FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PORTLAND, OR -- Citing the need for greater oversight of its own police officers, Mayor Tom Potter announced Friday that Portland will soon end its participation in the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. However, Potter and FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Jordan 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 classified information.
Three weeks ago, at the request of federal officials, the City Council agreed to postpone consideration of a resolution requiring meaningful oversight to allow time for the Justice Department and the city to explore options to address the concerns. At the U.S. Attorney and the Mayor's request, ACLU of Oregon representatives took part in those discussions.
The ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque said the discussions were constructive but the primary roadblock was the Justice Department's refusal to allow the city attorney to apply for a security clearance or to assure Mayor Potter that he and the police chief would have access to the same information as the police officers on the Task Force.
"Those requests were denied by Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C.," Fidanque said. "I think everyone around the table in Portland understood the importance of city employees being able to get legal advice from their lawyer about the requirements of Oregon laws and city policies."
Fidanque applauded the city's announcement 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, city officials still don't know what, if any, involvement the police department 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 their homes 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 requests on the behalf of several local organizations and individuals who believed they were being unjustly targeted.
"Portland has stricken a blow against government secrecy by deciding to pull out of the JTTF," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. "We hope other towns will demand full transparency before agreeing to join JTTFs."
ACLU of Oregon Legislative Director/Counsel Andrea Meyer said the ACLU is still waiting to receive documents the FBI 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."
Mayor Potter said the Portland City Council will vote April 28 on a resolution that will address the city's concerns
More information about the FOIA request is available online at www.aclu.org/spyfiles.