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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Digging deeper on surveillance of environmentalists opposed to digging deeper

Posted By on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 1:44 PM

Mystery continues to surround the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, the non-profit group that apparently received $125,000 of state money to compile a controversial report on environmentalists opposed to natural-gas drilling. 

I first reported on this controversy -- which was opened up by online journalism organization ProPublica -- last week. Since then, Gov. Ed Rendell has disavowed the whole enterprise, while other politicians are calling for an investgation. City councilor Doug Shields, for example, asserted, "I want to see the 990s on this group," referring to documents that tax-exempt organizations must file. 

That may not be so easy. While today's Post-Gazette notes that the group is registered as a non-profit with the state, I've been having some difficulty tracking down those 990s. The ITRR doesn't have a listing at Guidestar, a widely used clearinghouse for information about non-profit entities. Nor could I find a listing for the organization on the IRS website. (The agency does list two other Philadelphia-based terror-related groups,)

My colleague at the Philadelphia City Paper, Isaiah Thompson, has hit a similar brick wall

Meanwhile, the ITRR has issued a statement on its website, and it may be the first time in my 15 years as a journalist that I have ever seen a press release with material redacted -- check out the big black boxes on the last two pages.

The release purports to defend the ITRR's work, but because information has been "redacted to protect client privacy," you'll have to be content with testimonials like this:

From a client in the energy sector: "This is a very comprehensive report – thanks for your efforts on our behalf."

From a Fortune 100 company: "Thanks for keeping us safe!"

Ohhhh-kay. 

The larger intent of the release, apparently, is to justify some of the group's more eyebrow-raising investigations, by noting that even well-intentioned events can become an occasion for violence. (ADDED: I should clarify that the material which follows is apparently excerpted from reports that ITRR claims to have compiled for its clients) It justifies scrutiny of LGBT events, for example, by noting that "'Gay pride' events worldwide have served as trigger events for such radicals with an anti-gay agenda."

As for the threat of environmentalism, the ITRR notes that a pipe bomb exploded at the home of an oil-industry exec early this year. And while it concedes that no one had taken responsibility for the attack, it quotes a series of remarks to assert that "anti-capitalist
and environmental militants expressed satisfaction" at the incident. 

Well, maybe, and then again maybe not. For example, one quote cited in the report --

"One oil executive dead is just a good beginning as far as I'm concerned but there are plenty of other corporations that deserve the same or worse... Let's start with Monsanto and Koch industries.""

-- apparently was copy-and-pasted from a comment posted July 11 on this website. Another comment --

 "Let the class war begin. This has been simmering for decades. Citizens have no recourse against hundred billion dollar transnational corporations, the president of the united states is freaking powerless against them. They are bigger than most countries in the world and more powerful, somehow they have colluded even with our coast guard who is protecting BP instead of our coast. The only thing these people listen to is huge sums of money, which citizens dont have, or violence. Until we destroy enough of their property to make a financial splash or start killing their executives and decision makers and profiteers, nothing will change. Why should it. ...What can we do but violence????????"

-- was posted here

Objectionable rhetoric, to be sure. But it's pretty hard to saywhether the people posting this stuff really are "militants," or just jagoffs posting bullshit in their underwear from Mom's basement. The author of that second post, for example, is identiified purely as "progressive."

Maybe ITRR has secret ways of ascertaining the identity and motives of an anonymous online commenter. But I gotta say ... if their research simply involves grazing the internet for stupid comments, I've got an invoice to send somebody. 

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