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In Narrow Vote, Portland Re-Joins Joint Terrorism Task Force

In February, Portland City Council reversed a decade of resistance by voting to fully re-join the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Mayor Tom Potter declared in 2005 the City could not be part of the secretive organization so long as he, the Police Commissioner, could not get the same level of security clearance as the officers he supervised (PPR #36). After that, nobody had any idea whether and how often Bureau members teamed up to investigate "terrorism." After the 2010 "Holiday Tree bombing" sting on Mohamed Mohamud, the City agreed to participate on a "case by case basis," with annual reports to the public (PPR #54). Those reports turned out to be threadbare, but were a window into whether officers might be engaging in activity forbidden by Oregon law. The 3-2 vote to rejoin, held February 19, came after dozens of voices chimed in against the move, while only one organization-- the Portland Business Alliance's Citizens Crime Commission (CCC)-- testified in favor.

The initial hearing, on February 5, lasted four hours and posed two options: "all in" or "all out." Council voted to remove paragraphs that indicated the "all out" option would still include a formalized relationship with the FBI, stating instead, "Portland is not participating in the Joint Terrorism Task Force." The ACLU of Oregon, invited to testify prior to the general public, outlined legal concerns and the history of FBI misconduct, comparing the current surveillance state to looking for a needle in a haystack by "making the haystack much, much bigger." They turned in a petition with 675 signatures. About 25 people testified against, with only three in favor--Bill Barr of the CCC, one individual, and US Attorney Amanda Marshall.

Marshall made numerous pleas for the City to rejoin, promising in return the City would be as safe as Boston was when the marathon was bombed-- turning a horrible act of violence that killed three and wounded dozens of people into a success story for the FBI. She also made remarks about how the DOJ doesn't try to make people into "terrorists" but steers them away, prompting retorts referring to the FBI sting on Mohamud (who was tricked into thinking he was detonating a bomb). Perhaps for the bad karma her testimony exhibited, Marshall took a leave of absence in March when it was revealed she had an inappropriate relationship with, and perhaps was stalking, another attorney in her office.

The Mayor's Police Liaison (and former officer) Deanna Wesson Mitchell glossed over the removal of the reporting requirement, saying it's better to be rid of them since federal public records laws are more restrictive than Oregon's. However, that restriction is exactly the reason to stop working with the FBI. She also emphasized the FBI does not give security clearance to anyone who's not sworn law enforcement, so rather than forcing them to change that policy, the Police Commissioner (Mayor Hales) would just stop asking.

Chief O'Dea pretended to be neutral, but talked in the present tense about assigning two officers to work full time on the JTTF, located in the FBI building for most of their work week. When asked what kinds of things the two officers would have to stop doing in order to work at the FBI, O'Dea was vague. He insisted they would be responsible to their supervising Sergeant and Lieutenant, and to him. When Portland Copwatch (PCW) met with O'Dea (p. 9), and noted that the roster of police officer names we receive each year doesn't identify the Lieutenant at the Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU), where the officers are assigned, he refused to name the supervisor.

Among those joining the ACLU in testifying against re-joining were Center for Intercultural Organizing, Portland Jobs with Justice, the Japanese American Citizens League (which again raised the connection to families being put into American detention camps during World War II), the AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, Veterans for Peace, League of Women Voters, PCW, NAACP Portland Chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace-Portland and Don't Shoot Portland. Testimony which should have swayed Council was given by Brandon Mayfield, the Portland area attorney who was mis-identified by an FBI fingerprint "expert" as a suspect in the Spanish train bombing of 2004 (PPR #33).

Mayfield gave a concrete example of local cops violating state law that prohibits collecting information on people's social, political or religious affiliations with no suspicion of criminal conduct (ORS 181.575). While surveilling him, local law enforcement reported he went to a store with his son to buy a basketball hoop, and that he was standing near his community mosque.

The ridiculous argument that if we don't join the JTTF, the FBI would not share information with Portland if a mass murder occurred as in New York, Boston or Paris was raised at Council and our meeting with the Chief. Not only would the FBI need help from local law enforcement to solve the crime, but it would take a lot more than the two officers with security clearance to do so.

After the Feb. 5 hearing, several other voices chimed in against the JTTF, including former State Senator Avel Gordly, the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, Portland's Human Rights Commission, and, most significantly, 11 organizations who represent the majority of Portland area Muslims. Their letter expressed the community's distrust of the FBI, noting that there would likely be less cooperation with local law enforcement to solve crimes if the Bureau rejoined the JTTF. They offered to re-establish the Arab Muslim Police Advisory Council, which was disbanded after the Council's 2011 vote to rejoin, if Portland stayed out of the Task Force.

When the vote came on the 19th, their letter convinced Commissioner Steve Novick to vote "no." Commissioner Amanda Fritz made tremendous speeches both on the 19th and at the February 25th vote on the FBI's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), emphasizing the importance of handling so-called "terrorism" in a way that doesn't threaten democracy. She voted "no." Commissioner Nick Fish, who seemed supportive of re-examining the relationship last year when the weak report was released, still believes he was somehow in danger at the Holiday Tree lighting in 2010 (even though the bomb was a fake created by the FBI), and voted yes. Commissioner Dan Saltzman has always been a champion of the JTTF and he too voted yes.

That left Mayor Charlie Hales, who is actually the only Council member to have voted against Portland joining the JTTF (PPR #25); as the deciding vote. He stated that recent attacks in Copenhagen and Paris had clinched it as a yes for him. He also said he trusts the individuals involved, naming the FBI's current special agent in charge and O'Dea (which the February 19 Portland Mercury Blog saw as an insult to former Chief Mike Reese). The Mayor needs to examine issues on an institutional level rather than making personality-based choices, as evidenced by Marshall's meltdown.

The MOU Council approved on Feb. 25 (in another 3-2 vote) has no sunset date, and includes numerous passages that should have convinced them to reject it, or at least demand amendments. The Mayor claims the FBI does not allow amendments, even though when PCW first discovered the JTTF on the Council's "consent agenda" in 2000, it was then-Commissioner Hales who voted to remove language he said sounded like something out of the Nixon era (PPR #23).

The 3-2 split was very close, so there's still the possibility that the community can reverse the ever- growing surveillance state. If nothing else, this debate was another opportunity to remind everyone that both New York and Boston had active JTTFs involving their local police before 9/11 and the marathon bombing-- and neither incident was prevented by that relationship existing.

PCW has asked for and received a Bureau roster for over a decade; three years ago the Bureau began redacting the assignments of all officers. After we posted a legal challenge they now send us the assignments of precinct officers/sergeants and all assignments for Lieutenants and above-- except for the CIU.

To add insult to injury, the Council's vote to re-join the JTTF took place on the 72nd anniversary of Executive Order 9066 that established Internment Camps for Japanese Americans.

  People's Police Report

May, 2015
Also in PPR #65

Police Kill Houseless Man
  +1-2 Other Shootings

  5 Years, 111 OR Deadly Force Cases
Pdx Re-Joins Terror Task Force
DOJ Oversight Off to Rocky Start
Review Board Turnover;
  Auditor Exposes "Union" Interference

Other Cities Oversee Shootings
Review Board Report Limits Info
O'Deas of Our Lives 65
Updates PPR 65
  • Body Cams and Copwatching in OR
  • Policy Changes Remain Obscured
New Profiling Data Show Bias
Houseless Lives Still Bleak
Some OR Rights Strengthened
Quick Flashes PPR 65
  • "Senseless" Force on Tasered Teen
  • Police Association in the Media
  • Your Rights and the Police Trainings
Rapping Back #65

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

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