Note: This is an updated version of a story that was originally posted November 13, 2018
FBI Portland’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)
The Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force includes a variety of law enforcement officers, including FBI special agents and state and local investigators; bomb technicians and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) experts; airport liaisons charged with investigating threats aboard aircraft; and specialists with extensive training in international and domestic terrorism matters. These law enforcement officers are backed by a cadre of analysts, language specialists, legal experts and other professional staff with significant training and years of experience.
This depth of skill, training and experience gives the JTTF the unique ability to investigate both national security threats under terrorism statues and violent threats under criminal statutes. Much of the work as of late has dealt with an increase in the number of online threats to schools, businesses and individuals.
Regardless of how the case originates, the Portland JTTF’s role is to assess, address, and mitigate any given threat against the people of Oregon appropriately. Sometimes that mitigation takes the form of criminal prosecution, and sometimes it involves a holistic response, including consultation with threat assessment teams or others to divert a person before significant violent crime occurs.
The Portland JTTF, established by the FBI in about 2000, serves the state of Oregon. It is one of more than 175 such task forces in cities across the country. All totaled, the FBI’s JTTFs include members from more than 500 state and local agencies and 55 federal agencies.
There are currently six local, state and federal agencies who have full-time law enforcement officers assigned to the Portland JTTF and/or have an official Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the FBI for participation. Other agencies participate as staffing allows or as case needs dictate. Each task force officer has the ability to brief that officer's local chain-of-command, and the JTTF executive board meets regularly to receive classified briefings on significant cases or matters of concern.
In February 2019, the Portland City Council voted 3-2 to pull the two Portland Police officers assigned to the JTTF. Below is the statement released by SAC Renn Cannon following that vote:
“The FBI's mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. With the withdrawal of the city of Portland from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, that mission doesn't change.
The agents, analysts, language specialists, legal experts, and other professional staff of the FBI who work every day to keep our community safe will continue to do so, addressing threats of violence and criminal activity that impact our neighborhoods. To this end, the FBI will continue to partner formally with other members of the JTTF as well as informally with cities and counties across the state to share information and address threats as appropriate.
Robust discussions about law enforcement's role in our society are valuable. Recognizing the fears that exist in the community, we will continue to visit with community leaders and work together to keep Oregon safe while addressing those factors that can drive a wedge between us.
I want the people of Oregon to know that the men and women of the FBI do their work with the utmost respect for and adherence to our shared Constitutional protections that allow us to speak, gather, and worship freely no matter who we are or where we come from. I thank them for the work they do every day, and I thank the Portland Police officers who have joined us the past few years for their work in keeping our shared community safe.”
When there is an immediate concern for violence, members of the JTTF act on that concern in coordination with other local and federal partners. This action can take the form of a law enforcement response (such as a court-authorized arrest) or an intervention response (such as diversion). In all cases, the JTTF works to determine the legitimacy and probability of the threat; determine the best way to mitigate actual threats; and collect facts to build a strong and viable case should the matter go to trial.
The U.S. Constitution is the bedrock of both why and how the JTTF does its work. Protection of every American’s rights under the U.S. Constitution is a core value for the FBI, and, as such, we have very strict procedures in place to ensure that we protect those rights. Our focus is never on a person’s membership in particular groups but on criminal activity. The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of rights to assemble or speak. FBIHQ, the U.S. Department of Justice, the court system and Congress all have oversight authority over the work that the JTTF does.
In every active shooter incident, the JTTF – both agents and task force officers – deploy as part of the larger field office response. Special Agent Bomb Technicians and JTTF investigators play an integral role in that overall response. They join the division’s Evidence Response Team, SWAT Team, negotiators, Tactical Operations Center, victim specialists and others to support local law enforcement efforts. Should an active shooter incident have a terrorism nexus, the case would transition seamlessly with JTTF in the lead. Absent that terrorism nexus, the JTTF partners can continue to provide significant experience and resources to the local jurisdiction in the effort to address the threat and assist with the resulting investigation.
Oregon experienced three active shooter incidents in a little more than three years: Clackamas Town Center (December 2012); Reynolds High School (June 2014); and Umpqua Community College (October 2015). This series of events has, unfortunately, given the Portland JTTF a great deal of experience in responding to such crimes. In recent years, the FBI has taken this experience and translated it into training for several thousand other Oregon law enforcement agencies, K-12 school officials, higher education officials, mental health providers and more. The goal: to strengthen prevention efforts and to bolster response capabilities.
Also, in May 2014, various FBI Portland components – including some from the JTTF – conducted a massive active shooter drill at Washington Square Mall. This exercise allowed the FBI SWAT team, JTTF bomb techs and evidence response team members to practice and refine their response to a simulated catastrophic incident.
