.


See:, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition v. Powers, et al., 10-cv-1997, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, January 20, 2015.


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Related legal case

Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition v. Powers, et al.