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Monday, March 25, 2013

Message at Heart of Police Chief's Terror Task Force Report: "Trust Us"

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 12:30 PM

On Wednesday, Police Chief Mike Reese heads back in front of Portland City Council to present his bureau's second annual report on its case-by-case dealings with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). And, as it should turn out, the message in this year's report is pretty much the same as last year's: "Trust us. Everything is fine."

Despite outcry last year—including the public silencing of Commissioner Amanda Fritz—and a now-permanent reprieve meant to give Reese and the city attorney's office and Mayor Charlie Hales' office more time to wrangle a report otherwise due much earlier in the year, the JTTF report still swims in a mist of secrecy and classified privilege.

It details only the number of investigations our cops helped with (one this year, outside of Portland, down from two last year) and gives no details about the nature of those investigations or how many officers or hours the police bureau spent on them. (The city has previously said our cops didn't work on the case involving wastewater plant worker Reaz Khan.)

It also provides—on the central question of whether city commissioners can sleep at night knowing that our cops aren't letting the FBI lead them astray of Oregon's stricter free speech laws—earnest assurances at best.

Reese writes in the report, prepared last month but released only last week:

"I have directed the Assistant Chief of Investigations and the CIU Lieutenant to attend JTTF Executive Committee meetings along with me or in my place when I am absent so that I have several perspectives on our work with the JTTF. Using this strategy, I can be confident that when officers work on JTTF investigations, they are only allowed to work on investigations related to terrorism as defined in federal criminal law and that their investigative methods meet the requirements of Oregon law."

Reese, just as he did last year, says giving up more details on the time spent on JTTF would jeopardize national security. He based his confidence on constitutionality on the assessment of a veteran deputy city attorney.

A Senior Deputy City Attorney who has provided legal advice to the Police Bureau for over fifteen years has reported to me that the police bureau is in full compliance with Oregon law and the City's Resolution regarding JTTF. He has met individually with all CIU members identified as eligible to work with the JTTF as well as the lieutenant of CIU to ensure that they are familiar with the application of Oregon law, including Oregon's limitations concerning the collection and retention of information about a person's political, religious, and social affiliations. The officers have been able to freely share information and seek advice from the City Attorney. The City Attorney has met with them separately and alone so that they could voice any and all concerns.

The FBI has not asked the City Attorney to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and the attorney reports that he has received unfettered access to ample information from the officers and their lieutenant in order to assess compliance with Oregon law and this Resolution.

In one other bit of information, Reese has obtained only "secret" level clearance from the federal government, the same as his officers would be granted. The resolution allowing the city to re-engage with the feds, after years of saying no and staying away amid constitutional concerns, had told him to seek "top secret" clearance. Mayor Charlie Hales, like former Mayor Sam Adams, has not apparently received any clearance.

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