Nightly News | September 16, 2010
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: When the '60s were over and the files of that era were finally thrown open, we learned about all kinds of domestic surveillance, some of it illegal, on Americans who pose zero threat to our democracy or our way of life. And it has apparently happened again. It's a sign of our times that the state of Pennsylvania has its own office of homeland security , and the governor of Pennsylvania is reacting with shock and anger that they have been found to be tracking legitimate protest groups that pose no danger to public safety. Our justice correspondent Pete Williams is in Philadelphia tonight. Pete , good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Brian , this has turned out to be a big embarrassment for Pennsylvania , and some of those groups targeted for intelligence gathering by the state are already talking about suing. Keep an eye out, warns a Pennsylvania state intelligence bulletin, for the screening of movie critical of natural gas drilling.
P. WILLIAMS: The showing of the movie " Gasland " was among events on a list called "dates of interest" in an official intelligence bulletin from the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security sent to local law enforcement statewide. But the discovery that the state was keeping tabs on a long list of peaceful groups stunned Pennsylvania 's governor, who ordered an immediate stop to it.
Governor ED RENDELL (Democrat, Pennsylvania): The fact that they disseminated this to state holders, to local law enforcement, on what were legitimate protests, citizens exercising their rights under the constitution, it's especially embarrassing because this is Pennsylvania . This is where the constitution was written. This is where the country started.
P. WILLIAMS: Along with environmentalists protesting this huge natural gas project in Pennsylvania , the state was tracking gay rights events, demonstrations against BP for the gulf oil spill, and animal rights groups protesting rodeos.
Mr. ERIC EPSTEIN (Pennsylvania Activist): Frankly, I was under the impression that enemies of the state were Iran , Libya and North Korea . I don't know when Lassie , mother nature and granola bars became enemies of the state .
P. WILLIAMS: The list was drawn up by a private contractor hired by the state . In a written statement the contractor says protests can be trigger events for radicals and that some environmentalists are becoming more violent. But a Washington Post reporter says it's part of a huge growth in what she calls secret America .
Ms. DANA PRIEST (The Washington Post): And, in fact, there's very little oversight at the state level on what state government is collecting on their citizens. And if anything, this example shows us a need to get a hold of that.
P. WILLIAMS: Pennsylvania 's contract with the company responsible for that intelligence bulletin expires in a few weeks and the state now says it will
not be renewed. Brian: Pete Williams in Philadelphia for us tonight. Pete , thanks.