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Join task force to fight terrorism

TWO VIEWS • Portland's tolerance won't save it from being a target, but should we give in to fear?

The recent arrest for an attempted bombing at the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony has renewed the debate on whether Portland should rejoin the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

However, most, if not all, of the issues involved in the debate appear to deal with only legal or constitutional concerns. While legal and constitutional issues are important, they are not the only ones that require discussion and debate. In fact, if it wasn't that the attorneys and legal organizations involved have excellent political lobbyists and good relations with the media, I doubt if their vested interests would be in the public arena instead of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2006 book, 'Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency,' by Judge Richard A. Posner, clearly shows that the legal community, like society, has varied views on the issue, and not just views we are bombarded with in the media.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force is a partnership among law enforcement agencies to take action against terrorism. Practitioners and academic scholars in the areas of criminology and criminal justice have argued that there needs to be greater cooperation between the varied law enforcement agencies (city, county, state and federal) to better control crime.

August Vollmer, the police chief of Berkeley, Calif., (1909-31), who introduced numerous concepts that transformed policing, was one of the first to call for greater cooperation between police agencies. This same recommendation was found in the 1967 prestigious task force report, 'Police,' published by the President's Commission.

European countries were the first to realize the necessity of this same type of cooperation to fight terrorism after the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and created TREVI (terrorism, radicalism, extremism and violence international) in 1975. TREVI was integrated into the European Union in 1992.

Terrorism is a tactic usually used by guerilla forces and insurgents (it also has been used by some governments on their own citizens). Even though it involves criminal behavior it is different from traditional criminality, and requires greater coordination and information gathering. Perhaps, the best description of fighting terrorism that I have seen was written by T.E. Lawrence (1917) about fighting insurgents and rebels. He said that it will always be messy and slow. Fighting terrorism requires information gathering.

Either the Joint Terrorism Task Force or something very much like it is a necessity if governments are going to protect the lives of their citizens, which I believe is its main purpose.

Terrorism is real. It is not just a conspiracy by our government to control us. It is not new. Terrorism from below and terrorism from above have been a part of the history of the United States since before the American Revolution.

Based on the uniqueness of terrorism, the real danger it poses, and the importance of information gathering, Portland should be a part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Yes, there is a danger that the FBI or another agency might misuse the information gathered. The Church Committee Hearings (1975-76) clearly showed that there are risks, and oversight is required.

There are risks associated with all human activities. However, the risk to lives by a successful terrorist act trumps the other risks.

Is Portland in real danger of being a target for a terrorist attack? Of course it is. A beautiful mountain view, bike paths and an acceptance of diverse cultures does not make us immune.

Are we a primary target? I doubt it, but should the city wait for someone to be killed before they put in the stop sign that the neighborhood residents have been asking for?

We should not have dropped out, and hopefully the FBI will permit the city to rejoin.

Gary R. Perlstein of Lake Oswego is a professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University.