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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Randy Leonard on the JTTF Deal: Don't Worry About How Long It's Taking

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 2:29 PM

Yesterday brought news that Mayor Sam Adams—in deep talks with the FBI over how and whether Portland should re-engage with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force— was once again putting off a scheduled public hearing while negotiations continue.

Adams' office said "significant new input" had arrived from Washington, DC. No word today (yet) on what that input might be, but thanks to Randy Leonard, who has been closely following Adams' progress, we now have a good idea where that input has come from.

"High up" in the FBI, Leonard told me this morning. As in, the FBI director's office. Which he took as a good sign that the FBI remains entirely open to working with the city on the two key points Adams is looking to hammer out before a hearing March 17.

"They're just not done yet," Leonard says. "It's a bureaucracy, and they have their own internal protocols. I don't know how flexible they are."

Leonard says the first issue is pretty much a done deal. In that scenario: our police officers would work with the FBI on a case-by-case basis, only when needed, much like they did during the FBI-led Pioneer Courthouse Square bomb plot last November. Leonard has long insisted on this, a way to keep cops investigating local crimes at a time when resources still need watching.

The second? That's where some work remains. Leonard says the police chief, police commissioner, and city attorney ought to remain in fully charge of Portland officers at all times—to help ensure cops aren't made to violate Oregon's stricter civil liberties protections in the course of their investigative work.

How might that work? And what about the "get back in at all costs!" crowd? Read on.

One of the thoughts bandied around would have the police bureau's criminal intelligence officers attend all the JTTF's regular briefings, to keep apprised of what's happening generally in the area in world of terrorism. And then, in cases when, say, an arson investigator or a detective or a bomb technician also is needed for a terror investigation, those officers would move over to help until they weren't needed.

Under that scenario, those officers would all receive top secret clearance—a level of security clearance the mayor and police chief currently aren't eligible to receive (they just get "secret" clearance). That disparity was a big issue back in 2005 when this issue was last debated—and it remains in issue for those who worry it will be a loophole for officers to do nefarious things, like spy on peace activists and Muslims.

Leonard says that doesn't trouble him. In fact, he says, "I'm cool with that."

He says the work our officers would do for the JTTF would require only "secret" clearance, at most. The only reason local officers get the higher clearance, he says, is because the FBI worries they might see something sensitive while they're in the office. The officers would be still be able to report to their city bosses about the work they're doing.

But what about concerns over loopholes?

"Good point," Leonard told me. He says officers will be trained to "disengage themselves" from anything they're asked to do that's illegal—and that security clearance means nothing when it comes to blowing the whistle on illegal, nefarious, hinky spook shit.

He acknowledges there's a base of groups like the Portland Business Alliance (the issue was on the agenda during a recent chat in is office) and the Citizens Crime Commission (an affiliate of the PBA) that really want Portland back in. All the way, like before 2005.

"They kind of go blank when you talk about the nuances of cooperating with the FBI," Leonard says. He's also placed in that camp, roughly, the Oregonian edit board and fellow City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. Leonard blames the framing of the 2005 debate—"in vs. out"—and says they're ignoring all "the new information since then."

"They're stuck there."

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