[Ppnews] Katrina Charity Common Ground Wants Information on FBI Snitch

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 23 10:25:20 EST 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 201

Katrina Charity Common Ground Wants Information on FBI Snitch


      NEW ORLEANS (CN) - The founder of a post-Hurricane Katrina 
relief organization claims the FBI infiltrated his group after he 
criticized the Bush administration for its inept response to the 
disaster. Malik Rahim, founder of Common Ground Relief, says the FBI 
blew off his FOIA requests by claiming that responding would violate 
the privacy of its informant, who has spoken publicly about his work 
as a snitch.
      Rahim, a New Orleans community organizer and former Black, says 
the FBI rejected his FOIA request, and appeal, seeking information 
about FBI informant Brandon Darby. Rahim says Darby worked with him 
at Common Ground, bringing supplies and other assistance to residents 
of the city battered by Hurricane Katrina.
      Darby was involved with Common Ground from September 2005 until 
2008. Whether Darby was an FBI agent before becoming a prominent 
member of Common Ground remains unknown, and is part of what Rahim 
seeks to find out.
      Using an anarchist-inspired motto, "Solidarity not Charity," 
Common Ground Relief says its mission is to provide short-term relief 
for victims of hurricane disasters on the Gulf Coast, and long-term 
support in rebuilding communities in the New Orleans area.
      Common Ground claims it has organized more than 35,000 
volunteers, has gutted more than 3,000 homes, provided for basic 
needs of thousands of New Orleans residents and founded a 
now-independent health clinic and women's shelter. The center also 
has a free legal clinic that provides assistance in urgent situations 
such as wrongful home demolition, succession documentation, mortgage 
application assistance, contractor fraud and most types of civil litigation.
      Julie Hurwitz, who filed the original Freedom of Information 
Act request on behalf of Rahim in 2009 said in a telephone interview 
Tuesday that it is "a travesty that an organization that was doing as 
much good as Common Ground" had to deal with Darby, who "swooped in 
and became a member of the organization, meanwhile sabotaging it from 
the inside."
      Hurwitz said it is known now that Darby was an FBI informant on 
others besides Common Ground. She called Darby a provocateur, a tool 
of law enforcement who provokes others to commit illegal acts in 
order to prosecute them.
      Darby's role as a federal informant became known during his 
testimony in the trial of two 20-something anarchists who were 
arrested for possession of unused, homemade Molotov cocktails during 
the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis.
      After Darby's identity as informant became known, a letter he 
allegedly wrote, in which he confessed to being an FBI snitch, was 
published by indymedia.org.
      The letter states: "There are currently allegations in the 
media that I have worked undercover for the Federal Bureau of 
Investigation. This allegation no doubt confuses many activists who 
know me and probably leaves many wondering why I would seemingly 
choose to engage in such an endeavor. The simple truth is that I have 
chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of investigation."
      Hurwitz said transcripts from the Molotov cocktails trial have 
never surfaced.
      "We're trying to find out exactly what the nature of Darby's 
relationship with the FBI was between those years from 2005 to 2008" 
when Darby was a prominent member of Common Ground, Hurwitz said.
      Rahim says in his federal complaint that he requested documents 
pertaining to the FBI's infiltration of Common Ground Relief, but the 
FBI refused, saying release of the documents would violate Darby's privacy.
      According to the complaint: "After Hurricane Katrina, on or 
around September 5, 2005, Malik Rahim, plaintiff in this matter, 
organized a relief organization named Common Ground Relief, which 
included Common Ground Relief, Common Ground Collective, Woodlands 
Project and Common Ground Health Clinic (collectively 'Common 
Ground') in New Orleans, Louisiana."
      "Common Ground provided substantial relief supplies and tens of 
thousands of hours of volunteer assistance to devastated communities 
along the Gulf Coast.
      "Common Ground and Malik Rahim criticized government and 
corporate entities for failing to meet the needs of Gulf Coast 
Communities after Hurricane Katrina.
      "Within weeks of Hurricane Katrina and the creation of Common 
Ground by plaintiff, Brandon Darby appeared, spent considerable time 
at Common Ground, and became one of the active leaders in the organization.
