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FBI Letter: Hales Did Not Need Classified Information On JTTF

OPB | March 28, 2014 1:27 p.m. | Updated: June 25, 2014 2:43 p.m.

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A letter sent by the FBI last April confirms Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ account of why he was denied a security clearance last year.

Mayor Hales, who has oversight over the Portland Police Bureau, requested secret-level clearance so he could receive briefings on the work of two city officers with the Criminal Investigations unit who work an undisclosed number of hours with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The FBI and the Portland Police Bureau have disclosed little to the City Council about the work of the JTTF, and the police chief’s latest annual report revealed only that city police had helped the task force investigate at least one case of suspected terrorism.

In a city council meeting this week, Hales said his request was denied because the FBI didn’t agree he needed access to classified information. “I can say that it was not my college activities,” Hales said. “It was on a need-to-know basis, and in their opinion I do not need to know.”

In fact, in a letter sent to Hales April 26 2013, the FBI Special Agent in Charge in Portland, Gregory Alan Fowler, said that while the agency grants clearances to local law enforcement officers and their supervisors participating in its terrorism task force, it does not do the same for elected officials.

“It is not common practice to provide security clearances for local elected officials. In fact, very few local elected officials hold a security clearance,” Fowler wrote.

Mayor Hales’ office provided the letter to OPB.

FBI Letter Re: Request for Security Clearance

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Fowler provided no further explanation as to why Mayor Hales’ request for a clearance was denied. However, in the letter, he appeared to take offense at comments Hales made during an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“Your public statements during an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting on March 26, 2013 cause me to question your historic perception and understanding of the mission of the FBI’s JTTF and the FBI’s dedication to public safety, crime prevention, and civil liberties,” Fowler wrote.

In the OPB interview in question, Hales said he was wary of the city police getting entangled in federal anti-terrorism cases, and pointed out that he’d voted against joining the JTTF as a member of the city council.

“Of course, I want to cooperate with the federal government and there are many times when the police Bureau and the FBI do cooperate, but I also want us to be a bastion of civil liberties in this city,” he said at the time.

The FBI would not say whether the mayors of other west coast cities including Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco, have received clearances. According to a report from the Director of National Intelligence, nearly 5 million government employees and contractors have a security clearance.

Hales said that he will apply again for a clearance after Gregory T. Bretzing takes over as Portland’s new Special Agent in Charge on March 31. The mayor says he’s willing to take a wait-and-see approach to getting a clearance because Police Chief Mike Reese, who holds a secret-level clearance, has assured him that the officers assigned to the terrorism task force aren’t heavily involved with the FBI’s work.

Portland Police officers who work with the JTTF are required to receive  training from the City Attorney on two Oregon statutes which ban the police from gathering information on people’s political, religious, and social views and which ban state law enforcement agencies from searching for and arresting people based solely on their immigration status. In his annual report, Chief Reese states that the officers working with the FBI have complied with the state’s laws.

Members of the council will vote on whether or not to accept Reese’s report next Wednesday.

In 2005, Portland was the first city in the United States to pull out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The city’s police began participating again in 2011.

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