Pa. official resigning in wake of uproar over terror-report tracking of peaceful groupsBy AP
Friday, October 1, 2010
Official at center of Pa. terror-alert flap quits
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The director of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has quit, telling the governor that he made the decision after reflecting on the uproar over anti-terrorism bulletins that tracked the actions of peaceful citizens’ groups.
James F. Powers Jr. submitted his letter of resignation to Gov. Ed Rendell on Thursday. Rendell, who has apologized for the monitoring reports that were widely disseminated among law enforcement, said Powers will work one more week.
The reports included items on the activities of those opposed to natural gas drilling, and were sent to companies involved in the drilling. They also included information about an anti-BP candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian festival and other peaceful gatherings.
“This decision was reached after a thorough examination, detailed consideration and reflection on emerging events surrounding the credibility of, and public/private-sector information sharing programs executed by, this office and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency,” Powers wrote.
Through a spokeswoman, Powers declined to comment.
State police officials said at a state Senate hearing earlier this week that the reports on threats to the state’s infrastructure, produced by the private Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, were rife with unsubstantiated gossip and led to some wild-goose chases as law enforcement scrambled to prepare for nonexistent threats.
The lawmaker who ran that committee hearing, Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, agreed with Powers’ decision.
“Given the troubling revelations about the security contract and his continuing defense of it, his position was untenable,” Baker said.
“His decision to resign is the right one. His departure opens the door to some badly needed changes, but restoring credibility to the operation now looks to be a monumental task.”
The institute’s one-year deal with the state was worth $103,000. Rendell has said he will not renew it when it expires this month, and any information still being generated will not be disseminated.
Rendell told reporters Friday he did not ask Powers to resign, and spoke admiringly of Powers’ sense of service and duty.
“Jim is a good man who made a very significant mistake in judgment,” Rendell said.
Also this week, the Kingston-based citizen watchdog group Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition sued Powers, the institute and its co-director Mike Perelman in federal court, alleging their free-speech rights were harmed by the bulletins.
Tags: Energy, Harrisburg, North America, Pennsylvania, Political Resignations, United States