Portland City Council accepted a public report Wednesday from the Police Bureau detailing its officers’ work with the FBI on counter-terrorism. But members of the public - and some council members - expressed doubts about the value of the document itself.
This report, like last year’s, doesn’t include many details. For instance, it doesn’t say how many terrorism cases Portland police worked on with the FBI. And even though a city employee was charged with providing money and other material support for a terrorist attack in Pakistan, there’s no way to know if or how or city police assisted. Police say those details could compromise their work.
“I spent some time last night trying to shuffle through the report,” said Kasey Jama, head of the Center for Intercultural Organizing.
A Somali native, Jama is critical of the FBI’s techniques prosecuting cases like the sting operation that led to the conviction of Mohamed Mohamud for a terrorist plot.
“My question has not been answered, it actually created more fear,” Jama said. “I’m not confident this relationship is going to be more open… my request for you is we need it to stop, we need to not accept this report, and re-examine our relationship with FBI.”
Jama was involved in discussions that led to the city’s withdrawal from the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2005. In 2011, council voted unanimously to bring city officers back in the loop. But the bureau had to follow certain conditions, like filing this yearly report.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz told city attorneys she also felt there was not enough information. “So if you can have that information without having security clearance, why can’t I?”
Activist Sarah Hobbs found the situation troubling.
“What’s been said, and I agree with, is don’t spill beans to the public, I get that,” Hobbs said. “But the fact that Commissioner Fritz is standing in front of us saying, ‘Why can’t I have this information?’ is distressing.”
Dave Worboril with the Portland City Attorney’s office said he’s seen unredacted information about police staffers’ work with the FBI, and is satisfied officers were true to both city code and Oregon’s Constitution.
Commissioner Steve Novick said he felt the report was not very illuminating, and asked Police Chief Mike Reese about it: “Do you think this report really serves much of a purpose?”
Reese’s response: “It complies with the council resolution that allowed our participation on a case-by-case basis.”
Novick: “But doesn’t this, in effect, say, ‘We’re complying with the resolution?’ Do you think there’s really a point to having to come before us every year and saying, ‘We’re complying with the resolution?’ “
Reese: “That was council’s direction and I believe there is an oversight component to it that the mayor and the city attorney can speak to as well.”
When it was Mayor Charlie Hales turn to cast a vote on the report, he expressed reservations. But he wound up voting for it.
“I’m prepared to accept it, and give everyone the assurance that I and the rest of this council - all of whom believe deeply in civil liberties - that work will continue,” Hales said.
The final vote to accept the report was 3-2, with Fritz and Novick in dissent.