[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
By SABRINA CANFIELD
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
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
"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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