As you'll read in today's paper (online later today, in newsboxes right now!), Mayor Charlie Hales has explained why the FBI decided not to give him a "secret" security clearance—a key provision in the controversial 2011 arrangement that partly rejoined the city with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. That issue flared up in the face of the latest annual report tracking the police bureau's case-by-case work with the JTTF.
In comments given to the Mercury outside his office Friday, March 21, Hales blamed the FBI’s former Portland boss, Gregory Fowler. He repeated those comments in city council this morning.
“He believed this stuff was on a need to know basis,” Hales said, calling the city's half-in, half-out relationship with the feds "half-baked." “And I didn’t need to know. That was very frustrating.”
That's a small but significant issue for the police commissioner. Hales, without that clearance, doesn't have access to the same information as his subordinates, Chief Mike Reese and his subordinates. Civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon assented to the JTTF work because of the promise of reasonable civilian oversight.
Hales says he's hoping to meet with the new special agent in charge and that he expects to try again at receiving clearance. He also says he feels he's been "adequately" briefed so far. He's "satisfied" in the short term, he says, even though he's not quite feeling that way over the long term.
“One, there’s little engagement by the Portland Police Bureau," Hales told me. "And two, the work that is going on between the FBI and Portland Police Bureau is appropriate.… I can live with this half-baked arrangement.”
In council, Commissioner Amanda Fritz—notably critical of the skimpy reports the police bureau has given on its JTTF work—told Hales that "it's beyond frustrating you don't have access to information your bureau chief does.:
"I agree," Hales says.
He followed with a reminder about his record of opposition to the JTTF. He cast the first vote against the arrangement, well before the city pulled out in 2005. He also expressed deep skepticism about the arrangement last year.
"You know my history on the subject," Hales says. "We'll see if that arrangement can be revised."
Fritz was accommodating but suggested Hales could take a bolder step if he wanted: "If it can't, there may be a majority of council who would support you in withdrawing from this."
"I understand that," Hales says.
This all has the attention of US Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall. She told me she’s “completely motivated” to solve what she calls a “real disconnect” between the city and the FBI “on what it is the JTTF does.” She still wants Portland all the way in, not half out. She's optimistic Hales can get his clearance—or at least feel better about things.
“I have offered to the mayor, personally, and to his staff, on more than one occasion,” Marshall says, “to sit down and bring folks from the FBI and JTTF to try to help to build that understanding and trust, which I feel is pretty lacking.”