February 06, 2005

(Updated) Exclusive: What You Don't Know About The Joint Terrorism Task Force

Possible 'Withdrawal' Might Not Be What You Think

Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post.

Should the City Council vote to "withdraw" from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Portland Police Bureau could continue to assign officers to that Task Force, Portland Communique has learned.

At the center of this apparent contradiction is a misconception about the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) commonly understood to govern Portland's participation in the controversial JTTF. That MoU, we now understand, in fact governs not the assignment of Portland officers to the Task Force, but the agreement through which more formal arrangements for such participation are made if deemed necessary.

We began looking into why the Portland Police Bureau continued to have officers assigned to the Task Force despite the September 30, 2004, expiration of the most recent MoU (pdf) after a reader asked if the JTTF now was operating in violation of its agreement.

In the early stages of our investigation, it had appeared that absent the written consent of all parties to the MoU temporarily extending its expiration, the continued assignment of officers to the Task Force over the past four months would have been unauthorized. If true, that requirement might have spelled trouble for the Bureau, because such written consent, according a staffer for the Mayor's office familiar with police issues, did not appear to exist.

As it turned out, such written modification of the MoU is not required in order for Portland officers to continue on assignment to the JTTF, because the MoU itself is not required for that purpose.

In reality, officers of the Portland Police Bureau almost routinely are given multi-jurisdictional assignments, or assigned to multi-jurisdictional task forces, at the sole discretion of Chief Derrick Foxworth as part of his general authority to assign officers as he sees fit, to the "benefit of the City". Such cross-designation of officers rises to the level of requiring City Council action only if ancillary issues -- such as funding, equipment, or specific policy considerations -- come into play.

This previously-undiscussed aspect of how the JTTF functions potentially throws a monkeywrench into indications that City Council may be prepared to vote against authorizing a new Memorandum of Understanding. And the commonly-held misconception about the involvement of Portland officers exposes a glaring problem with the withdrawal debate, caused by one of those very ancillary issues: Oversight.

If City Council declines to renew the Memorandum of Understanding, the result could be the continued assignment of Portland officers to the JTTF under Foxworth's "benefit of the City" authority, with absolutely no civilian oversight at all. Currently, such oversight -- even as arguably ineffective as it is -- is a policy of the Memorandum itself.

As a result, withdrawal from the JTTF as it is normally debated is not as simple as it's always been presented.

If members of the City Council indeed support such a withdrawal, they will need to do more than simply refrain from approving a new MoU. They also would have to expressly ensure that the Portland Police Bureau not assign any officers to the Task Force.

So what does this mean for the three members of City Council who have expressed varying degrees of concern or opposition to the JTTF?

"I am worried that the JTTF MoU that apparently expired sometime back does not seem to be causing a need for a renewal to continue the Portland Police Bureau's participation in the JTTF," said Commissioner Randy Leonard, the only member of the Council thus far to firmly and publicly commit to voting against authorizing a new Memorandum.

Leonard now says he is considering submitting his own resolution which would set two conditions on the participation of any Portland police officers in the Task Force: Any officer assigned to the JTTF must not have security clearances higher than security clearances given the Mayor and Police Chief; and the City must be reimbursed for all costsĀ of any officer assigned to the JTTF.

That resolution would come separately from consideration of the new MoU itself. If it were adopted, officers could not be assigned to the Task Force by Chief Foxworth without those conditions being met -- regardless of the status of any Memorandum of Understanding.

Leonard added that he wanted to wait to discuss with Mayor Tom Potter any conversations that have been conducted with the FBI on the matter of the Task Force.

In recent months, Commissioner Sam Adams has stated that he would vote against a new MoU unless granted oversight clearance, while Commissioner Erik Sten has reiterated concerns over the JTTF which he has expressed in the past, but has not yet committed to voting either way. As of the publication of this item, we had not obtained comment from Adams or Sten on how this new information might affect their approach to the JTTF.

"It makes sense to me that the Council should adopt a resolution such as I am contemplating," Leonard said, "so that if PPB is participating with the JTTF regardless of the fact that the Council has not agreed to a successor MoU, the two conditions that I would require must be met before any type of relationship with the JTTF could occur."

