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Joint Terrorism Task Force Debate Delayed
Once Dan Saltzman, the only member of the City Council who voted to keep Portland in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF) in 2005, had raised the issue of rejoining it (PPR #52), Mayor Sam Adams outlined a timeline of deliberation to last for 75 days before a decision. However, hearings scheduled for February 24, then March 10 and finally March 17 were all cancelled. The decision has not been made yet, although a resolution is scheduled to be heard on April 28 (after our deadline).
The City sponsored a community meeting at Portland State University on January 13, attended and moderated by Council members. The opposition to rejoining was overwhelming: only three of 40 speakers favored the FBI group; one from Portland General Electric and the Citizens Crime Commission (CCC) asserted his customers fear losing power in a terror attack. On February 15, Council held an "informal session" featuring national experts from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the ACLU. That meeting revealed more about the Holiday Tree sting operation which prompted the City's reconsideration of the Task Force. According to the February 16 Oregonian, "federal officials didn't follow an understanding reached when the city pulled its officers out of the [PJTTF]. A high-ranking FBI official wasn't aware of the plan calling for a briefing of the mayor until after the authorities had made an arrest."
This may have been the first chance for the FBI to follow the 2005 protocol... and it did not. FBI Special Agent in Charge Arthur Balizan told Commissioner Randy Leonard, "The first time I learned of this proclamation is when you brought it up to me." Oregon's US Attorney Dwight Holton said the Mayor only would have had to be notified of "an actual threat," emphasizing Mohamed Mohamud posed no actual danger since the FBI supplied him with a fake bomb.
If there was no threat, there is no reason to revisit the decision to pull out of the PJTTF; rather, since the FBI chooses not to abide by written protocols, there seems ever more reason to stay out.
At the Human Rights Commission (HRC)'s January meeting, Holton, Balizan, and the ACLU's Andrea Meyer testified. In February, the HRC held a community forum at which only two people-- a member of the CCC and Holton--spoke in favor of rejoining. On February 23, the HRC voted to recommend the city not rejoin the JTTF. "The issue of authority and accountability was a fundamental concern for City Council in 2005 when Council opted to withdraw from the JTTF," it said in its report. "The HRC heard repeated concerns regarding police accountability among Portlanders providing testimony at HRC meetings . . . The HRC acknowledges the FBI's long history of profiling. We remain urgently concerned about disparate impact on Portland's advocacy organizations and activist movements."
In the January 26 Willamette Week (WW), US Attorney Holton swept aside the ACLU's arguments that JTTF investigations violate state law. "It's [their] worst argument because it's not true. The task force does not gather information on anyone based on their religion, on their political views... on their organizational membership, period. We don't do it for five reasons: It's immoral. It's unconstitutional. It violates federal law and federal guidelines. It violates state law. And, it's a waste of time."
WW editor Mark Zusman, called Holton's bluff in an editorial on February 16. Zusman drew attention to the DoJ's September 2010 Office of the Inspector General report: "In repeated breaches . . . the FBI investigated members of advocacy groups (peaceniks, animal-rights activists, enviros) without any evidence of a crime."
"Safeguards against federal agencies snooping on innocent groups and individuals were swept away by the Bush Administration," the ACLU's David Fidanque and Meyer wrote in an Oregonian op-ed (December 1). "The Obama Administration has done very little to undo that damage... the investigation and intelligence laws, policies and practices are essentially the same."
We do not know how Council will decide. Facing broad opposition (including a March 10 protest led by the Oregon Progressive Party), the Mayor postponed the hearings. The most recent delay, according to the WW, was due to concerns from Commissioner Leonard about the proposed agreement mandating Portland Police talk with the FBI daily, rather than on a case by case basis. Leonard seemed unconcerned about the role Police Chief Mike Reese played in the Holiday Tree fiasco by not notifying the Police Commissioner (the Mayor) about the investigation. On March 31, Portland Copwatch wrote to Leonard and Council urging them to examine the 2005 resolution, which calls for both the Police Commissioner and the City Attorney to gain security clearances to ensure the PJTTF's compliance with state law.
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Portland Copwatch Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability
through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.