Special Agent Bomb Technicians
The FBI’s Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Alabama, is responsible for certifying the more than 3,000 local, state and federal explosives technicians assigned to bomb squads across the country. In Oregon, we have several Special Agent Bomb Technicians (SABT’s) who are embedded with various explosives disposal squads in the state. On any given day, these SABT’s can be responding to bomb threat call-outs, training with their local partners or serving as a liaison to the Hazardous Devices School for the required training and continual recertification.
Every FBI office has liaisons to both regional and international airports in its territory. Oregon is no exception. These JTTF liaisons work with the local and port police to investigate crimes aboard aircraft including violent attacks and sexual assaults.
Over the years, the Portland JTTF has worked with partner agencies on a number of investigations to keep our shared community safe. Some of these significant cases include:
In 2003, six members of the “Portland Seven” pleaded guilty and faced sentencing for their roles related to an Oregon-based terrorism cell that trained and attempted to join the Taliban and Al Qaeda in fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Patrice Lumumba Ford and Jeffrey Leon Battle each received 18-year sentences for conspiracy to levy war against the United States. Battle and Ford admitted that they and several other defendants flew to China in an unsuccessful attempt to gain entry into Pakistan en route to Afghanistan. Brothers Muhammad and Ahmed Bilal received sentences of eight and ten years, respectively, for conspiracy to provide services to the Taliban and federal firearms charges. A federal judge sentenced Maher “Mike” Hawash to seven years for knowingly and illegally supplying services to the Taliban, and October Martinique Lewis received three years for money laundering. A seventh man, Habis Abdulla al Saoub, eventually reached Pakistan where he was killed fighting alongside Al Qaeda forces.
Portland JTTF agents arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud on November 26, 2010, after he attempted to detonate what he believed to be an explosives-laden van that was parked near the tree lighting ceremony in Portland. The arrest was the culmination of a long-term undercover operation during which Mohamud was monitored closely for months as his bomb plot developed. The device was in fact inert, and the public was never in danger from the device.
According to the trial evidence, in February 2009, Mohamud began communicating via e-mail with Samir Khan, a now-deceased Al Qaeda terrorist who published both Jihad Recollections, an online magazine that advocated violent action, and Inspire, the official magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Between February and August 2009, Mohamed exchanged approximately 150 e-mails with Khan. Mohamud wrote several articles for Jihad Recollections that were published under assumed names.
In August 2009, Mohamud was also in e-mail contact with Amro Al-Ali, a Saudi national. Al-Ali sent Mohamud detailed e-mails designed to facilitate Mohamud’s travel to Yemen to train for violent action. In December 2009, Mohamud and Al-Ali discussed the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan to join Al-Ali in terrorist activities. Mohamud responded to Al-Ali in an e-mail: “yes, that would be wonderful, just tell me what I need to do.” Al-Ali referred Mohamud to a second associate overseas and provided Mohamud with a name and e-mail address to facilitate the process.
In the following months, Mohamud made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Al-Ali’s associate. Ultimately, an FBI undercover operative contacted Mohamud via e-mail under the guise of being an associate of Al-Ali’s. When Mohamud and the FBI undercover operative met in Portland in July 2010, Mohamud said that he wanted to become “operational.” Asked what he meant by “operational,” Mohamud said he wanted to build an explosive device.
In August 2010, Mohamud told the undercover FBI operatives that he had identified a potential target for a bomb: the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square. The undercover FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of this plan, noting there would be many people at the event, including children, and they emphasized that Mohamud could abandon his attack plans at any time with no shame. Mohamud indicated the deaths would be justified and that he would not mind carrying out an attack on the crowd.
In May 27, 2009, suicide bombers attacked Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. The attack killed approximately 30 people and injured approximately 300 more.
An investigation by the Portland JTTF in coordination with other FBI agents around the world led to Portland resident Reaz Khan. Khan eventually pleaded guilty to acting as an accessory after the fact to the crime of providing material support to terrorists. In entering his plea, Khan admitted arranging for the delivery of approximately $2,450 to Maldivian resident Ali Jaleel, one of the suicide bombers. Khan also admitted to providing advice and financial assistance to Jaleel’s wives after the bombing while knowing that providing such assistance would hinder and prevent the apprehension of Jaleel’s wives and others who may have helped in the attack.
In June 2015, a federal judge sentenced Khan to 87 months in prison. As then-Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing said: “The threads of violent extremism are weaving a path through many American cities. As in the Khan case, sometimes that path leads to those who are willing to fund activities overseas. In other instances, the path leads to homegrown extremists who are willing to commit heinous acts or to those who inspire them to do so. As the threat becomes more insidious and difficult to track, we rely on our shared community to come forward to help us identify and isolate those who would do harm to our nation. I would ask anyone with information about potential threats to call their local FBI office.”
