The mysterious institute that spied on Pa. anti-drilling activists

September 15th, 2010
Last night, Governor Rendell called reports prepared for the state by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) — which covertly monitored the activities of anti-drilling activists (along with  such terroristic events as a gay rights parade) — “ludicrous.”

He also said the state would not renew its $125,000 contract with the company.

But who and what is the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response? The answer isn’t obvious.

The company is based in Philadelphia, and appears to have had some interaction with  Philadelphia University; its website says it will host a “Hometown Crisis Management” seminar at the university this October.

Co-directors are listed as Aaron Richman, a former Israeli police captain, and Michael Perelman, a former York police commander.

Although the group claims nonprofit status on its website and is listed as a nonprofit corporation by the Pennsylvania Department of State, a search on websites Guidestar.org and IRS.gov yielded no indication that the organization enjoys tax-exempt status. An email seeking clarification of the group’s nonprofit status was not returned.

Co-Director Perelman, when questioned directly about the company’s nonprofit status, told CP over the phone only that “We’re releasing a statement, and that’s all you’re going to hear from us.”

ITRR’s website calls the company “the preeminent Israeli/American security firm providing training, intelligence and education to clients across the globe.” It describes its “Targeted Action Monitoring Center” as “no clipping service, but a powerful fusion center of battle-tested operatives, analysts, and researchers who have real-life experience fighting both terrorists and criminal entities […] distinguished among other agencies by its access to a vast network of on-the-ground key-sources in virtually every region of the world.”

Yet records of the exact nature of its work — outside of the recent scandal, that is — are scant.

A LexisNexis news search for the group’s name yields little, and there exists virtually no mention of the group anywhere in the mainstream media. What few hits do appear correspond mostly to a small number of reports in trade publications on “lessons learned” from international incidents of terrorism and one report, by an intern, on the use of Twitter by “religious, anarchists, anti-government, and anti-globalization,” extremists.

Beyond that, the group appears to have appeared at a 2008 Philadelphia “Emergency Preparedness and Prevention and Hazmat Spills Conference,” sponsored by the EPA, which included among its speakers ITRR directors Richman on “counter-terrorism techniques” and Perelman on “unlawful tactics used by eco-terrorists and anarchists.”

The only other publicized activity of ITRR appears to be a series of educational trips to Israel the group seems to have put together. An article by an Arizona State University teacher, published in the Journal of Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security International,  describes a trip by ASU students to Israel in partnership with ITRR.

“Among the many subjects ITRR introduced to the students was the importance of public-private partnerships. The underlying message was that government alone cannot protect the country; private industry must also play a large role in national security.”

Another document — the only document, in fact, under the heading “client feedback” on the ITRR website — appears to be a “student report,” apparently by a Philadelphia University student, describing a trip by PU students to Israel with ITRR for a “Mass Casualty and Terrorism Workshop.”

Philadelphia University public relations director Deborah Goldberg told CP in a statement that Richman is an assistant professor in the school’s Disaster Medicine and Management Program, and that the program:

“… has co-sponsored two educational seminars with ITRR aimed at security professionals.  The second meeting, scheduled for Oct. 22, also is co-sponsored by the International Association for  Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a leading international association for security professionals.”

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