Portland's Mayor, ACLU, Even Arnold Schwarzenegger Question Increased Surveillance

Mayor Potter: "I believe the FBI's recent actions smack of 'Big Brother'"

On May 24, Portland Mayor Tom Potter held a news conference to denounce the efforts of a Portland FBI agent who tried to recruit a City Hall employee as an informant. The FBI defended the agent's overtures as "entirely proper." According to Potter, the agent had asked the employee "if she would be willing to pass information to him relating to people who work for the City of Portland" (Open letter, May 24).

Some people speculated the male agent, who knew the female employee from a gym they both attend, may have been trying to pick her up. One such person was Commissioner Dan Saltzman, perhaps trying to backtrack for standing with Potter at the news conference after having been the only Council member to vote to keep the Portland Police in the Joint Terrorism Task Force last year. Both the Oregonian and the Portland Tribune criticized Potter for going overboard in his reaction.

In particular, the media seemed to think Potter was out of line for having his office swept for listening devices. However, as noted by Phil Stanford in his June 2 Tribune column, the FBI did tap the phone of Portland's Mayor, Neil Goldschmidt, in 1976 while investigating a friend of Goldschmidt's. Potter's sweep turned up mysterious signals in the office ceiling, but "he decided it wasn't worth tearing up the ceiling of this historic building," and ended the search, according to spokesperson John Doussard (Oregonian, June 15).

In response, the FBI denied having any investigations into corruption at City Hall but noted "In the last two years, FBI investigations have led to a 40% increase in the number of indictments of government employees involved in corruption." Potter has his flaws, but standing up for civil liberties is one of his strengths.

SA Wiretapping and Phone Records Retention Prompt Local, National ACLU Challenges

In a major story that broke in USA Today, it was revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting records of American citizens' phone calls (May 11). Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, learned about the secret program by reading the newspaper (Oregonian, May 18). The program is in addition to the NSA's wiretapping program revealed in December by the New York Times, in which President Bush apparently ignored existing laws requiring a warrant, if not from conventional courts then at least from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court (see Breaking News on p. 8).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon joined its national organization (and 20 other state ACLUs) in filing complaints with public utility commissions and state officials about the collection of phone records, citing customer privacy. The national ACLU addressed their letters to the FCC calling on it to investigate companies named in the USA Today piece--AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon. The Oregon ACLU asked the Public Utility Commission and Attorney General Hardy Myers to put an end to the apparent violations of privacy and due process rights. They added Sprint and Qwest to the companies they named; though Qwest originally announced they had rejected the NSA's request for information, the CEO cited had quit in 2002 and spokespeople would not "confirm or deny" participation since then (Skanner, May 31).

Numerous lawsuits have been filed regarding the phone records, including a class action suit filed in Portland by attorney Christopher Slater against Verizon, for violations of the Telecommunications Act's privacy provisions. Other suits were filed in New York and San Francisco against AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth (Oregonian, May 18).

Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force, One Year Later--New Gang Unit May Violate Resolution

April 29 marked the one year anniversary of the Portland City Council resolution requiring the Mayor/Police Commissioner to have the same security clearance as any officers on joint Task Forces with the federal government, to ensure compliance with an Oregon law which prohibits collection of information in the absence of suspicion of criminal activity (ORS 181.575). That resolution led to Portland's two officers on the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF) being removed from permanent duty and being put "on call" (PPR #36). US Attorney Karen Immergut told Willamette Week (WW) on May 17, "I can't give you a bad incident or concrete example of where the system failed as a consequence [of Portland pulling out]."

Presumably so she can be kept in the loop on local investigations, and not as a signal that Portland is reversing course, Chief Rosie Sizer applied for "Secret" clearance in July (WW, July 19), matching Mayor Potter's level. (The officers involved have retained "Top Secret" clearance.)

A new joint venture, the "Metropolitan Gang Task Force," was announced in July, incorporating the PPB, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Milwaukie and Vancouver, WA police as well as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). The purpose is allegedly to "combat gang crime in the entire Portland metro area." Since "Gangs don't care about state lines or city limits, this task force erases the boundaries so law enforcement can work together to reduce gang-related crime," said Special Agent Kelvin Crenshaw of the BATFE (Portland Observer, July 12). Oversight is particularly important, because the FBI is not constrained by ORS 181.575. (Nor, should we add, are Vancouver police.) The ACLU has inquired whether the new gang task force is in violation of the Council resolution.

Mayfield Lawsuit Moves Forward as Related Case Reveals More Spying

Brandon Mayfield, who was wrongfully accused by federal authorities of involvement in the Madrid train bombings (PPR #33 ff.), won another round in court as the government was unable to prevent Mayfield's lawsuit from proceeding (WW, April 26).

Meanwhile, Mayfield's friend and sometimes attorney Thomas Nelson discovered that the FBI had illegally obtained information about his client Soliman Al-Buthi. Al-Buthi is involved in a charity being investigated for alleged "terrorist" links. The FBI accidentally released a document showing they had been logging conversations between Al-Buthi, his organization, and their lawyers to build their case. The FBI asked for the document to be returned. Nelson discovered his office being infiltrated, possibly by men posing as custodians in the building. In requesting documentation about the possible surveillance, Nelson was told by the NSA that they may or may not have the information he sought, but that due to its classified nature, they couldn't even let him know if it existed (Alternet, May 8).

Spying on Activists Prompts Outrage from "The Terminator"

Numerous cases have been reported in the last several years of apparent illegal spying on peaceful activist organizations. In July, the LA Times revealed that California's Office of Homeland Security was keeping track of political activity such as animal rights and antiwar demonstrations. The files all mentioned "officer safety issues" as reasons for law enforcement attention. The California Attorney General's office condemned the OHS for violating constitutional rights; even "Terminator" star/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told the Times through a spokesperson "this particular information gathering is inappropriate and unacceptable" (July 1), ordering the files be made public.


The San Francsisco Chronicle reported on July 29 that after the incident in which police fired wooden projectiles at Oakland protestors (PPR #30), two Oakland undercover cops were appointed to leadership positions in the protest group. The cops helped plan the march route. Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan defended the "intelligence-gathering" operation, revealing that he hoped the officers would "gather the information and maybe even direct them to do something that we want them to do."

May Day: Thousands March Peacefully As Police Keep Hands Off, But Electonic Eyes On

At least 20,000 immigrants and their supporters marched at this year's May Day parade; no arrests were made and the police acted responsibly. We give high points to the handling of the massive action. While this was a welcome change from other years, particularly with the number of people of color and a mix of documented and undocumented immigrants marching, police once again were videotaping the event. Portland Copwatch has cautioned the Bureau and the City that taping people who are exercizing their First Amendment rights is not only an apparent violation of state law (ORS 181.575, which prohibits the collection or maintenance of information on people's social, political or religious activities) but has a chilling effect. Score: Civil liberties win one, lose one.


On August 17, federal judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretaps are unconstitutional, violating the First and Fourth amendments. She ordered the program to halt immediately, stating, "There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution" (San Francisco Chronicle, August 18).


People's Police Report #39 Table of Contents
People's Police Report Index Page
Return to Copwatch home page