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article imageHomeland Security monitored tweets and peace groups

By Lynn Curwin     Nov 4, 2010 in World
The Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has been busy protecting citizens from threats by monitoring peace groups and Twitter messages.
The Patriot-News reported that, according to internal Homeland Security e-mails obtained through a Right-To-Know request, the Berks Peace Community was one of the groups which had been under surveillance.
The group of Quaker-affiliated citizens, mostly in their 60s, gathers on the Penn Street Bridge every Friday to hold up signs promoting peace.
Tweets from law-abiding citizens were also being monitored daily on behalf of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.
ITRR’s contract to provide intelligence for the state has expired and Jim Powers, the director of Homeland Security who initiated the contract, has resigned.
The Homeland Security e-mails showed that, in June, Powers had sent an ITRR “alert” to Reading Chief of Police William Heim about a protest planned on the Penn Street Bridge the following day.
ITRR learned of the demonstration because it was posted on the website of Act Now To Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), an anti-war group started by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
Heim said that he was familiar with the regular demonstrations and wondered if he was being contacted because something different was being planned.
Mark Perelman, co-founder of ITRR, then e-mailed Heim, offering to provide a briefing.
The Patriot-News reported that, after a conversation, Perelman e-mailed Heim saying: “As promised, we will monitor Twitter for any tactical information that can be identified before, during, and immediately after the 5 p.m. demonstration.”
Before the demonstration, Heim called the people who usually protest on the bridge.
He then e-mailed Powers, saying: “There is a local woman, Dorothy Reilly, who is a bit more radical than the local group, and is the one who got the demonstration posted on ANSWER. We can expect 30-40 people on the Penn Street Bridge, unless it is hot and less will show. They are demonstrating against the recent Israeli action involving the ship barricade.”
The usual crowd of people, most of them in their 60s or older, showed up.
John Hoskyns-Abrahall, a 65-year-old member of the Berks Peace Community, explained that they were on the bridge every Friday for more than four years “to remind people we are still at war ... it costs a lot of money and a lot of lives. That’s really all it is. We don’t shout. We’re just a presence. ... It’s more of a vigil than a demonstration.”
He said that if monitoring groups such as theirs is the best that can be done for security, it is “more than pathetic.”
Perelman later e-mailed Heim again and told him: “We placed our best Twitter researcher on the task. ... She was unable to locate any planned communications for the protest. That fact is significant. Our inability to locate a communications network indicates that probably none exists (we’re pretty good at locating them if/when they exist).
“Informed knowledge of the anarchist movement would indicate that there is potential that the name ANSWER is enough to bring outside aggressive anarchists to the protest. ITRR has no intelligence to indicate either way. As discussed yesterday, if they come they will most likely act in a lone-wolf/small cell capacity outside the perimeter of free speech activity.”
Reilly, the head of Democracy In Action, which sometimes joins in the demonstrations,
Scott Davis, who was mentioned by name in the Intelligence Bulletins because of his website PARevolution.com, filed the Right-To-Know request. He has posted copies of the e-mails online.
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