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Portland to demand greater oversight of FBI JTTF

As of early March, 2005 when this issue of the ACLU of Oregon membership newsletter went to press, the Portland City Council was on the verge of requiring greater oversight of Portland police officers in the FBI‚s Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Since 2000, before 9/11, ACLU and a broad coalition of local organizations have repeatedly urged the City Council to take this action in order to make sure local police comply with Oregon laws that prohibit political and religious spying by police.

Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard are expected to present a draft ordinance to the Council very soon that would impose several requirements the FBI would need to meet as a condition of further City participation in the JTTF. Among the conditions would be the granting of top-secret clearances to the Mayor, Police Chief Derrick Foxworth and the City Attorney so that they could review the activities and the files created by Portland members of the FBI task force.

The FBI agreed to grant „secretš clearances to former-Mayor Vera Katz and the Police Chief last year, but said top-secret clearance--needed to access working files--would not be permitted.  If the FBI‚s position doesn‚t change, it seems likely that Portland would end its direct participation in the JTTF.

  We long have argued that allowing state and local police to act as deputy FBI agents in the task force undermines the protections against political and religious spying in Oregon law. Since former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft weakened the Attorney General‚s Guidelines for Terrorism and Espionage Investigations in 2002, federal agents and informants can carry out surveillance of political and religious organizations and individuals even when there is no suspicion of criminal activity.

  Oregon law (ORS 181.575) prohibits that kind of spying unless police have reason to believe that an individual or organization has violated the law. Even if state and local police have grounds to investigate, if they later find that the suspect was innocent, state law requires them to purge any information in the files about the individual‚s political, religious or social activities and beliefs.

No such purging requirements apply to the FBI or other federal law enforcement agencies.  Because Portland Police officers who are members of the JTTF create FBI files, rather than Portland Police Bureau files, we have argued that the City‚s participation allows an end run around Oregon law.

Commissioner Leonard expressed grave concerns about the lack of oversight when the issue last came before the Council in 2003.  In a recent letter to The Oregonian, Leonard said safeguards are critical to reestablish the Police Bureau‚s chain of command.

„The FBI would never consider allowing one of its agents to operate without the ability of that agent‚s supervisors Ų up to and including the President of the United States, if need be Ų to know precisely what that agent was doing,š Leonard wrote.  „The ability of our Police Chief and our Mayor to maintain direct ultimate authority over Portland officers is the only way to ensure compliance with Oregon‚s unique statutes providing civil liberty protections beyond federal law.š

  Mayor Potter, a former Portland Police Chief himself, agrees with ACLU that it is also critical for the City Attorney‚s office to have full clearance so that officers can consult with City lawyers about the work they are doing to make sure they are complying with Oregon law. It appears that Commissioners Erik Sten and Sam Adams will support the new ordinance and that only Commissioner Dan Saltzman is likely to oppose it.

Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Jordan upset many community leaders when he told the Associated Press that the FBI has been tracking „jihadistsš in Oregon who have „trained overseas and have taken oaths to kill Americans.š

Jordan agreed to attend a meeting organized by the Bilal Mosque Association in Beaverton to air concerns about his remarks. Oregon ACLU Legislative Director Andrea Meyer attended to express ACLU‚s dismay that Jordan had used purposely-inflammatory language as part of a public relations campaign to pressure the Portland City Council to continue its participation in the JTTF.

Mosque officials reported to Jordan that his „jihadš comments have appeared in internet chats that discuss targeting Muslims and Arab Americans.

Meyer said that despite hearing numerous examples of the negative impact of his remarks on real people, Jordan refused to apologize or moderate his rhetoric in the future.

We believe that the FBI‚s religious profiling played a critical role in the mistaken suspicion that Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield was involved in the Madrid train bombing case last year. Among the facts cited in the FBI affidavit used to obtain Mayfield‚s arrest and search warrants was his attendance at the Bilal mosque in Beaverton. Mayfield is now suing the FBI for violation of his civil rights.

Read more about Portland‚s involvement with the JTTF...

Copyright October, 2005 , ACLU of Oregon
Last updated October 19, 2005