Peeping Toms 

City Council Kisses Up to Task Force

Last Wednesday, 55 activists, run-of-the-mill citizens, and middle-of-the-road political organizers outlined their concerns about an ongoing collaborative effort between the FBI and local police, known as the Terrorism Task Force. Many fear the Task Force is being used more to monitor local political organizations, rather than to chase down bad guys.

Each year, City Council must re-authorize the agreement that permits the Task Force. Last year, that hearing landed just a few weeks after 9/11, when many were still jittery. But this year, in spite of efforts by Police Chief Mark Kroeker to raise the haunting specter of burning World Trade Center buildings, the vast majority attending the hearing expressed disbelief about the Task Force's validity and abilities.

Council chambers were packed to the rafters with protesters and angry citizens. At times the mood was confrontational, but mostly those who testified against the Task Force were reasonable about their requests. The primary concern raised was that the Task Force has no oversight committee. Under current procedures, City Council members may not examine what information the Task Force has gathered and may not question who the agents are targeting for monitoring.

As the first to argue against the Task Force, Andrea Meyer from the ACLU made a heartfelt and forceful plea. She didn't ask that City Council dissolve the Task Force; instead she requested a procedure for a committee to review--and, if necessary, purge--the Task Force's files. As she spoke, about two dozen people held up the front page of the Portland Tribune, which has run an ongoing series revealing that local police have historically and routinely maintained covert files on political activists.

In spite of swelling their ranks from 11 to 40 agents since 9/11, the Task Force has failed to produce many results. At the city council meeting, agents pointed to the arrest of four eco-terrorists who burned logging trucks. They also talked about efforts to monitor bridges last October when an unspecified threat on West Coast bridges was reported. (Kroeker implied that because the Hawthorne Bridge is still standing, they had done their job correctly.)

Advocates for the Task Force also tried to tie eco-terrorists' attacks against property like logging trucks to broader threats against civilians. At one point, Kroeker tastelessly flashed from a slide of charred logging truck to a slide of a burning World Trade Center building. Many in the audience groaned and booed.

For four hours, there was overwhelming testimony against the Task Force. Only 13 argued for City Council to continue the agreement--many were employed by the police or the FBI--while 55 testified against re-authorization.

Yet, City Council members voted 4-0 favoring the Task Force, as if the re-authorization was a foregone conclusion. During the vote, shouts and boos were almost deafening. Demonstrators called the group "fascists" and a "kangaroo council."

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