February 23, 2012 – The ACLU of Oregon today released its detailed analysis of the City of Portland’s relationship with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) ten months after the City Council approved a resolution authorizing the Police Bureau to cooperate with the JTTF on individual terrorism investigations.
The ACLU’s analysis strongly criticized the draft reports issued last week by Police Chief Mike Reese and Mayor Sam Adams saying the reports indicate the City has been violating the Council’s resolution which was approved only last April. The ACLU had supported the resolution at that time, but now says the City should suspend its cooperation with the FBI because important safeguards in the resolution have apparently been ignored.
“Unfortunately, these first reports fall far short of providing any information other than vague reassurances,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Even more disturbing than the lack of detail is that the Chief appears to have ignored the resolution’s mandate that he determine, in consultation with the Mayor, that all cases have a ‘criminal nexus’ to terrorism when the Police Bureau is involved.”
Fidanque said the Chief’s report indicates the “criminal nexus” standard was watered down to only require a vague assurance that each case was somehow “related to terrorism.”
“The FBI has the power to snoop on people’s lives as long as it has a hunch they may be doing something wrong,” Fidanque said. “The Council’s resolution was designed to require some articulable facts, rather than just the whim of an individual FBI agent, before the City of Portland gets involved.”
Andrea Meyer, Associate Director of Advocacy and Policy for the National ACLU, prepared the ACLU analysis with Fidanque. Meyer was formerly Legislative Director for the ACLU of Oregon and worked behind the scenes last year to strengthen the Council’s resolution on cooperation with the FBI.
“Most of the FBI abuses carried out in recent years have been accomplished by JTTFs operating under the overbroad banner of preventing terrorism,” Meyer said. “If the Chief’s report accurately describes how the ‘criminal nexus’ requirement is being used by the Police Bureau, it makes it much more likely that Portland police will engage in illegal surveillance of the political, religious and social activities of Oregonians.”
Among the other findings in the ACLU analysis is:
• Although Chief Reese has applied for Top Secret clearance and Mayor Sam Adams has applied for Secret clearance, both applications are still being processed by the FBI;
• The Council resolution requires those security clearances so the Chief and Mayor can be ensured access to the information necessary “to manage and supervise PPB officers” engaged in work with the FBI and the JTTF;
• While the Chief’s report claims that releasing the number and classification of cases that Portland has worked on with the FBI would “be likely to compromise ongoing investigations,” the FBI has revealed similar national data without any negative impact;
• Between March 2009 and March 2011, the FBI launched 42,888 “assessments” nationwide of individuals and groups and less than five percent were taken to the “preliminary” or “full” investigation stage;
• Neither FBI “assessments” now “preliminary” investigations require a particular factual basis for suspecting a target of terrorism according to the FBI manual;
• The City Attorney has the responsibility under the resolution to train PPB officers on the resolution and its safeguards, but apparently did not include any information about the FBI’s very different investigatory standards which conflict with Oregon law and the resolution;
• The resolution requires that the Police Chief attend JTTF Executive Committee meetings, but the Chief apparently delegated that responsibility to others.
The City Council is scheduled to receive the final reports from Chief Reese and Mayor Adams on February 29.