FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force
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.
Spy Files Documents Reveal Political Spying by FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force
In connection with the litigation over the Denver Police Department's Spy Files, the ACLU of Colorado obtained documents that indicate that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) has been gathering information and building files on the activities of peaceful protesters who have no connection to terrorism or any other criminal activity.
Learn more about The Denver Police Spy Files
The FBI has set up 66 JTTFs around the country that are staffed with FBI agents as well as detectives from local law enforcement agencies who are assigned to work full-time with the FBI. Detective Tom Fisher of the Denver Police Department's Intelligence Unit was assigned to the Denver JTTF from 1997 until he retired in 2005. As Detective Fisher explained in a statement signed in connection with the Spy Files case, his only responsibilities as a law enforcement officer since 1997 have been as part of the FBI's JTTF. Since 2003, the Denver Police Department has assigned two full-time detectives to the JTTF. As of 2005, they are detective Stephen MacKenna and detective Snow White.
The following documents from the Denver police department's Spy Files provide a peek into the secretive world of the JTTF and the kind of information it has been collecting about peaceful First Amendment activities.
Names and license numbers of peaceful demonstrators protesting NATO's bombing of Serbia In April, 1999, JTTF agent Tom Fisher, joined by two members of the Denver Intelligence Unit, monitored two peaceful demonstrations protesting the bombing of Serbia. According to the report, detectives followed one participant to her car three blocks away, apparently to get her license number so she could be identified.
Names and license plate numbers of peaceful demonstrators Fax dated June 25, 2002, from Colorado Springs Intelligence Unit to Kathy Miklich of the DPD Intelligence Unit. The North American Wholesale Lumber Association held its annual convention at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in June, 2002. Environmentalist and conservationist groups organized a peaceful demonstration to express their concern that practices of the lumber industry pose a threat to endangered old-growth forests. The Colorado Springs police provided the Denver Intelligence Unit with a two-page list of names and license plate numbers of participants in the nonviolent protest. The cover sheet indicates that the list of names and plates would be forwarded to Tom Fisher of the JTTF, who was apparently expecting the information. An FBI spokesperson admitted that the agency requested the list of plate numbers.
Report on person promoting documentary film that criticizes FBI Intelligence Bureau Information Summary, Oct. 19, 1999, reporting on an individual handing out flyers advertising the showing of a documentary that criticizes the FBI. A handwritten note indicates the report will be faxed to Tom Fisher at the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Intercepted email announcing protest by animal rights organization Email sent to members of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense about Fur Free Friday, dated November 7, 2001. This email was intercepted by Tim DeLaria of the CU Boulder police department. DeLaria forwarded it to Kathy Miklich and George Kennedy of the DPD Intelligence Unit. He also forwarded it to Tom Fisher of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Intercepted email announcing rally about Palestine Email announcing a rally about Palestine at the state capitol in Denver on April 5, 2002. This email was intercepted by Scott Matthewson of the Federal Protective Service, who forwarded it Ahmad Taha of the same agency, who then forwarded it to David Pontarelli of the DPD Intelligence Unit. Matthewson also forwarded the email to the FBI.
Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List A 3-ring binder maintained by the Denver Intelligence Unit contains a section labeled "Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List." The pages in that section consist of printouts made in April, 2002, from the web sites of such local Colorado groups as Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, American Friends Service Committee, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Rocky Mountain Independent Media Center, and the Human Bean Company. The circling and highlighting in the documents was provided by the Denver police Intelligence Unit after the pages were printed out from the internet.
Page from web site of Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, found in section of Denver Police Spy Files binder labeled "Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List"
Page from web site of American Friends Service Committee, found in section of Denver Police Spy Files binder labeled "Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List"
Denver Activist Legal Trainings, found in section of Denver Spy Files binder labeled “Colorado and Local Links: JTTF Active Case List.”
"Extremists" listed in FBI's Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File In anticipation of the 2002 Olympics, the Joint Terrorism Task Force added "anarchists" and eight separate categories of "extremists" (such as "environmental extremist" and "Black extremist") to the FBI's computer database known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF). When patrol officers routinely check the name of a driver or a suspect in the computer of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the VGTOF database is automatically searched, too. A patrol officer who encounters a VGTOF "hit" is expected to notify the FBI. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are more than 7000 individuals listed in VGTOF as "terrorists," many of whom have no criminal records. Ann Davis, "Data Collection Is Up Sharply Following 9/11," Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2003, at B1. Colorado Springs peace activist Bill Sulzman is apparently listed in VGTOF as a "terrorist," according to an article in the Colorado Springs Independent.
