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Portland Re-Joins Terrorism Task Force Despite Itself
In late April, four months of long debate about whether Portland should re-join the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) finished as a (four-hour) City Council hearing ended with a unanimous vote resolving to resume working with the FBI. Although the ACLU, the Human Rights Commission and other community members pressed City Council to resist the risk of Portland officers violating Oregon state law by collecting or maintaining information on people without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity (ORS 181.575--see PPR #53), it seems that pressure from the Portland Business Alliance (through its Citizens Crime Commission), the Oregonian, and Commissioner Dan Saltzman ruled the day. Technically, the resolution says that the Chief of Police has to consult with the Police Commissioner (currently, Mayor Sam Adams) before assigning officers to work with the JTTF, limiting those assignments to cases in which there is a "criminal nexus."
Unfortunately, as stated explicitly by Assistant City Attorney Ellen Osoinach, that phrase has no legal meaning. Commissioner Randy Leonard, one of the strongest proponents for keeping the FBI at arm's length to avoid civil rights violations, proudly pointed out that the ambiguity means that the City can decide what "criminal nexus" means, but so can the FBI.
The by-product of such an ambiguous agreement is that it leads to exploitation of its loopholes. When the vote finally came, Leonard stated he was voting for the resolution because Portland was not re-joining the JTTF--though technically, Portland never really pulled out, as officers were allowed to participate on a case by case basis under a 2005 resolution (PPR #36). Saltzman, the only Commissioner to vote against the 2005 resolution, had wanted to push through a new agreement immediately after the Thanksgiving "Holiday tree bomb plot" involving the FBI sting of a Somali-born teenager from Corvallis (PPR #52). Saltzman said he was proudly voting for the resolution because it meant Portland was rejoining the JTTF.
As in the past, dozens of community members from various organizations including the Japanese American Citizens League, National Lawyers Guild and Communications Workers of America testified against the resolution. Also testifying was Brandon Mayfield, the attorney falsely accused of terrorism by the FBI, mostly because of his Muslim faith (PPR #33).
The resolution requires the Bureau to publicly release its Standard Operating Procedure for working with the JTTF and to report the activities of the secretive unit to Council each year. The SOP, made public on July 22, rather than clarifying what kinds of investigations the PPB can work on-- language prohibiting work on FBI "assessments" based on rumors and hunches was removed from the draft at the insistence of the US Attorney-- merely states that the Chief has the discretion to assign officers. It does not mention either the Oregon standard of "reasonable suspicion" or even the meaningless "criminal nexus" phrase.
It's also worth noting that the main reason Mayor Tom Potter passed the 2005 resolution was his inability to oversee officers under his command: the FBI offered "top secret" clearance to the officers but not to him as Police Commissioner. The new resolution does not require the Commissioner to have the same security clearance as his employees, another step backward.
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Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.