Pennsylvania's homeland security director, James F. Powers Jr., has some apologizing to do. According to an article published on Philly.com yesterday, Powers hired a Philadelphia-based terrorism intelligence firm to monitor activist groups with no history of violence, including anti-war protesters and environmentalists.
Two weeks after an uproar from activists and legislators about intelligence bulletins circulating with information about the innocent groups, Powers apologized. "I sincerely apologize to any individual or group, regardless of their views or affiliation, who felt their constitutional rights infringed upon because they were listed in the bulletin," Powers says in his testimony, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer.
Governor Rendell reported that he was appalled to learn about the tracking of the groups and ordered the contract to be terminated. However others, such as Jack Tomarchio, a former ranking intelligence officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, say Powers is not at fault and is instead the victim of a misunderstanding.
No matter who is at fault, the activist groups deserve an explanation and an apology. Although Powers apologized in his testimony, that message came after two weeks of silence and did not address the specific groups affected by the poor judgment.
An apology may not be enough to console harmless activist groups who have been tracked as if they were terrorists, but it may have been better received if it was more timely and sincere. Homeland Security seems to be the latest addition to the list of those who could use a lesson in crisis communication.