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Harah!: Israeli Company Hired by State Government to Spy on Pennsylvanians

It is not clear, however, that there will be any information provided about who was spied on over the time the company has been active. Members of both political parties in the state legislature are calling for a General Assembly hearing into ITRR’s activities, but such calls in this closely divided body generally come to little or nothing. Meanwhile, Rendell, a lame duck governor headed for the exit, is unlikely to do anything about the issue beyond saying he’s embarrassed by it. He has said he has no intention of firing Powers.

I know how damaging this kind of spying by state and local governments can be. Back in the mid-1970s, when I and some journalist colleagues owned and ran a small weekly alternative newspaper in Los Angeles, the LA Vanguard, we were among the targets of a massive illegal spying campaign by the paranoid Los Angeles Police Department’s “red squad,” the Public Disorder Intelligence Division. Our staff was actually penetrated by a young red squad officer, who pretended to be a student wannabe journalist in order to try to learn our sources for reports on the LAPD. But we were only one of about 200 groups, ranging from a local anti-nuclear group to the Peace & Freedom Party, a well-known third party in California electoral politics, to the National Organization for Woman and even the office of then City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

The reason we all learned about what the LAPD red squad was doing was that one spy was outed, a class-action suit was filed by the ACLU of Southern California, there was discovery ordered by the court, and eventually the city of Los Angeles settled with the victims of the campaign, to the tune of $1.8 million.

The Pennsylvania ACLU may eventually sue Pennsylvania over this latest domestic spying outrage, but the times have changed, and it is hard to be confident that the courts, no great friend of civil liberties at the state level, and packed with Reagan and Bush 1 and 2 appointees at the federal level, will mandate disclosure of the names of groups spied on, much less of the records that were compiled. Furthermore, because the state did this spying through an outside contractor, which is headquartered in Israel, government and police agencies could claim that the records are for the most part out of their hands and beyond the courts’ jurisdiction.

At least one man, Gene Stilp, owner of the giant inflatable pig, already has plans to sue the government in federal court. "When people's civil rights are trampled it's a federal issue," says Stilp, himself a licensed attorney. Stilp says he isn’t satisfied with Rendell’s statement that he is “embarrassed” by the disclosure of ITRR’s contract. “Being embarrassed doesn’t cut it,” says Stilp, who is calling for an investigation into ITRR’s spying activities by the attorney general or the federal government, and full disclosure of which groups and individuals were spied upon.



story | by Dr. Radut