PORTLAND, FBI UNIT TO PART WAYS - TOP
Tomas Alex Tizon, Los Angeles Times, 4/28/05
PORTLAND, Ore. - This city is expected today to become the first in
the nation to pull out of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, following
a series of disagreements between Portland leaders and federal
Mayor Tom Potter and several city commissioners, frustrated by the
FBI's refusal to grant them full access to classified information, say
the withdrawal will signal Portland's commitment to the protection of
individual civil rights.
High-profile cases such as the detention of Muslim lawyer Brandon
Mayfield, who was wrongfully arrested last year as a suspect in the
Madrid train bombings, prompted city leaders to request more oversight
of Portland officers involved in the group.
The move, predicted to pass by a 4-1 vote of the City Council, would
make official what has been anticipated for months at City Hall. Some
fear the decision might encourage other cities to follow suit.
"I hope other cities do start asking questions," said Randy Leonard, a
Portland city commissioner and chief backer of the withdrawal. "It's
important for cities to know how their police officers are being used.
Here in Portland, we are not willing to give up individual liberties
in order to have a perception of safety."
The FBI heads 100 of the task forces across the country -- teams made
up of federal, state and local law enforcement agents working together
to prevent terrorist attacks. The task force in Portland, formed in
1997, was responsible for the convictions last year of six local
residents who conspired against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The two
city police officers who have served as part of the team will be
Critics say Portland's withdrawal could make the region more
vulnerable to terrorist attack.
"Portland is a hub city," said Rob Drake, mayor of neighboring
Beaverton. "If you take Portland out, it's basically a hole in the
doughnut, and that hole could represent a gap in communication and
"The primary lesson of 9/11 was that we need greater coordination,
greater sharing of information between federal and state and local
agencies," said John R. Kroger, an assistant U.S. attorney in New York
at the time of the terrorist attacks. Kroger teaches criminal law at
Lewis & Clark University law school here.
"The decision to pull Portland out takes us in the opposite
direction," Kroger said. "We're not tearing down the walls [between
government agencies]. We're building them back even higher."
Kroger criticized the FBI's handling of the Mayfield case, but the
answer for Portland wasn't "to pick up your marbles and go home."
Mayfield, a Portland-area lawyer and convert to Islam, was linked --
via a single fingerprint -- to the terrorist bombings that killed 191
people in Spain last year. He spent two weeks in detention before
Spanish authorities informed the FBI that the incriminating print did
not belong to him. The FBI called it a technical error and cleared the
lawyer, who is suing the federal government.
Mayfield has said the FBI conducted illegal "sneak and peek" searches,
in which agents broke into his house and gathered information without
the proper authority.
"Why is the FBI so afraid of oversight?" Mayfield's lawyer, Gerry
Spence, said in a phone interview from Santa Barbara. "If what they're
doing is legal and proper, why should they be afraid of the mayor
wanting to know what's going on in his city?" (MORE)
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