Bust of ecoterrorists is only case made public by local-federal group
Charles Mathews, the special agent in charge of the Oregon FBI office, says he would like to talk about everything the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force has accomplished since Sept. 11.
The trouble is, except for some organizational changes and a major ecoterrorism bust, everything else is confidential. Mathews can't talk about current investigations, except to say that the task force is 'fully engaged' in the war on terrorism.
'Maybe there'll be some things I can talk about in the near future, but not right now,' Mathews says tantalizingly.
The task force first came together as a multijurisdictional effort to provide security for the Nike World Games in 1998. It was formally created two years ago, and the Portland City Council first authorized the Portland Police Bureau to participate on Oct. 25, 2000. The council renewed the authorization Sept. 18, 2001, a week after the terrorist attacks.
Since then, the task force has grown to include 45 full-time investigators from more than a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Portland and Beaverton police forces. It has been divided into four separate teams focusing on international terrorists, domestic terrorists, cyberterrorists and foreign counterintelligence.
The FBI also has formed five additional multijurisdictional working groups around the state to respond to incidents outside Portland.
Despite the emphasis on international terrorism, the task force's biggest victory to date has been on the domestic front. On July 13, Oregon U.S. Attorney Michael Mosman and task force representatives announced that four environmental activists had been indicted for setting fire to three Schoppert Logging Co. trucks near Estacada on June 1, 2001.
The trucks had been scheduled to begin hauling logs out of the Eagle Creek area of the Mount Hood National Forest that day. The damage was estimated at $50,000.
Although no group had claimed responsibility for the attack, Mosman said it was the work of the radical Earth Liberation Front and described the alleged arsonists as 'ecoterrorists.' The indictments are one of the few times the government has identified and charged alleged members of the underground group with crimes.
Mathews adamantly agrees the attack was terrorism, which the FBI defines as politically motivated violence.
'Arson is a violent act. It's not a car prowl or a shoplift. Anyone who commits arson puts people at risk, and someone will be killed sooner or later, whether it's a first responder trying to fight the fire or one of them. There's a reason why bomb makers are walking around without fingers,' he said.
The City Council is scheduled to decide on Sept. 19 whether to renew the city's participation in the task force. Renewal is supported by the Citizens Crime Commission, an affiliate of the downtown-oriented Portland Business Alliance. It is expected to be opposed by a coalition of liberal organizations, including the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union.