Private Contractor Assisting Feds in Quelling Portland Protests Is Revealed
The security company, working under contract with the Department Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, was outed in court pleadings
The identity of the private contractor assisting federal agents deployed in Portland, Oregon, in stemming anti-racists protests in that city has surfaced in court pleadings filed by the ACLU of Oregon.
The contractor is Annapolis, Maryland-based MaxSent — which also does business as CDA Inc., according to a court transcript of a video deposition of Gabriel Russell, a Federal Protective Service (FPS) regional director. The company is licensed to do business in 44 states and also has FPS contracts to provide security personnel to federal properties in at least six states, including Oregon.
Russell, who confirms the company’s identity in his deposition, is in a position to know, given he is overseeing the federal deployment in Portland as commander of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Rapid Deployment Force.
The judge hearing the ACLU case, filed in federal court in Oregon, recently issued in a temporary restraining order that blocks “federal agents in Portland from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or targeting force against journalists or legal observers at protests,” according to the ACLU.
“We have PSOs [privately contracted security officers] that are in Portland as part of their normal duties,” Russell said under oath in a deposition in the legal case. “They continue to perform their normal duties. They did not have additional duties related to [the surge of federal agents into the city]. … The contract in Portland, Oregon, is by a company named MaxSent.”
The phrase “normal duties” in relation to FPS contractors like MaxSent and their security personnel, however, can cover a broad range of responsibilities, including crowd control and the requirement to surge in extra contractors as needed during civil disturbances, such as protests.
In addition, these contractors are far more than “mall cops,” with some required to have “top secret” security clearances and many others authorized to use firearms, body armor, batons and pepper spray as well as patrol the grounds of federal properties. The FPS contractors, who are expected to assist with crowd-control, also have a history of being poorly trained and vetted — with past government reports calling out FPS for contract security personnel who slipped through vetting with felony convictions or missing firearms certifications, for example.
Cele Castillo, a retired DEA agent who worked with contractors as part of his deep cover work in Central America, said one reason a contracting firm doing work for FPS would want their security personnel to have a high-level security clearance, such as top secret, is because “they want to hire former federal agents” — who are most likely to have those credentials already. A retired DHS supervisor who asked not to be named, quipped: “I personally don’t see the need for a door-checker to have a top-security clearance.”
FPS exists to protect federal infrastructure and buildings, says Noah Kroloff, who served as chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) during the Obama administration. Its workforce is more than 90% contractors, he adds, with the balance being federal employees — including some 1,000 sworn federal law-enforcement agents.
“I am 100 percent certain that there are contractors that are protecting the federal buildings in these cities and states [where Trump is deploying federal law enforcers],” says Kroloff, now a principal and the co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based security-consulting firm GSIS. “And I think it’s safe to assume that if they are deployed at federal buildings, then they are serving in some capacity in crowd control — at a minimum around the perimeter of the buildings. They do certainly have the authority when a federal building is threatened to respond.”
When contacted for comment, MaxSent officials declined to comment.
A larger concern with this FPS private contractor workforce in the current political environment is that it might be deployed under some pretext by the Trump administration in support of aggressive voter-suppression efforts, such as at federal post offices or even select polling locations. In late July, Trump threatened to send as many as 50,000 to 75,000 federal law enforcers into U.S. cities going forward as part of his campaign of law and order following the protests erupting nationwide after the public killing of George Floyd this past May at the hands of local police in Minneapolis.
Diligent Valor and Legend are the names of mirror DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) operations, respectively, that with the backing of President Trump are deploying federal agents to more than a dozen cities nationwide, such as Portland and Seattle. Many of those cities are in swing states with large Democratic voting bases and/or large black populations — cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Memphis and more. The Diligent Valor federal force in Portland includes about 114 agents sent to the city to patrol federal properties, court pleadings show, with the federal courthouse in Portland the site of ongoing civil rights protests.
DOJ’s Operation Legend is being supported by DHS, and DOJ agents (with the U.S. Marshals Service) also are deployed in Portland and are operating alongside DHS agents participating in Diligent Valor. Those DHS agents are drawn from Customs and Border Patrol (including a camouflaged, heavily armed Border Patrol paramilitary unit known as BORTAC ), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and FPS — which is leading the DHS deployment and employs some 15,000 contract security personnel nationwide.
The FPS contractor in Portland, MaxSent, under its dba CDA Inc., inked a $42 million, five-year contract with FPS in late 2017 to provide security contractors to federal facilities in Oregon and southwestern Washington state.