FBI Memo re Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF)
Denver patrol officer's memo memorializing a VGTOF "hit", August 24, 2002
Local Peace Activist May be on FBI List, Colorado Springs Independent, June 6-12, 2002
Intercepted email regarding a protest of the Aspen Institute's Summit on Globalization and the Human Condition On the morning of July 13, 2000, Pavlos Stravropolous sent an email to supporters of the Direct Action Network (DAN) announcing an informational meeting to discuss events that the Aspen Institute was sponsoring the following month. The email was forwarded a few hours later to the Waake-up list, with additional information saying that the meeting would discuss plans for a protest and counter-conference to be conducted in Aspen. This email was intercepted by Tim DeLaria of the CU Boulder police department, who quickly forwarded it to George Kennedy of the Denver Police Department's Intelligence Unit. Kennedy replied that he would forward the email to Tom Fisher of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, who was expected to "contact someone" in Aspen.
Intercepted email regarding plans for Transform Columbus Day In August, 2002, Scott A. Matthewson of the Federal Protective Service intercepted an email containing information about the Transform Columbus Day events planned for Denver in October. He forwarded the intercepted email to the intelligence unit of the Colorado Springs Police Department as well as JTTF officer Don Estep and the Denver FBI office. Ahmad Taha of the Federal Protective Service forwarded the same email to David Pontarelli of the Denver Police Department's Intelligence Unit.
Intercepted email regarding schedule for Denver activist event In the summer of 2002, Denver activists planned a several-day event billed as the "Flying Circus." On July 30, Scott A. Matthewson of the Federal Protective Service intercepted an email containing a schedule for the event. He forwarded it to the intelligence unit of the Colorado Springs Police Department as well as JTTF officer Don Estep and the Denver FBI office. Ahmad Taha of the Federal Protective Service forwarded the same email to David Pontarelli of the Denver Police Department's Intelligence Unit.
JTTF trains Denver police about "criminal tactics of protest extremists" In connection with the ACLU's litigation over the Denver police Spy Files, JTTF agent Tom Fisher signed a three-page statement, explaining that he trains Denver police on "domestic terrorism" and the tactics of what he calls "protest extremists."
ACLU Sues to Obtain Denver's MOU With JTTF
Case Name: American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado v. City and County of Denver
Case Number: No. 03CV7964, Denver District Court
ACLU Case Number: 2003-08
Description: This lawsuit relies on the Colorado public records laws seeking disclosure of the Memorandum of Understanding that sets out the terms of the Denver Police Department's participation in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Although similar documents have been disclosed as public records in other cities that participate in JTTFs, Denver's City Attorney maintains that disclosure would be "contrary to the public interest." Just before a court hearing on the ACLU's request for disclosure, Denver produced a redacted version of the Memorandum of Understanding. The blacked-out portion specifies the number of officers assigned to the unit.
Links to Selected Documents
- ACLU News Release, October 15, 2003, "ACLU Sues Denver Seeking Disclosure of Document Describing Denver Police Department's Relationship with FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force"
- Verified Petition and Application for Order to Show Cause, October 15, 2003
- ACLU's Memorandum of Law, October 15, 2003
- Additional information about the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force from the Denver Spy Files case
- Declaration of J. Robert Morrison, Unit Chief, National FBI JTTF
- Redacted Memorandum of Understanding, produced by Denver, 1/14/04
Get more information about the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
FOIA Requests Flush Out JTTF Political Spying
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. The Colorado ACLU and other state affiliates filed additional FOIA requests in 2005.
Get more information about the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
ACLU case number
Links to Selected Documents:
- “Presenting documentary evidence of FBI political spying, ACLU files FOIA request on behalf of 16 organizations and 10 individuals,” ACLU News Release, December 2, 2004
- ACLU of Colorado’s request for records from the Denver FBI and JTTF, December 2, 2004
- Who are the ACLU’s clients, and why do they believe they are in the FBI files?
- “ACLU Launches Nationwide Effort to Expose Illegal FBI Spying on Political and Religious Groups,” News Release, December 2, 2004
- “New documents confirm: FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force targets peaceful activists for harassment, political surveillance,” ACLU News Release, May 18, 2005
- “New documents confirm that FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force treats peaceful protest as potential terrorism,” ACLU News Release, August 2, 2005
- "New documents confirm that FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force wastes resources and threatens First Amendment rights by targeting peaceful protest activity as 'domestic terrorism,'" ACLU News Release, December 8, 2005
Sample JTTF files obtained under Freedom of Information Act
Additional information on the Joint Terrorism Task Force
Sample JTTF Files Obtained Through FOIA