City finds that FBI ties are blinding ones
Oversight of anti-terrorism unit is limited because of federal link
The city's participation in a multiagency task force fighting terrorism is complicating efforts to make sure that the Portland Police Bureau's Criminal Intelligence Unit is not spying on law-abiding citizens.
Mayor Vera Katz has directed representatives of the city attorney's and city auditor's offices to periodically review the unit's records to make sure it is building files only on people linked to criminal activity.
But the entire unit also is assigned to the FBI Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is made up of 45 full-time investigators from more than a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Federal law prohibits anyone except task force members and authorized U.S. government officials from reviewing reports generated during federal anti-terrorism investigations.
That means city legal staff cannot actually read many Ñ if not most Ñ of the reports written by the unit.
Katz said task force investigations are reviewed by a variety of federal officials, including Oregon's U.S. attorney and members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.
But, Katz conceded, no city officials outside the police bureau can review the federal investigations Ñ including herself.
'I don't have the proper clearances,' Katz said.
Task force supervisors also have not complied with a city request to form an oversight board for the task force.
The police bureau's participation is governed by a memorandum of understanding between the city and the FBI that calls for the creation of a management board to oversee and review task force investigations. But the FBI admits that the board was never created, although the agreement was approved last September.
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said, however, that commanders frequently discuss investigations among themselves.
The Portland City Council on Thursday will consider whether to authorize the police to continue serving on the task force.
Opposition was muted when the council reauthorized the task force last year. But opponents are expected to be more vocal this year because of their anger about police handling of two recent events in Portland: the Aug. 22 visit of President Bush, which attracted many demonstrators, and an Aug. 30 confrontation with riders in a Critical Mass bicycle ride.
Katz, who favors the city's continued participation in the task force, points out that all state and local police investigators must obey a 1981 Oregon law that prohibits them from collecting and maintaining information on people who are not suspected of breaking the law.
'I feel very confident we are following Oregon law,' Katz said.
Civil libertarians, however, say the police have violated the law in the past. In 1995, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Marcus ruled that the police had illegally maintained an intelligence report on political activists who wanted to create a civilian police review board.
This year, activist Dan Handelman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that police are illegally maintaining files on him. Handelman never has been convicted of a crime.
David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, says the Portland police and FBI have a history of focusing on the wrong people. He said people in the environmental and animal-rights movements are being subjected to intrusive surveillance because 'they just might, maybe, someday, talk to someone carrying out acts of property destruction.'
In fact, the Oregon law allows far more police surveillance than many activists seem to think. Marcus ruled that state law allows law enforcement agencies to collect and maintain information on people who commit such acts of civil disobedience as blocking sidewalks and marching without a parade permit.
Ñ Jim Redden