George Pfromm II
The wait is over: After months of delays and quiet negotiating, city council is finally scheduled to make a move on the Joint Terrorism Task Force--the agreement that allows local police to work with federal agents. For the past year, the central debate over the Task Force has been whether the mayor and police chief should have unfettered access to the notes, files, and activities of the police officers who have been asked to spy on Portland residents. But the FBI has routinely rebuffed these repeated requests for more transparency. Effectively, they expect us to simply trust that they won't abuse our civil rights.

However, city council member Randy Leonard--true to his bulldog reputation--has refused to let the matter drop. And over the past month, Leonard found an ally in the new mayor, Tom Potter.

On Wednesday, Mayor Potter introduced a resolution demanding more accountability for the police officers involved with the Task Force. Specifically, the resolution requires that the police chief, the city attorney and the commissioner in charge of the police bureau have the same security clearance as the police officers involved. While such a request may seem reasonable, it is a bold move that essentially strips the Task Force of its cloak of secrecy.

Not only does the resolution mandate access and "appropriate supervision," but it also requires that the commissioner overseeing the police bureau be admitted as a member of any group or committee overseeing the policies and actions of the Task Force. That request effectively would turn the Task Force into the partnership between local and federal officials that it was intended to be in the first place.

While such requests may seem tame (and reasonable), the resolution--if approved by council--sets Portland apart from every other city in the nation: Ever since the terrorism attacks on the World Trade Center, city councils around the country have simply rubberstamped Task Force agreements and blindly handed over local police officers and investigations into alleged terrorists to the command of federal agents. Until a year ago in Portland, neither the mayor nor the police chief had any real access or knowledge regarding the actions of the officers involved.

When the vote to reauthorize the Task Force came in front of city council in October 2003, both Leonard and Erik Sten hinted they would not approve it unless the mayor received some sort of security clearance. Eventually, those requests were granted, but the resulting security clearances only allowed very limited access and oversight; whatever information was shared was largely at the officers' discretion.

But now, Portland city council is poised to stand up and question the federal authorities, making it the first city in the nation to express genuine reservations with the Task Force arrangement--and demanding to be treated as full partners.

It's important to note that the mayor's office and city council members are not requesting that local police officers withdraw from the Task Force. They are simply asking for more accessibility to the officer's activities and Task Force's operations.

That request places the ball squarely in the FBI's court. The FBI can grant the request and continue the Task Force, or they can refuse security clearances to the mayor, police chief, and city attorney. However, this would inevitably beg the question: What does the FBI have to hide?

The resolution is bound to create friction with the local chapter of the FBI, and with Portland's more conservative element. Over the past few months, as the Task Force agreement has languished, Special Agent Robert Jordan tried to stir up concern about impeding terrorist attacks, telling the Portland Tribune and OPB that there may be Islamic fundamentalists living amongst us who "took vows to kills Americans." (Of course, he was unable to provide any specifics.) Moreover, the Oregonian editorial board has routinely published pieces lambasting the mayor and council members for wanting security clearances, saying that city officials should simply trust--and defer--to federal agents, regardless of how it may affect our civil rights.

The resolution is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, March 30.