George Pfromm II
Each year, city council must vote on whether to reauthorize the Joint Terrorism Task Force--an agreement that joins forces between federal and local enforcement agents. Two years ago, that vote was one of the most contentious public hearings this side of the city budget. At the time, the horror and shock from the September 11 terrorism attacks had begun to ebb and frustrations over intrusive policing into political activity were beginning to mount. City Hall filled to the brim with both civil rights attorneys and dreadlocked activists who were there to express concerns about what they called the force's Gestapo-like powers. They shouted and cheered and were gaveled into silence a dozen times by Mayor Vera Katz.

Yet in spite of overwhelming public testimony against the Task Force that year, city council voted unanimously to approve the agreement. But now, with the Task Force showing its greatest vulnerability since September 11, public interest in unraveling the Task Force seems to have dropped off the radar screen.

Reportedly, the annual reauthorization vote will occur later this month. The public hearing date, which is supposed to occur annually in September or October, is not yet posted on the city's calendar, although the mayor's spokesperson believes that the vote will occur on Wednesday, October 27. (A spokesperson from the ACLU thought the vote may occur on October 21.) There are not even any postings on IndyMedia about the approaching vote; only two years ago, IndyMedia helped to rally troops to fill the council chambers and provide personal stories about experiences with heavy-handed law enforcement.

Portland has a remarkable opportunity to become a true agent for change and constraint on the Task Force. At the very least, city council could redefine its rules and set new precedents for oversight of the agency's daily operations--which, in spite of assurances for more accountability, remain largely shrouded in mystery.

Originally formed by the FBI in 1980, the Task Force was largely a stealth force across the country until September 11. Since then, the Task Force has more than doubled to a formidable army of 2,300 local and federal agents in 66 cities and towns across the nation. And with the USA Patriot Act, the Task Force has grown in confidence and has been given even more surveillance allowances.

However, not everyone has been throwing their full support behind the Task Force. Last summer, it was discovered that a federal agent from the Task Force had infiltrated and was spying on an anti-war group in Fresno, California. And during last year's hearing to reauthorize the Task Force here in Portland, council members Randy Leonard and Erik Sten spoke up with concerns about the lack of oversight. The year before, then-police chief Mark Kroeker stated he did not have clearance to review Task Force files. But at last year's council hearing, that information was revealed to be false when new police chief Derrick Foxworth said he was applying for security clearance and permission to review files. Leonard and Sten said they would vote for reauthorization--but only with the assurance that both the mayor and police chief received their clearance within three months.

This year, Sten is not so sure. "I could see voting against it this year," Sten stated. "For years I've been a Task Force supporter who is not convinced that he's right."

Sten's doubt grew when, earlier this summer, the FBI arrested Brandon Mayfield, a local attorney who has represented Muslim clients. The FBI stated they had Mayfield's fingerprints linked to a train bombing in Madrid that killed hundreds. After three weeks of imprisonment, that information turned out to be patently false.

Given the elusiveness of the Task Force, it is not clear exactly how much involvement Portland police had in Mayfield's false arrest. A month ago, the ACLU requested that the mayor's office find an answer to that question. They have yet to receive any answers.

To help persuade a majority of city council to vote for the city to opt out of the Task Force, contact Sten at 823-3589 or Dan Saltzman, who has shown sympathy towards civil liberty concerns, at 823-4151. Leonard says that he is leaning towards voting against the Task Force.