“MaxSent is pleased to announce the commencement of our newest federal contract, FPS Oregon/SW Washington! The main office for this contract is located in Portland, OR,” wrote MaxSent President Todd Pattison in a May 2018 letter published in the company newsletter. “… MaxSent’s team has worked diligently through the 120-day transition period to screen, train and onboard 120 incumbent employees and hire and train 15 new employees!”
As evidence that MaxSent has assisted sworn federal agents in controlling protesters in the past, in another “Letter from the President,” published in October 2018, Pattison lauds MaxSent security contractors for their efforts in assisting federal agents in supporting the arrests of ICE protestors in Portland in June of that year — again, as part of their required duties.
From that October 2018 letter:
“During this time, Occupy ICE was camping out on the train tracks next to the [federal] facility. Protesters were arrested on July 9th as they blocked a van from leaving an ICE building in Southwest Portland.
“MaxSent PSO’s [FPS contract protective security officers] did an amazing job documenting the protest and recording the criminal activity. …The team in Oregon even received a commendation from the COR [Contracting Officer’s Representative] stating: ‘We very much appreciate the professionalism and support of the PSOs during this stressful time’ and that MaxSent’s officers were ‘very professional and doing an excellent job backing up the FPS Inspectors [sworn federal officers] that were there protecting the building and arresting some of the protestors.’”
The blurring of the lines between contractors and sworn federal law enforcers, such as ICE agents and U.S. Marshals, is underscored by another revelation in FPS commander Russell’s deposition in the ACLU case. It turns out that while he was a regional director at FPS, overseeing Oregon, Alaska, Washington and Idaho, he also was the owner of a private security firm called Takouba Security LLC, based in Seattle. His managing partner in that venture, James Rollins, confirmed that Russell was the founder and an owner of the company from 2008 through August of 2019, when he says Takouba shut down.
Rollins says the firm specialized in providing security consulting services to corporations focused on crisis- and disaster-management. It also provided staffing and organizational development services.
“Yes, he [Russell] was an owner of the company while he was with DHS,” Rollins said, adding that both he and Russell are military veterans who served in the National Guard. Rollins, now the principal of a Washington state-based company called Praxis Analytix LLC, adds that Takouba did not compete with DHS for contracts.
The potential threat that FPS private contractors pose in terms of accountability, or lack of it, was highlighted years ago during the Obama administration, which was not successful in its efforts to “federalize” those jobs. The concerns over FPS were outlined in a 2010 congressional hearing:
“President Obama has stated that converting contractor positions to federal positions is a priority,” U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson, D-California, said during the hearing. “This conversion will allow the government to provide better oversight, decrease costs and ensure that the federal government is a key player in security decision-making.”
More recently, Stacey Abrams, a nationally known voting-rights organizer who narrowly lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race in an election marred by widespread voter suppression, expressed her concerns over Trump’s voter-suppression strategy in an Aug. 17 interview on MSNBC’s The Chris Hayes Show. Abrams said she sees a two-pronged voter-suppression strategy in play by the Trump administration — with the first part focused on attacking the U.S. Postal Service in order to suppress mail-in voting and part two focused on intimidating voters at the polls.
“One reason they are trying to delegitimize voting by mail is that they’re trying to force people into early voting or voting on election day,” Abrams said. “If you can disincentivize voting by mail and then terrorize people when they try to vote in person, you have the effect of preventing them from voting.”
Elizabeth Goitein echoed that concern over voter suppression, linking it directly to the recent federal law-enforcement deployments to U.S. cities, such as Portland.
“Congress and the courts must step in. Otherwise, having found his army, Trump is sure to use it again in coming months,” she wrote in a recent column. “Bullying Democratic mayors and governors plays well with his base, whose support was beginning to waver due to Trump’s disastrous mishandling of Covid-19.
“More chilling, he could deploy his paramilitary forces in Democratic strongholds on Election Day as a means of suppressing voter turnout,” warns Goitein, who is codirector of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program.
Former President Barack Obama also weighed in recently, and in a grave tone, on the voter-suppression threat facing the nation.
“Well, here’s the point: This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies,” Obama said during his nationally televised speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. “So, they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote does not matter. That’s how they win.
“… And we can’t let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you’re going to get involved and vote.”
Reporters Note: This is a call out to @File411 for reading the ACLU court pleadings with an eagle eye, catching the mention of MaxSent and posting it on Twitter before anyone else that I know of became aware it, including major media.