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Standoff
Beginning on January 2, 2016, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, and several dozen armed followers, seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, in Harney County. For 41 days, the armed occupiers held the refuge and federal employees were unable to perform their official duties. The Bundys and several other occupiers were arrested on January 26, 2016 on U.S. Highway 395 near Burns en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon. The occupation officially ended on February 11, 2016, when the last four occupiers turned themselves in to federal authorities. The federal government later spent significant sums to repair damages to the Malheur facilities and reestablish the Wildlife Refuge operation.
A total of 18 defendants faced sentencing for crimes associated with the occupation. Eleven defendants pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to impede officers of the U.S. Four other defendants were convicted of felonies by a federal jury in a trial ending in March 2017. Three additional defendants pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing. Seven defendants, including occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted of all charges in a trial ending in November 2016.
As Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon Renn Cannon stated following the final sentencing: “The U.S. Constitution granted Americans both rights and responsibilities. With state, local and tribal partners, the FBI responded to this armed takeover by defending the rule of law and protecting the people of Harney County. We stand with Oregonians committed to finding peaceful solutions and will always work to protect our communities from violent conflict.”
In 2005, JTTF’s in Oregon, Colorado, Washington and California initiated the takedown of “The Family” as part of the FBI major case “Operation Backfire”. The takedown was the culmination of a lengthy investigation that resulted in the federal grand jury indictment of 17 defendants. The grand jury charged each with various crimes related to several dozen incidents across the western U.S. between 1995 and 2001. The crimes – ranging from vandalism to arson – caused an estimated $48 million in damages. The cell’s 1998 arson attack on a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, was its most notorious crime: estimated damage for this one event was $26 million.
Fifteen of the 17 charged pled guilty and received sentences of between 37 months and 188 months in federal prison. The length of the sentence was, in part, determined by how many specific acts each individual participated in, the degree of damage, and the willingness of the person to accept responsibility.
FBI agents arrested the sixteenth defendant, Joseph Dibee, in August 2018 as he was traveling from Central America through Cuba to his then-current home in Russia.
One defendant remains a fugitive: Josephine Overaker. Agents believe she may be living in Europe. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to Overaker’s arrest.
Rock Creek Explosion
The Portland JTTF was serving a federal search warrant at an apartment in the Rock Creek area of Washington County in October 2017 when Jason Schaefer approached in his SUV. Schaefer, who lived in the apartment, did not cooperate as task force officers attempted a traffic stop. Upon exiting his vehicle, he detonated an explosive, injuring himself and a deputy who was approaching him.
A grand jury indicted Schaefer on charges of assault on a federal officer and using and carrying an explosive in commission of a felony. A Portland Division Special Agent Bomb Technician assigned to the JTTF is leading this ongoing investigation.
Laser Strike Investigation
In the fall of 2013, more than 100 laser strikes coming out of a Northeast Portland neighborhood caused FBI JTTF agents and officers to conduct an extensive air and ground surveillance operation looking for the subject. For several months, pilots had been reporting that a green laser was hitting their aircraft and lighting up their cockpits. Such lasers can temporarily blind pilots, and, in some cases, do permanent damage to the pilots’ eyes.
The agents and officers arrested Stephen Bukucs, who confessed to the FBI that he had targeted the aircraft for entertainment. He also said that he had enjoyed the “cat-and-mouse” game with the officers who were looking for him. In July 2014, Bukucs pleaded guilty to two felony counts of aiming a laser pointer at commercial aircraft. A federal judge sentenced him to six months in prison and three years of supervised release.
Fake Airline Bomb Threat
In October 2014, a fake bomb found in a lavatory aboard a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines plane forced an emergency landing and evacuation in Egypt. Upon the return of passenger Sean Michael Davies to Oregon several months later, a JTTF agent and Port officer interviewed him. After initially denying responsibility, Davies eventually pleaded guilty to leaving the hoax device and lying about it. A judge sentenced the Warrenton, Oregon, man to five years’ probation and more than $85,000 in restitution.
Sex Abuse Aboard an Aircraft
On June 15, 2016, FBI agents serving as airport liaisons from the JTTF to Port of Portland arrested Chad Cameron Camp after he arrived in Portland on a flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth. Camp was seated next to an unaccompanied 13-year-old girl on the plane when a witness said she saw Camp touch the child inappropriately. Camp pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit abusive sexual contact of a minor and indecent sexual proposal of a minor. A federal judge sentenced him to 14 months in custody and ordered he register as a sex offender.
