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 Panther, 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 missionis 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 letterhe 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.