On May 31, 2020, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr issued a statement declaring that he was sending the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to Portland, Oregon to protect a federal courthouse. Protesters had tagged the building with graffiti. Barr referred to many protesters as “violent radical agitators.” Then he stated, “To identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners, federal law enforcement is using our existing network of 56 regional FBI-JTTFs.” He added that the actions of these protesters were “domestic terrorism.”
And that is all it takes to get your city invaded by a variety of federal agencies acting as one united national police force.
JTTF was established in 1980 but the one we see today was designed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in response to the difficulties agencies encountered in their response. It was designed to be used in events that are comparable to the 9/11 disaster. After the attack, while DHS was being built to house many of these agencies, Congress passed many laws to facilitate just such a task force. It was reasonable to expect such legislation. The only problem is that much of it was vague and broadly defined without oversight or guardrails built into the statutes.
Can the JTTF be used to protect federal properties in the states? Yes. 40 USC 1315 expressly provides for this authority. It allows for agents to arrest without a warrant for any offense performed in front of an agent or if they “reasonably believe” you may have committed said offense. “Reasonably believe” is vague and can be any number of things. They may also conduct investigations on and off the property in relation to those crimes they believe will be committed against the property. So no, they do not have to stay on federal property and this explains why they are out in the streets arresting protesters. I expect in a few weeks to a month, these agencies will be dragging people from their homes after they use facial recognition to identify those they deem as criminals and organizers.
Something you should know about JTTF: it is routine when agencies work together to share authority. This is known as “cross designation.” Let’s say the Border Patrol is working with the ATF on a firearms operation because it’s near the border and they want immigration and Spanish speakers to assist. Once they create that task force, Border Patrol now has all of ATF’s authorities given to them by law, and vice versa. Same is true when these agencies are working with the FBI-JTTF. Bureau of Prisons guards do not normally have arrest authority, but they do when assigned to JTTF. This is why many in these agencies do not have proper training for crowd control as the New York Times showed.
Thinking of cross designation, remember that the Border Patrol and CBP have extraordinary powers given to no other agencies. 8 USC 1357 gives Border Patrol and CBP their powers. This is why it was so important to have the Border Patrol and CBP joined in this task force. These agents are not required to have warrants to stop a vehicle, search it, to search people, detain people or be on private property if they are within 100 miles of the border. That border is 100 miles from any land or sea border, not just the southern or northern borders. The only thing these agents require a warrant for in this 100 miles is if they want to enter your domicile. They also do not require probable cause like regular cops to stop you. They only need reasonable suspicion that you are not a U.S. citizen. That means they can stop you by racially profiling and yes, that is legal for them to do. The Supreme Court concurred in U.S. v Brignoni-Ponce that although agents needed one other articulable fact when establishing reasonable suspicion before stopping a vehicle while conducting roving patrols, they could consider racial profiling one of those factors. So, if they hear you speaking a language other than English, they can stop you.
This is important because other law enforcement agencies, including state and local, require probable cause to stop you. In other words, they have to see you run a stop sign or have information that matches your description to a crime that has occured. Immigration agencies do not require this level of cause. Now that they are working jointly, these other agencies can share in their authority. And it doesn’t matter that they don’t have the proper training, they can still be given this authority.
Included in these JTTF groups are what they refer to as “Fusion Centers.” These are led by the FBI and located in large urban areas. They are centers that have personnel dedicated to funneling information and intelligence to federal agencies, the JTTF and DHS. This is what Barr was referring to in his statement about using “existing networks.” These centers work with state and local officers. Thus, you can see how DHS has its tentacles in local and state law enforcement.
The Daily Beast reported today that the police union in Portland had a meeting with DHS to discuss operations. The union did not notify the mayor and met privately with Acting Secretary Wolf. Mentioned in the article was that the union met this month and passed a no confidence vote in their mayor and other city officials. The Intercept is reporting that local police in San Francisco assigned to the JTTF have been keeping information from their supervisors in their police departments. Much of this information and operations run counter to San Francisco city ordinances regarding civil rights. Knowing this, what do you think are the chances your police department will obey your mayor’s orders? Slim to none if they are against DHS.
In a press conference today, when Acting Secretary Wolf and CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan weren’t moaning about people calling agents names, they were lying. CBP and Border Patrol uniforms may be clearly marked, but many agents are not. Wolf stated that BORTAC agents from the Border Patrol have crowd control training. Note that this training is in regard to that 1357 border authority which limits your Constitutional rights.
Additionally, they stated that each and every arrest is “narrowly” coordinated so that they know who they are arresting and that those arrested have committed crimes. When asked how he explained the arrest of Mark Pettibone who did not have a weapon, had not committed a crime, was arrested by agents not wearing badges or names of their agency, whisked away in an unmarked vehicle, taken to a federal building, searched and questioned without an attorney and when he invoked his rights, he was released…the Federal Protective Police stated they just wanted to talk to him about a laser he was using and that it was a “non-custodial arrest.” A non-custodial arrest means you are free to leave. Pettibone was not free to leave.
When asked about the Navy veteran Christopher David who asked to speak with agents with his hands up only to be beaten violently with batons and then sprayed with OC spray, Wolf claimed those agents were U.S. Marshals and stated he knew nothing about it because those agents were under the Department of Justice and not DHS. Which is absurd considering he is claiming he is in charge of this JTTF. Most importantly, Wolf claimed that there were good protesters, peaceful protesters even and that they should be allowed to exercise their rights. Then he stated that the violent responses by agents were because they were facing down “500 to 600 violent criminals.” To be clear, the majority of these “violent criminals” were accused by Wolf of graffiti. That’s it. Graffiti.
JTTF has had its paws in your state and local law enforcement for years, quietly sowing collaboration and networking meant to aid in the event of a terrorist attack. Only now we have a narcissistic, ego maniacle president bent on creating chaos before an election to keep his office. Now that Trump has stated they plan to go into Chicago, New York and Oakland, one must wonder if local police are creating violent situations with protesters to encourage JTTF to come to their cities as well, to give Trump an excuse. One must wonder if this hasn’t been planned for quite some time.
You may not feel all of this is a big deal. JTTF has existed for decades, as have these other agencies. The danger here is that Border Patrol and CBP are the largest agencies in the federal law enforcement system, 20,000 and 25,000 respectively. These agents bring to your city what border residents have been dealing with for generations, a militarized police force used to working in a restrictive Constitutional rights environment. Because they can stop you or your vehicle and interrogate you with only reasonable suspicion, that power now transfers to these other agencies who before needed probable cause. The other agencies like ATF and FBI who do not have limits of 100 miles from the border to enforce laws, now transfer their powers to CBP and Border Patrol. CBP and Border Patrol also have the right to board any vehicle or vessel without a warrant. This now is transferred to the ATF and FBI agents working with them in the task force.
What can you do? Put on a mask and go protest peacefully. Video and share on social media when they meet your peaceful protest with violence. Don’t throw bottles or anything, no graffiti. Protest peacefully. It’s not likely to make them leave, but it will point out their hypocrisy and bring more to your side.
Remember how this administration and all of those in it constantly lie. All of this power, all of this authority is now being pulled together under the FBI-JTTF to keep protesters from damaging federal buildings. If that seems a bit much, that’s because it is. It is way more authority than is needed, and you should be asking yourself why that is.