Oakland Police tight-lipped on role in Joint Terrorism Task Force

By Ali Winston on KALW Informant

Oakland Police are keeping their cards close to their chest about the department’s participation in the Bay Area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Northern California’s multi-agency counter-terrorism team headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Oakland Police are keeping their cards close to their chest about the department’s participation in the Bay Area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Northern California’s multi-agency counter-terrorism team headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Oakland Assistant Chief of Police Howard Jordan canceled a Tuesday interview on the JTTF with the Informant late last night, citing “internal policy decisions” as the reason for OPD opting not to speak on their role in the task force.

The interview was to focus on a Memorandum of Understanding between OPD and the FBI, reauthorizing the department’s participation in the JTTF. The current MOU, signed in 2007 by then-Chief of Police Wayne Tucker and Charlene B. Thornton, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco field office at the time, was released to the Informant earlier this month in response to a Public Records Act request. The MOU will continue “indenfinitely” until it is updated or Oakland opts out of the JTTF.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Asian Law Caucus have both been leading efforts to raise public awareness about the activity of the Bay Area JTTF, and filed suit against the FBI last August over what they say is heavy-handed surveillance of local Muslim communities. ACLU-Norcal and the Asian Law Caucus have met twice with members of the San Francisco Police Department regarding SFPD’s participation in the JTTF – but they have not been able to sit down with OPD staff. Both organizations are urging Oakland Police to publicly re-negotiate the MOU along the same lines as Portland, Oregon, which recently chose to re-enter the Oregon JTTF on a case-by-case basis after months of public hearings and negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Among their concerns is oversight of the local police officers who participate. It’s unclear if any OPD managers have the appropriate security clearance to access information about officers’ roles in the JTTF. According to the Oakland MOU:

“Each Participating Agency fully understands that its personnel detailed to the JTTF are not permitted to discuss official JTTF business with supervisors who are not members of the JTTF unless the supervisor possesses the appropriate security clearance and the dissemination or discussion is specifically approved by the FBI JTTF Supervisor.”

Furthermore, there are tight restrictions on who have access to information about the JTTF within OPD and the city administration. According to the MOU, high-level security clearances are required for access to information pertaining to the JTTF:

“State, local and tribal members of the JTTFs, as well as appropriate supervisory personnel responsible for these individuals, must apply for and receive a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) Security Clearance granted by the FBI… Pursuant to federal law, JTTF members are strictly forbidden from disclosing any classified information to individuals who do not possess the appropriate security clearance and the need to know.”

These regulations, according to Asian Law Caucus Staff Attorney Veena Dubal, effectively shield OPD’s JTTF Task Force Officer, Jad Jadallah, from oversight by his own department and Oakland’s civilian administration. Jadallah is deputized as a federal agent and works closely with federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the United States Secret Service. His salary is paid by Oakland.

Oakland would also theoretically be held liable for any lawsuits filed against Jadallah or other OPD members serving as part of the JTTF.

Federal and local regulations differ on when a law enforcement officer is allowed to investigate a civilian.

“Even if police officers are told they have to follow their own rules, their day-to-day oversight happens at the FBI,” said Veena Dubal, an attorney with Asian Law Caucus.

According to Dubal, Jadallah has been the subject of complaints from Oakland’s Muslim community. The ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Asian Law Caucus have received several complaints about Jadallah’s questioning of members of the Yemeni community and his attempts to develop informants in mosques and community centers.

“Jadallah’s conduct is well known in the Arab community,” said Dubal. “However, this is not about him – it’s about the laws and lack of regulations he has to follow.”

According to a set of guidelines for intelligence gathering issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, federal agents are allowed to conduct “threat assessments” of potential terrorist activity even if no crime has been committed.

Sgt. Chris Bolton, Chief Batts’ chief of staff, said OPD’s policies required “reasonable suspicion” in order to conduct investigations. Departmental policies regarding intelligence gathering apply to Jadallah as well: “our police officers are bound by that policy.” Bolton said. Bolton also stated that the Chief of Police and the immediate supervisors of the intelligence unit have access to JTTF-related information.

Julie Sohn, a spokesperson for the FBI’s San Francisco field office, says individual agencies are free to comment on their participation in the JTTF at their own discretion. “We want people to be aware of this,” Sohn said of the JTTF. Stephanie Douglas, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office, issued a statement affirming that FBI investigations were conducted “in compliance with the Constitution, the laws of the United States, the Attorney General Guidelines, the Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide, and all other FBI policies.” Because police officers like Jadallah are “de facto federal agents,” Douglas wrote, “JTTF TFOs [task force officers] are required to operate under federal laws and policies.”

There will be a meeting between OPD, the City Council and the FBI tomorrow regarding the city’s participation in the JTTF. The Informant has learned that at least one council member harbors serious doubts about the need to commit scare OPD resources to the JTTF while the department is steadily shrinking.

San Francisco is also reviewing the SFPD’s role in the JTTF. A joint Police Commission/Human Rights Commission hearing will take place tomorrow at 5:30 PM in Room 250 at San Francisco City Hall.

We will bring you more on this issue as it unfolds this week.