ACLU Applauds Portland City Council Ending Role in FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

April 28, 2005 - Citing the need for greater oversight over its own police officers, the Portland City Council voted 4-1 in support of Portland Mayor Tom Potter’s revised resolution that will end Portland’s participation in the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

Potter and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Jordan have said the two agencies would continue to cooperate in terrorism investigations and that the Mayor will be seeking secret clearance to allow him access to some classified information.

The vote came after weeks of negotiations between the City and the Justice Department which failed to resolve the City’s concerns regarding police officer oversight. In a City of Portland proposed resolution, the mayor would have been given the necessary clearance to provide meaningful oversight of the officers who worked directly on the JTTF. At the U.S. Attorney and the Mayor’s request, ACLU representatives took part in discussions of the resolution.

Of the negotiations that led up to the vote Oregon ACLU Legislative Director/Counsel Andrea Meyer said that the primary roadblock was the Justice Department’s refusal to allow the Portland City Attorney to apply for a security clearance or to assure Mayor Potter that he and Police Chief Derrick Foxworth would have access to the same information as the Portland police officers on the Task Force.

“The ACLU commends Mayor Potter and the Portland City Council voting to take the steps necessary to insure that city employees are following the requirements of state laws and the Oregon Constitution at all times, including when they are working with the FBI.”

David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon, applauded the City’s vote saying there are excellent reasons for local officials to insist on meaningful oversight of the work of the FBI task forces.

“There is now ample evidence that several FBI task forces elsewhere have targeted individuals because of their political or religious affiliations,” Fidanque said. “Almost a year after Portland lawyer Brandon Mayfield was cleared of any involvement in terrorism, Portland officials still don’t know what, if any, involvement Portland police had in that investigation.”

In the months preceding the 2004 Republican and Democratic Conventions, JTTF agents in the Midwest monitored the daily activities of various anti-war and political activists they believed were planning to attend counter-demonstrations, and made "visits" to the homes of several activists as well as their friends and family members. In December, the ACLU of Oregon and the ACLU national legal office filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on the behalf of several local organizations and individuals who believed they were being unjustly targeted.

“We all want the police to protect us from real criminals and terrorists," Ann Beeson Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. "But resources and funds established to fight terrorism should not be misused to target innocent Americans who have done nothing more than speak out or practice their faith. Investigations should be based on actual evidence of wrongdoing."

Oregon ACLU Legislative Director/Counsel Andrea Meyer said ACLU is still waiting to receive documents the FBI says it has on nine of the 17 individuals and organizations included in its FOIA request. She says the FBI has responded that there are no documents related to the other eight requestors.

"We are looking forward to receiving those documents," Meyer said. "We certainly hope that the Portland JTTF hasn't been doing the kind of political and religious spying we have seen in other places. We hope to get answers to our questions soon."