Saturday, April 23, 2005

In Portland, Ore., a Bid to Pull Out of Terror Task Force

The New York Times
April 23, 2005
In Portland, Ore., a Bid to Pull Out of Terror Task Force

Citing irreconcilable differences with how the Federal Bureau of Investigation has operated in a post-Sept. 11 world, city officials in Portland, Ore., said yesterday that they planned to pull their police officers out of an F.B.I.-run antiterrorism task force.

Federal officials said no other city had taken such an action.

Mayor Tom Potter, a Democrat and former Portland police chief, along with several city commissioners, said they expected the City Council to approve the move next week.

Mr. Potter said that several sticking points in negotiations with the F.B.I. over how investigations are conducted and who has "top secret" security clearance had prompted his decision to remove the two officers, now detailed to the antiterrorism task force, from under the auspices of the F.B.I.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Potter was joined by the F.B.I.'s highest-ranking official in Portland and an official from the United States attorney's office there, in what appeared to be a show of forced congeniality. City officials said in interviews that it was clear there was hostility between the F.B.I. special agent in charge in Portland, Robert J. Jordan, and the mayor, but that they had appeared to mend fences before the news conference.

Mr. Potter said that the city's law enforcement agencies would still cooperate with the F.B.I., although his officers, if the plan is approved, would report to the Police Department, not the F.B.I.

"I do not take this step lightly," Mr. Potter said at the news conference. "We're not severing our ties; we're only changing them."

The move by Mayor Potter is not the first time that Portland, which has often shown an independent streak, has clashed with the F.B.I. In November 2001, the Police Department announced that its officers would not cooperate with the government's efforts to interview thousands of Muslim men in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In a telephone interview after the news conference, Mr. Potter said his main rationale for this decision was that the F.B.I., in negotiations over the last several weeks, had refused to give him and his police chief the same top secret clearance given to the two officers on the antiterrorism task force. In negotiations, the bureau agreed to give the police chief clearance, officials said, but refused to give it to the mayor, who under Portland government tradition is also the police commissioner, with oversight over the department.

This angered Mr. Potter, he said, adding that his lack of security clearance would effectively render him unable to know, in highly classified investigations or other cases, what his own police officers were doing.

"It's important that I know what they know," the mayor said. "Because that is part of the oversight process. If there are things that I don't know that they know, there's always an opportunity for something to go wrong."

In brief remarks at the news conference, Mr. Jordan said: "We collectively have discussed many different proposals. I fully respect the mayor's right and responsibility to provide appropriate oversight of city police officers."

"I make the commitment to you, Mr. Mayor," Mr. Jordan added, "and to the citizens of Portland that we will continue to work with you and the Portland Police Bureau to protect the public's safety."

F.B.I. officials in Washington declined to comment on Mr. Potter's decision and his negotiations with the bureau, saying the situation was being handled by the local field office and Mr. Jordan, who, his office said yesterday, would be unavailable to comment further.

While Mr. Potter focused heavily in his announcement yesterday on the security clearance sticking points, he indicated he was also concerned about how the F.B.I., which last year wrongly arrested and detained a Muslim resident of a Portland suburb, Brandon Mayfield, and then apologized, was handling the protection of civil rights for area citizens in their antiterrorism efforts.

City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who drafted the resolution that would remove the officers from the task force, was more blunt about his concerns about the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act and how the F.B.I. was enforcing it, including its tactics in the high-profile Mayfield case.

"It would be disingenuous to say I have not been influenced by this kind of national sense - international, really - that we have taken this hard swing to the right in terms of guaranteeing personal freedoms of the citizens of this country," Mr. Leonard said.

Referring to the F.B.I., Mr. Leonard, a former Portland fire department lieutenant, added, "We as a city are not ceding over our police officers to them."

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman - there are four commissioners, and the mayor also has a vote on the Council - had not made up his mind yet, pending a review of the agreement between the city and the F.B.I., his chief of staff, Jeff Cogen, said yesterday. But it appeared likely the mayor would secure a majority.

"The commissioner was disappointed that the city and the F.B.I. were unable to reach agreement," Mr. Cogen said. "But he knows the negotiations were done in good faith."

Janine Robben contributed reporting from Portland, Ore., for this article.