February 07, 2005


Comment in earlier this afternoon from Commissioner Sten, who said that while it seems that technically Chief Foxworth could assign officers at will, he would be surprised ("practically and politically") if he chose to do so.

"I'd imagine Council could pass some sort of separate action stopping him from taking part, but I would be surprised if that would be necessary," Sten said. "I have spoken with Chief Foxworth during my due dilegence and I believe he is comfortable doing whatever the Council wishes."

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Comments (13)

  1. Sid Anderson on 06 Feb 2005

    Good work, Communique!

  2. William on 06 Feb 2005

    Thanks, b!X, for doing the digging!

    Call me a skeptic, but based upon their deceptions of recent years past, I can't help but think that the Portland FBI was hoping we'd never learn about this. Maybe your work has just played a huge role in getting proper oversight.

  3. Jack Peek on 07 Feb 2005

    Half-measures against terrorists will leave their grievances intact, fueled by the hope of future victory. Full- measures will not redress those grievances, but it will convince them that pursuing terror is a prescription for certain defeat".

    Good job BIX: local radical Muslims who might lean in the direction of blowing away a few of us really thank you and Randy Leonard.(Not forgetting Eric either)

  4. myrln on 07 Feb 2005

    Once again, Bix and his readers (with one notable exception who shall go nameless), by not yawning their way into reporting what's what or going lockstep into the issues, ask the questions the rest of the media can't even think of much less ask. Good going.

  5. sts on 07 Feb 2005

    I can't thank you enough. Renewing the contract is bad for the people of Portland and for a future free and democratic state. Knowing these new details on how the federal government works to further militarize our daily lives through bureaucracy only gives law abiding citizens more ammunition to fight the quiet side of tyranny. Whether or not the contract is renewed there is still much work to do.

  6. LynnS on 07 Feb 2005

    Bravo, b!x. Well done indeed.

  7. Gary Marschke on 07 Feb 2005

    I'm especially appreciative of the update as I was wondering why we were so concerned about what Chief Foxworth might do. I too would be surprised if he did anything contrary to the wishes of the Council.

  8. The One True b!X on 07 Feb 2005

    The issue for me is that we're not supposed to assume, we're supposed to ensure. Nation of laws, not of men, and all that.

    If the Council ends up desiring a new JTTF policy, and chooses to withdraw, they need to also specify more than just not renewing the MoU. They can't just leave the option open in the background.

  9. William on 07 Feb 2005

    "They can't just leave the option open in the background." I strongly agree. Things that I'm comfortable about with Potter and Foxworth might not sit so well with some future leaders.

    I would prefer, however, that Foxworth, Potter, and ideally a couple others, were given Top Secret clearance and the JTTF were kept in place. But the Feds have already said they won't let that happen. If the JTTF is dissolved, and Leonard passes a new policy, I have a small degree of concern that officers who are working on Secret level cases will also work on Top Secret, since they know Potter and Foxworth won't have access to the records.

  10. The One True b!X on 07 Feb 2005

    Thanks to the wonders of text-to-speech, here is comment #3 by Jack Peek in mp3 format.

  11. John Bartley K7AAY on 08 Feb 2005

    Good, solid reportage the likes of which the 'professional' media of Portland should contemplate.

  12. JACK PEEK on 12 Feb 2005

    What will it take??? another 911??

    There is too much evidence of terror cells in this country, But not here, so we just ignore it and it will all go away.

    All you people know is Bush won and GORE "n" Kerry lost and the "BIG WAVE" in the eastern sea area's have to be "W"'s fault.

  13. The One True b!X on 12 Feb 2005

    As per the new policy, comment #12, from Jack Peek, in mp3 form via text-to-speech.

Trackbacks (1)

  1. b!X on JTTF on 07 Feb 2005

    Anyone following or interested in the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the City Council's plan to demand oversight should read b!X's latest piece on the issue, "What You Don't Know About The Joint Terrorism Task Force". It seems the requirements...