Albany School Bomb Threat
A federal judge sentenced Jenelle Pinkston to 37 months in prison for calling in a bomb threat to an elementary school in Albany, Oregon, in April 2013. During the call, Pinkston attempted to disguise her voice and said “this building is going to blow up in ten minutes.” Another Albany school received a similar threat about a month later. In both cases, school officials evacuated students and staff and public safety agencies responded to address the threat.
Attack on Jackson Co. District Attorney’s Office
Alan Leroy McVay is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for using explosives in an attack against the Jackson Co. District Attorney’s Office. In November 2013, McVay assembled a bomb by attaching a CO2 metal cylinder filled with gunpowder to a propane tank. He inserted a fuse into the CO2 cylinder as a means of detonating the tank. The day after the attack McVay had been scheduled to enter a plea and be sentenced in a state case where he faced charges involving residential robberies and being a felon in possession of a firearm. McVay had hoped the attack would delay that state court process.
Reynolds High School Active Shooter
In June 2014, a lone gunman walked into Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon. After going into the boys’ locker room to prepare himself, the 15-year-old student shot and killed a fellow student, 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman, with an AR-15 rifle. He also shot and wounded a teacher. The gunman killed himself as school resource officers and other responding officers approached him.
Within minutes of this incident, the FBI deployed all of its available resources, including the SWAT team, the Evidence Response Team, JTTF investigators, victim specialists, and more.
Social Media Threat to Kill Police Officer
In January 2015, Timothy Loren McCoy Fleming posted threats on Facebook that he was going to kill a police officer at the city hall in Albany, Oregon. He pled guilty to communicating a threat in interstate commerce, via Facebook, and a federal judge sentenced him to 18 months in federal prison. Fleming’s posts included statements such as “walk into Albany city hall, smile at the uniform as I pass him in the hall, turn round, salvation speaks, a roaring sound, uniform goes down, no armor on the head makes a corrupt cop dead.” As part of his sentence, the judge ordered Fleming to participate in a mental health treatment program and to stay at a residential reentry center upon his release from prison.
School Threat Case: Horizon Christian
The Portland Division regularly receives information about possible threats to schools from concerned community members, local law enforcement partners and others. In most cases, agents from the JTTF and/or violent crime squad are able to investigate and address the threat. In some instances, this leads to referrals to mental health treatment or help from other family and community resources. Occasionally, this kind of threat investigation leads to criminal charges.
In September 2015, Horizon Christian Elementary School/Middle School received two threatening voice-mails. Further investigation by the JTTF and Tualatin Police determined that a Portland man, Zachariah Peterson, had also posted a threat against teachers saying he wanted to “mow them down with a shotgun.” In March 2016, Peterson pleaded guilty to charges of threatening communication in interstate commerce and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He received a 27-month sentence.
Unlawful Possession of 50-Caliber Machine Gun
A John Day, Oregon, man, Michael Ray Emry, received a 30-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to unlawfully possessing a fully automatic .50 caliber machine gun that was not registered to him.
According to court documents and statements made in court, on May 6, 2016, federal agents executed a search warrant on Emry’s trailer in John Day and recovered a Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun with an obliterated serial number. Emry told agents that the firearm was fully automatic and could fire between 550 and 650 rounds per minute, that he had stolen it from a man in Idaho and that he had removed the serial number prior to bringing it to Oregon.
Threat Against the President and Federal Agents
In May 2017, a federal judge sentenced John Martin Roos to 63 months in prison for possessing an unregistered explosive device and posting Internet threats to kill then-President of the United States Barak Obama and FBI agents. Roos admitted in court to using racially inflammatory language in a Twitter post in which he threatened to kill former President Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama and their children. In a Facebook post, Roos threatened to “snipe” FBI agents “with hunting rifles.”
The May 2017 transit attack in Portland resulting in the death of two men, serious injury to another man and the arrest of Jeremy Christian on state murder and attempted murder charges also brought about a parallel federal investigation. This federal investigation brings together the resources of the Portland Division’s JTTF and the FBI’s civil rights squad. That federal investigation is ongoing.
As part of the initial response, SAC Renn Cannon stated: “The FBI shares a long and deep partnership with the Portland Police Bureau [PPB]. This relationship gives us the foundation on which we work together and share information to best protect our community ... in the coming days, the FBI, PPB, and the prosecutors will work together to share information, leverage resources, and make determinations about future criminal charges. To those community members affected by this violence—in particular, the families of the Good Samaritans heroes and our neighbors in the Muslim and African-American communities—we stand with you. We won't allow these acts to go unanswered.”