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Portland backs out of terrorism task force

Portland, Oregon is the first city to back out of the FBI's joint terrorism task force. NBC's George Lewis explains why.

FBI agents and local police knocking on — and down — doors goes on daily around the country as the FBI and local police team up to catch criminals.  And since 9/11, about 100 cities have joined with the FBI in task forces aimed at combating terrorism.

But in Portland, a place with plenty of political mavericks, some worry about what those terrorism task forces are doing.

"When police operate in secrecy, police surveillance tends to target innocent people who are vocal about their political and religious views," says David Fidanque with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

This week, the City Council is expected to vote to remove police officers from the terrorism task force.

Mayor Tom Potter demanded greater oversight into what local officers were doing on the task force, including access to secret files.

"I want to know what investigations they're conducting, who they're conducting them on and what is the source of the information," says Potter.

But federal authorities worried about the kind of precedent that would set.

"The FBI cannot and will not support the granting of security clearances to anyone who does not have a legitimate and direct need to know," says FBI special agent-in-charge Robert Jordan.

And, in a joint appearance, the mayor and the local FBI chief announced they had agreed to disagree.

The issue has split Portland right down the middle. On one side: Those who worry about the federal government trampling on civil liberties. On the other: Those who worry about the city opening the door to terrorism.

"This will be a great place to come, because you've got a terrorist-friendly city to base your operations out of," says KXL radio talk show host Lars Larson.

So now will other cities have second thoughts about cooperating with federal authorities?

"Portland has always marched to its own drummer and I think we're going to be marching alone on this one," says John Kroger, a professor of law at Lewis & Clark College.

"Yes, Portland is acting up again and I am proud to be living in this squirrelly city," says community activist Lily Mandel.

She may be proud, but others are worried that the city may be putting itself at risk.