Portlandia Joins National Security State

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In 2001, Portland, Oregon became the only large U.S. city to refuse to participate in an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Civil-liberties activists had hoped to keep it that way, but the Portland City Council voted 3-2 yesterday to assign two police officers to the JTTF full-time.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon opposed the move, arguing that “the FBI has a long history of targeting people in terrorism investigations based primarily on their political and/or religious beliefs.” But some members of the City Council didn’t see it that way, including Mayor Charlie Hales, who cast the deciding vote for participating in the JTTF, although he had voted against it in 2001.

“I do think the world has changed,” Hales told the Portland Oregonian, contrasting the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to the more recent attacks in Boston and Paris. Facing a “more distributed threat” of neighbors attacking neighbors, he said, “local knowledge really matters.” But opponents say the best way to stop terrorism is to build trust with communities, and FBI practices undermine that trust.

They point to the case of Mohamed Mohamed, convicted of plotting to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting in Portland in 2010. They say Mohamed was targeted and entrapped by FBI paid informants, who manipulated him into attempting a crime he had neither the wherewithal or motivation to commit without them. They also cite the FBI’s flubbed investigation of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, whom they accused of being linked to the Madrid train bombing in 2004.

The Oregon ACLU notes that Oregon law has stronger protections for civil liberties than federal law does.

History has taught us again and again that the federal government, including the FBI, uses invasive and unconstitutional surveillance tactics in the name of “counter-terrorism” and “national security.” Oregon law prohibits state and local law enforcement from collecting or maintaining records on the political, religious or social activities of individuals or organizations—unless there is evidence of criminal activity. Unfortunately, the FBI operates under very different laws. The only way for the Portland Police Bureau to ensure that it is complying with Oregon laws and the Constitution is to stay out of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Portland should always have the ability to engage with federal law enforcement when an actual threat of terrorism exists, but the current structure and lack of transparency put our rights and safety at risk.

Mayor Hales seemed to concur with the ACLU’s assessment of the FBI, telling OregonLive, “he doesn’t believe Portland cops can change the culture of the FBI. But he remains confident that ‘our officers will follow our instructions.’” To that end, OregonLive reports, the police officers assigned to the JTTF “will be required to seek advice from city attorneys if they have concerns their work violates state law prohibiting police from collecting or maintaining information about people’s religious, political or social views—unless it’s directly related to a criminal investigation.” In addition, to ensure oversight, city Police Chief Larry O’Dea “will seek Top Secret clearance from the FBI and Hales, who supervises the Police Bureau, will sign a non-disclosure agreement to receive quarterly, or as-needed briefings, from the FBI’s special agent in charge.”

According the FBI website, JTTFs are based in 104 cities nationwide, with the first one established in 1980 in New York City. Task-force members come from “over 500 state and local agencies and 55 federal agencies,” including the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security Administration.

The JTTF in Portland includes the Oregon State Police, Port of Portland Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration/Customs Enforcement, Federal Air Marshal Service, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service. The Portland police will join once a memorandum of understanding is hammered out.

Read more about JTTFs and how they have violated civil liberties here.