Working both inside and outside the courtroom, the ACLU of Colorado has been investigating and calling public attention to activities of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task (JTTF) that pose a threat to civil liberties.
There are over five dozen JTTFs around the country, including one at every FBI field office. They are staffed with FBI agents as well as detectives from local law enforcement agencies who are assigned to work full-time for the FBI. A detective from the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit has been working full-time for the Denver JTTF since 1997. Since 2003, the Denver Police Department has assigned two full-time detectives to the JTTF. The Aurora Police Department, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, and the Colorado State Patrol also contribute personnel to the Denver JTTF.
During the litigation of the Denver Spy Files case, the ACLU of Colorado obtained documents that indicate that the JTTF has been collecting information about peaceful political activities that have nothing to do with terrorism.
In 2004, after Denver officials refused to disclose the Memorandum of Understanding that spells out the Denver Police Department’s relationship with the JTTF, the ACLU of Colorado sued under the Colorado Open Records Act to obtain the document.
In the summer of 2004, the Colorado ACLU helped to publicize a multi-state JTTF campaign to visit the homes and workplaces of political activists, a tactic apparently aimed at intimidating dissenters rather than investigating criminal or terrorist activity.
In October 2004, the independent auditor hired to monitor Denver’s compliance with the Spy Files Settlement Agreement questioned the role that Denver officers played in this JTTF campaign. The auditor further stated that because of FBI secrecy, he was not able to determine whether the two Denver detectives assigned to JTTF were complying with the Settlement Agreement, which forbids Denver officers from engaging in certain intelligence-gathering activities that are permitted by the less restrictive FBI guidelines.
On December 2, 2004, the Colorado ACLU invoked the Freedom of Information Act on behalf of 16 organizations and 10 individuals, seeking information from the FBI about the JTTF files on their peaceful political activity. The FOIA request was part of a nation-wide ACLU campaign to uncover the full extent of FBI political surveillance. The national ACLU and at least a half-dozen additional state ACLU affiliates filed similar requests for FBI documents the same day. Documents obtained from these and subsequent FOIA requests confirm that the FBI has been gathering information about nonviolent political activity under the guise of fighting terrorism.
On December 30, 2004, the ACLU wrote to Denver’s elected officials urging them to decide whether the Denver Police Department should continue to contribute two full-time detectives to the Denver JTTF. The letter explained that JTTF activities may pose a greater threat to civil liberties than the Denver Police Department practices that spawned the Spy Files controversy. In subsequent correspondence, the ACLU called on Denver to withdraw from the JTTF.