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In or out? Portland debates return to anti-terror task force

By STEVEN DUBOIS

Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — The state's top federal prosecutor told Portland leaders they're either in or out when it comes to participating in an FBI-led anti-terrorism task force.

For those who heard U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall's words at a public forum, the choice is an easy one.

“We need to be the city that takes a stand and stays out — all out,” Portland resident Jason Kafoury told the City Council late Thursday.

Ten years ago, Portland became the first city to remove its police officers from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and it remains the only major city that does not fully participate. Every FBI field office in the country has a terrorism task force, comprising federal agents and local law enforcement officers.

Portland rejoined on a limited, as-needed basis in 2011. Mayor Charlie Hales says the arrangement is unsatisfactory, and the council will decide Feb. 19 whether to abandon the task force or assign two police officers to work with it full time.

The city withdrew in 2005 after federal officials refused to grant top-secret clearance to then-Mayor Tom Potter, who said he had to ensure that city officers obey Oregon laws barring police from investigating people because of their religious or political ties.

The issue of civilian oversight remains a sticking point, with the FBI denying clearance for Hales.

Marshall, however, urged city leaders to look beyond that, saying a full-time partnership between federal agents and city police is vital to connecting the dots of a potential attack and thwarting it.

“There is no half-in and half-out,” she said. “There is ‘in’ or ‘out.’”

Police Chief Larry O'Dea, meanwhile, tried to sell the idea by saying the presence of city officers would help bring “Portland values” to FBI investigations.

Opponents said Portland officers were more likely to adopt FBI values.

The task force now includes officers from the Oregon State Police, Port of Portland and Washington County sheriff's office. City Commissioner Nick Fish asked if there's evidence they have violated Oregon law in their anti-terror work.

“I would hope not,” said David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “But the point is we have no way of knowing because those agencies are subject to the FBI rules and the FBI rules keep everything secret.”

Hales told Fidanque the possibility of a Boston Marathon-style terror attack has cost him sleep. He asked if there's a way to make a city and task force partnership work.

Fidanque replied by asking Hales if he wants to align himself with an agency that treats everyone as a suspect, amasses huge amounts of data on law-abiding citizens and yet couldn't stop the Boston bombing.

“Do you think those are the tactics that are going to make this country as safe as can be, or do you believe there should be someone that adopts a different strategy?” he said. “Up to now Portland has been that jurisdiction that has said: ‘No, there is a better way.’”

More than two dozen people signed up to speak during Thursday's comment period, and all wanted the city out of the task force.

Among them was Brandon Mayfield, the Portland lawyer wrongly linked by the FBI to the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

Many speakers, including Mayfield, criticized the FBI's role in what they considered the entrapment of Mohamed Mohamud. The Somali-American teenager was arrested in a 2010 plot to detonate a bomb at the lighting of the city Christmas tree. The bomb was a fake supplied by undercover agents as part of a sting operation. Mohamud was later sentenced to 30 years in prison.

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