A recently unearthed agreement between the FBI and the San Francisco Police Department allows city cops assigned to a task force designed to combat terrorist attacks to gather intelligence on individuals even if they aren’t suspected of a crime, according to groups that have been in a legal fight with the SFPD over the agreement for months.
The Asian Law Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained a copy of the March 2007 agreement signed by then-Police Chief Heather Fong this week after filing a freedom of information request in November.
Under a policy established in 1990, the SFPD requires reasonable suspicion before officers are allowed to collect information on someone. Those rules were later enforced by court order after allegations surfaced in 1993 that a police officer had been sharing information with an informant for the Anti-Defamation League.
ACLU lawyer John Crew said the task-force agreement is a “bombshell” that allows San Francisco police to circumvent local intelligence-gathering policies and follow more permissive federal rules.
In 2008, the FBI changed its policies so that federal authorities can collect intelligence even if that person is not suspected of a crime. The contract between city and federal authorities explicitly states that police officers on the terrorism task force are to follow the guidelines of the FBI and Attorney General, Crew said.
Crew said the March 2007 agreement to assign city cops to the Joint Terrorism Task Force — a collaboration between federal and local law enforcement agencies — was done without the approval of the Police Commission, which oversees Police Department policies.
“It puts San Francisco police officers under the FBI and that means that the Police Commission’s policies do not apply,” Crew said.
Opponents of intelligence gathering are concerned that police will begin racial and religious profiling that specifically targets the Muslim community, according to Veena Dubal of the Asian Law Caucus. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution supporting a Human Rights Commission report detailing concerns over police surveillance.
But that doesn’t mean police have been collecting information on San Franciscans, according to Kevin Ryan, a former U.S. attorney who served as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s public safety advisor.
Ryan said federal authorities were sensitive to San Francisco’s strict restrictions on intelligence gathering. “But to say that the SFPD should not be at the table would be ludicrous,” Ryan said.
The officer or officers — the Police Department would not say how many people were on the task force — who are assigned are required to comply with all departmental rules, according to police Commander Daniel Mahoney. But they also must adhere to the FBI standards.
“When there is a conflict, they are held to the standard that provides the greatest organizational benefit,” Mahoney said in a statement.
A contract between the FBI and the SFPD outlines how city cops work with federal authorities in fighting terrorism. Here are some of the highlights:
- All guidance on investigative matters handled by the task force will be issued by the Attorney General and the FBI.
- Management of the task forces is the responsibility of FBI headquarters.
- The overall commander of each task force will be the special agent in charge.
- When there is a conflict, they are held to the standard that provides the greatest “organizational benefit.”
- The FBI will provide office space, furniture and office equipment for task force members.
- Personal electronic devices such as a BlackBerry are prohibited in FBI space.
- All task force members who require classified FBI data will submit to a lie detector test.
Source: March 2007 agreement between the SFPD and FBI