Portland Officers Withdrawn from Joint Terrorism Task Force
Sometime in the month of May, the two Portland Police officers who, deputized as FBI agents, were reporting daily to the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF) went back to their duties in the Police Bureau. In a historic vote on April 28, City Council voted 4-1 to adopt the resolution proposed by Mayor Tom Potter requiring that the Police Commissioner (the Mayor), the Police Chief and the City Attorney all have equal security clearance to officers on any federal task force (see PPR #35). The FBI said it could not comply with the request, leading Potter to pull the two officers back to the Bureau. The resolution did not, as many have reported, sever ties between Portland and the FBI. In fact, it expressly calls for cooperation between the law enforcement agencies, allows the two officers to retain their "Top Secret" clearance, allows the Mayor and Chief to obtain "Secret" clearance as in the few years past, and, most disturbingly, allows the FBI to call the two officers in at any time to participate in "terrorism" investigations.
The reason this is disturbing is that the issue of how to know whether the investigation is in violation of ORS 181.575, that prohibits collection or maintenance of information on anyone not suspected of criminal activity, remains unresolved. So, while we would support the police and FBI working together to solve any actual criminal case involving violence against people, we do not understand why the officers would have to be deputized in order to work on such an investigation.
Members of the community who have been working on the issue for many years, including the ACLU of Oregon, praised the decision and hoped to see a ripple effect around the country. Peace and Justice Works member Desiree Hellegers, writing for Counterpunch (June 24), interviewed Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado. There, the city is bound by a policy set up in 2003 when it was discovered their police were keeping files on "as many as 3200 individuals and 208 organizations" including the non-violent American Friends Service Committee and Denver Copwatch. Hellegers reports, "Recently, Judge Steve C. Briggs, the independent auditor contracted by the city to review Denver police files, concluded that the secrecy surrounding files maintained by Denver Police officers operating under the JTTF effectively precludes compliance with the terms of the 'spy files' settlement."
As previously reported (PPRs #34-35), the ACLU of Oregon, as well as the national group and offices in Colorado, California, and five other states (joined on May 18 by Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, and seven more states) have filed Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) demanding the government reveal whether JTTFs are being used to spy on people solely for their political or religious beliefs. Very little information has come back so far, so the national ACLU has sued to break the deadlock on information. The local ACLU has discovered that some files exist but has not yet been able to access those files.
When Portland Copwatch asked Chief Foxworth whether the Portland Police were involved in the improper arrest of Mayfield, who became a person of interest most likely because of his religion (Islam) and his defense of one of the "Portland 7" in a child custody case, he avoided answering directly. "To obtain this information, you should request it from the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act," wrote the Chief in his June 23 letter (see Foxworth's Foxhole for more on his letter).
Bringing attention back to the fear of people killing civilians for political purposes, the July 7 bombings on British public transportation was used by the Oregonian to bash Portland's choice regarding the PJTTF one more time. Its July 22 editorial asserted that a person suspected of aiding the bombers, Haroon Rashid Aswat, was part of a plan to open a "terrorist training camp" in Bly, Oregon in 1999. They imply that somehow by allowing him to go free (despite his apparently not having broken any actual laws), Oregon played a part in allowing the London attacks to happen. Therefore, they assert, Mayor Potter should "connect the dots" and rejoin the task force. However, they don't mention that the investigation into the Bly camp happened while the Portland Police were part of the PJTTF, yet Aswat was still free to go. In addition, if there were any information that this man were a wanted criminal, we would assume the FBI would share that information with all law enforcement personnel and not just the two officers deputized to be on the JTTF.
In a frightening development which shows the direction the U.S. could be headed if we do not stand up for civil liberties, London plainclothes police chased after and executed an innocent Brazilian man on July 23. He was deemed suspicious for wearing a heavy overcoat in the summer; he ran from the police likely because they were not dressed in uniform and he did not understand their commands. He was shot eight times at point blank range in front of horrified subway riders. While there have been no stories of similar "shoot to kill" policies or incidents in the U.S., we must stay vigilant so as not to accept such behavior, and keep reminding the powers-that-be that the solution to end violence is a political solution, not an escalation of violence.
Perhaps putting it in the best perspective was Mayor Potter himself, who articulated the same reasons for his decision as Portland Copwatch has noted for years as part of a peace group promoting police accountability. "In this country there's an old-fashioned principle, that the police or the military have to be answerable to civilian oversight. The president has to have that control over the United States military. The police commissioner has to have that oversight over the Portland Police Bureau."
For more information contact the ACLU of Oregon at (503) 227-3186.
"I don't think Portland is a strange city. I don't think that we're really that much different than most any other city in the United States. I think, though, that we are concerned about ensuring that we have a proper balance between protecting people's physical security, [and] the property that they own, and balancing that against their rights....If we don't have all the protections of the Constitution, we will not survive as a country"
--Mayor Tom Potter at the April 28 hearing on withdrawing from the PJTTF.
People's Police Report
#36 Table of Contents
People's Police Report Index Page
Return to Copwatch home page