Portland's City Council heard today from the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon and others on the question of whether the city should rejoin the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The council may decide the matter as soon as Feb. 24 (please be sure to read tomorrow's WW for our editorial position on whether Portland should rejoin the JTTF). And so the council held an informational work session today to hear sharply different arguments over the issue of whether Portland should remain the only major U.S. city that refuses to assign police officers to the JTTF.
In the discussion were questions about why Mayor Sam Adams was not informed of the alleged Christmas Tree lighting bomb plot last November in Pioneer Courthouse Square until after the feds made an arrest; the chain of command if Portland did rejoin the JTTF; and the mayor's security clearance as oversight on Portland cops that would be tasked to the JTTF.
ACLU representatives raised fears that Portland risks losing its ability for civilian oversight of police and protection of citizens' First Amendment rights.
"On their face, the FBI guidelines are against Oregon statutes. Looking at their actions—even more so, " said former FBI Special Agent Mike German, now working for the ACLU as its policy counsel on national security, immigration and privacy.
Opponents painted a very different picture, minimizing the actual prospect of civil rights violations and highlighting the dangers of Portland police not in the same office working with the JTTF.
"There are Portland police officers working on terrorism cases," said Dwight Holton, interim U.S. Attorney for Oregon. "We just ask that we put them in the same room so they can learn from each other—to do the most important thing we do in law enforcement: keep people safe."
Holton said JTTF-assigned officers' superiors are more than welcome to serve on the terrorism task force and that any officer misconduct, "can, should and would be reported to city oversight authorities."
Oregon ACLU legislative director Andrea Meyer countered that, “Proponents argue that officers would be able to stand up and point out when the FBI asks them to violate Oregon law. This is a flawed argument. How are they going to show documents proving that the FBI is not following Oregon law.”