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Monday, December 20, 2010

Portland Copwatch to Sam Adams: More Questions to Consider on the JTTF

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Dec 20, 2010 at 3:14 PM

Mayor Sam Adams is angling for a January decision on whether Portland should rejoin the Joint Terrorism Task Force—a question that took on new urgency last month after a Corvallis man thought he had detonated a bomb in Pioneer Square, part of a jihadist sting plot assisted by the FBI.

And, as reported in this space and everywhere else, Adams' office several days ago asked Portlanders to chime in on his proposed "work plan" for examining that question. On Friday, December 17, his office heard from one of the loudest critics of the idea, Portland Copwatch. Their first recommendation: Don't. Don't even ask. Just don't do it.

Which is what a lot of folks have been saying about all the agita over whether we should reconsider a decisive decision in 2005 to pull our cops out, partly amid concerns we couldn't control whether they'd be forced to violate state and local laws as part of the federal task force's mission to defend against terror plots.

Of course, knowing that Adams is out to score some easy political points off this issue (after stealing the ball, so to speak, from council rival Dan Saltzman), Copwatch offered some other questions that the mayor's study might also consider.

The proposed questions look more deeply at the unit that currently farms out officers, when needed, to work on federal enforcement efforts. Copwatch also wants the council to open the process up to more public testimony. (It should be noted that Dan Handelman, Copwatch's first among equals, initially spotted the JTTF on a consent agenda a decade ago and brought to the attention of an unknowing public.)

Keep reading to see Copwatch's full letter to the mayor's office and city council.

Mayor Adams

Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on the draft plan to re-examine Portland's relationship with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF).

First we should be clear that we believe there is no reason to re-visit the status agreement created in the 2005 resolution. However, we do welcome the opportunity to educate the newer members of Council, the public and ourselves on the relationship between Portland Police and federal agencies including the FBI.

We do appreciate the questions your proposal has raised but have listed several more below for inclusion in the plan.

While the proposed timeline includes at least two touchpoints for the general public, we would hope that before you seek any community input that reports could be generated explaining:

—How many times Portland officers (particularly the Criminal Intelligence Unit [CIU]) have been asked to work with the FBI under the agreement since 2005. We understand there may be private information about the specifics of the cases, but it would be helpful at least to have an aggregate number, and a rough idea what kinds of cases ("terrorism", drug enforcement, etc) that were involved.

—What exactly was the Portland Police involvement in the Nov. 26 Pioneer Square "bomb plot." While it's been reported that Chief Mike Reese knew about the FBI sting operation for two months and assigned officers to aid the federal agents, the public should know more about what our officers were asked to do before weighing in on the question of rejoining the PJTTF.

This issue is particularly important and relates to the reason Portland withdrew from the PJTTF, and a question that is missing from the draft plan:

—Has there been any change to the FBI's stance that the Chief, the Police Commissioner and the City Attorney will not get the same clearance as the officers in the CIU/PJTTF, thus rendering them unable to know whether their own employees are following state law?

The question of oversight and ORS 181.575, which protects Oregonians from investigation into social, political and religious activity without any criminal suspicion, also relates to the Nov. 26 action. Since the Chief was sworn to secrecy, the Mayor and City Attorney could not weigh in on the appropriateness of the officers participating in the action. Since many in the community (including Portland Copwatch) believe the FBI acted questionably to aid the teenager's actions, we wonder whether that was an appropriate use of City employees' energies. If it is proven the FBI violated his rights, what impact will there be on Portland?

After all, the FBI involved local law enforcement in the wrongful arrest of Brandon Mayfield, who was suspected in the Madrid train bombing and spent time in jail because the FBI botched a fingerprint match, using his attendance at a mosque as one reason to investigate him. If the Portland Police were involved and had collected information on Mayfield, then sent it to the FBI, that information would have been distributed nationally and internationally and Portland would have no control over it. If properly monitored, files created by the PPB would be destroyed so as not to be maintained in the absence of criminal conduct (per 181.575).

For these reasons and more, we're concerned about the statements that have been made that the assistance given by the PPB on the Nov. 26 incident "worked the way it was supposed to" and/or was "fantastic work." We should not rush to judgment until we know all the facts.

Another subject not raised in the plan is ongoing review of CIU activities.

—For at least 10 years after the 1996 judgment in Squirrel v City of Portland (aka Squirrel v. Moose), the City Attorney and, later, the director of the Independent Police Review Division (IPR) reviewed the files at CIU to ensure compliance with state law. Is there any such review going on now? Did those reviews include the CIU's work on the PJTTF?

Finally, while we appreciate that the ACLU is specifically being asked to testify at one Council "work session" prior to the February 24 Council hearing, we hope that others will be invited to talk to Council as well.

—Since Work Sessions are open to the public but not public testimony, we think the pool should be opened up to some other folks whose testimony should be entered into the public record from the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005 hearings on the PJTTF agreements.

Thank you again for your thoughtful approach to this issue.
—dan handelman
—Portland Copwatch
(a project of Peace and Justice Works)

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