      "Brandon Darby later admitted under oath that he was a 
confidential informant for the FBI and has admitted his relationship 
with the FBI to The New York Times, the Austin Chronicle, National 
Public Radio and in many other public forums; Brandon Darby has 
identified himself as an FBI confidential informant in open court."
      Rahim's FOIA request sought "'all records, documents and things 
...' related to surveillance, investigation, use of informants and 
agents, planting or gathering 'evidence,' and any other activities 
pertaining to Malik Rahim including anything related to Common Ground 
Relief and Brandon Darby. [Ellipsis in complaint.]
      "On March 17, 2009, the FOIA request of Malik Rahim was denied 
on the grounds that the FBI would not respond to a FOIA request 
concerning another individual in addition to Malik Rahim without a 
'privacy waiver' being filed by Brandon Darby."
      Rahim says he appealed the denial on July 30, 2009. Among the 
reasons stated in the appeal was "the public right to be informed 
about what their government is up to,' citing U.S. Department of 
Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 749, 
733 (1989); the fact that if Brandon Darby was an undercover 
informant for the FBI during his time at Common Ground, then that 
would be an act of such public concern that it would overcome 
personal privacy exemptions, citing National Archives & Records 
Administration v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 172 (2004)."
      But the Justice Department upheld the FBI stonewalling: "On 
September 25, 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of 
Information Policy stated it was affirming the original refusal of 
the FBI to release any information pertaining to Brandon Darby and 
further affirmed the refusal of the FBI to neither confirm nor deny 
the existence of any records responsive to the request. They said: 
'Without consent, proof of death, official acknowledgement of an 
investigation, or an overriding public interest, confirming or 
denying the existence of the records your client requested would 
constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"
      Rahim wants the FBI and Department of Justice ordered to make 
an immediate, expedited search for the documents, and turn them over.
      His lead counsel is Davida Finger with the Loyola University 
New Orleans College of Law, Law Clinic.
      Finger said in a statement issued in conjunction with the 
Center for Constitutional Rights: "Brandon Darby has spoken at length 
to the media about his involvement with the FBI, including during his 
time at Common Ground. We believe that Malik Rahim, Common Ground, 
and our community deserve to know the full extent of Mr. Darby's 
relationship with the FBI while doing post-Katrina work."
      Rahim said in the statement: "In the difficult times following 
Hurricane Katrina, we welcomed Mr. Darby into the community and 
shared everything we had with him. Mr. Darby inserted himself as a 
leader of Common Ground but, looking back, many of Mr. Darby's 
actions appear to have intentionally caused rifts within the 
organization and the community. In retrospect, he was doing 
everything you're supposed to do as a government agent in that 
situation - making an effort to divide and conquer. Accordingly, we 
have filed suit to compel the FBI to release all information 
concerning any collaboration with Mr. Darby during his time working 
with Common Ground in New Orleans."
      Co-counsel in Rahim's complaint include Bill Quigley of New 
Orleans, Julie Hurwitz of Detroit, and Sunita Patel with the Center 
for Constitutional Rights in New York City.
      In its statement announcing the filing of Rahim's complaint, 
the Center for Constitutional Rights claimed that the FBI's 
infiltration of Common Ground was not an aberration: "As thousands of 
FOIA documents released over the years have revealed, government 
surveillance and infiltration of activist groups is a widespread 
practice in the United States. Indeed, crackdowns on Occupy Wall 
Street and related protests across the country and the recent 
revelation of a New York security consultant's infiltration of the 
Zuccotti Park encampment suggest that government efforts to suppress 
dissent and disrupt peaceful protest continue. Mr. Rahim and his 
lawyers have filed this lawsuit to enforce the government's 
obligations under the Freedom of Information Act to provide 
information to the public about government conduct. The requested 
information will shed light on the FBI and other law enforcement 
activities in New Orleans during the tumultuous months and years 
following Hurricane Katrina." 

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