Aaron Renier
With eyes glazed over from boredom, the small crowd at the city council meeting last Wednesday barely flinched when a sudden plot twist came into full view. As expected, city council voted unanimously to reauthorize the Joint Terrorism Task Force; a controversial agreement allowing local law enforcement officers to work and share notes with federal agents. But before the vote, it was revealed that--contrary to previous testimony--both the police chief and the mayor could have access to the surveillance files that are kept by Task Force members.

The issue of who has oversight over the Task Force has been a troubling point for local activists. In the past, it has been publicly acknowledged that no one--besides the select law enforcement agents--had access to those files. "No one" included the police officers' very bosses--the police chief and the mayor. Essentially, with no one to watch over them and no one to answer to, the members of the Task Force are free to do as they please--a concept that spooks activists into worrying that files are being amassed against them. (This notion isn't as paranoid as it sounds. Last month, an antiwar organization in Fresno, discovered that a Task Force member had infiltrated their group.)

Then, on Wednesday, with no collective gasps from the crowd of activists at council's chambers, we were suddenly told thatÉ oops, this wasn't quite the case.

Last year, when the Task Force was up for its annual renewal, council member Erik Sten had voiced concerns about the lack of oversight. At the time, he pressed then-chief Mark Kroeker for more information about exactly who could review Task Force files and activities. Several times, Sten asked point-blank whether the mayor or city attorney could have such access. He was told neither had access to this information.

However, Sten was assured the Task Force would look into providing access to Senator Ron Wyden. That promise turned out to be a red herring, as Wyden was never provided such access.

The issue is particularly keen because Oregon law demands that law enforcement files be available for review every three months, and any information not pertaining to criminal activity must be purged.

The first indication of deception came early during the council's meeting, when new police chief Derrick Foxworth announced that he had applied for National Security Administration clearance. Katz lightheartedly announced that she too had been invited by Special Agent Jordan--the FBI's representative at Wednesday's meeting--to apply for NSA clearance. She remarked it was a lot of paperwork and was still sitting on her desk.

Those comments came within the first minutes of the council's afternoon meeting, and it took more than an hour for the full scope of the information to fully dawn on council members. If Foxworth can have access, why didn't former chief Kroeker? Wasn't Katz denied this very access a year ago? Why is she eligible for it now? Had Kroeker lied?

Almost 90 minutes after these revelations were first mentioned, Sten began to push harder for details. Soon, council member Randy Leonard joined in. At one point, he leaned across the council's podium and faced the mayor, saying there could be oversight, "if the mayor ever finishes her paperwork."

Later, Leonard turned his attention to Chief Foxworth, wondering out loud what other law enforcement secrets were being withheld. "Are there other activities the mayor isn't aware of?" he asked. "Now's the time [to mention them]!"

Special Agent Jordan responded by assuring the council that the FBI keeps the mayor briefed on security concerns. Leonard retorted that he was worried that such briefings remain completely at the FBI's discretion. For the normally demure city council, these were all-out fireworks.

But, regardless of the impassioned speech by Sten regarding deficiencies in oversight, he joined Leonard and the other council members voting in favor of renewing the Task Force--as long as "the mayor and the chief apply for security clearance." It could take three months before the paperwork is processed--and even then it is not guaranteed that either will be given clearance.