17 Oct

The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists

EXCLUSIVE

The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: “Black Identity Extremists”

Law enforcement calls it a violent movement. Critics call it racist. The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists’ – Foreign Policy Read it here!

FERGUSON, MO – AUGUST 19: Police point to a demonstrator who has his arms raised before moving in to arrest him on August 19, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As white supremacists prepared to descend on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, the FBI warned about a new movement that was violent, growing, and racially motivated. Only it wasn’t white supremacists; it was “black identity extremists.”

Amid a rancorous debate over whether the Trump administration has downplayedthe threat posed by white supremacist groups, the FBI’s counterterrorism division has declared that black identity extremists pose a growing threat of premeditated violence against law enforcement.

“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence,” reads the report, marked for official use only and obtained by Foreign Policy.

The August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was the catalyst for widespread anger and violence, the FBI report says, concluding that continued “alleged” police abuses have fueled more violence.

“The FBI assesses it is very likely incidents of alleged police abuse against African Americans since then have continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement,” the report states.

Some 748 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2017, including at least 168 African-Americans.

The report, dated Aug. 3 — just nine days before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly — appears to be the first known reference to “black identity extremists” as a movement. But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists.

A former senior counterterrorism and intelligence official from the Department of Homeland Security who reviewed the document at FP’s request expressed shock at the language.

“This is a new umbrella designation that has no basis,” the former official said. “There are civil rights and privacy issues all over this.”

The concept of “black identity extremists” appears to be entirely new. FP found only five references to the term in a Google search; all were to law enforcement documents about domestic terrorism from the last two months. One of those online references is to law enforcement training on identifying “domestic terror groups and criminally subversive subcultures which are encountered by law enforcement professionals on a daily basis.”

Among the six acts of premeditated violence linked to black identity extremists — it excludes violence toward police carried out in the normal course of their duties — the reports cites the July 2016 shooting of 11 police officers in Dallas. The shooter, Micah Johnson, was reportedly angry at police violence.

“Based on Johnson’s journal writings and statements to police, he appeared to have been influenced by BIE ideology,” the FBI report states. The attack took place during a Black Lives Matter protest of police shootings, though the BLM movement is not mentioned by name in the report.

Yet those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement have voiced concerns about FBI surveillance.

DeRay McKesson, an activist involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, told FP that the FBI visited his house in the run-up to the Republican National Convention. “I spoke about the FBI visit to my house and the houses of other activists in our final meeting with [President Barack] Obama,” he said.

“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising,” McKesson said.

The FBI declined to comment on the report itself and did not respond to specific questions, but in an emailed statement to FP, the bureau defended its tracking of “black identity extremists,” saying that “the FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

In its August report, the FBI said it expects further attacks by black identity extremists, driven by both the perception and the reality of unfair treatment at the hands of police officers.

“The FBI further assesses it is very likely additional controversial police shootings of African Americans and the associated legal proceedings will continue to serve as drivers for violence against law enforcement,” the report says.

Some experts and former government officials said the FBI seemed to be trying to paint disparate groups and individuals as sharing a radical, defined ideology. And in the phrase “black identity extremist” they hear echoes of the FBI’s decades-long targeting of black activists as potential radicals, a legacy that only recently began to change.

“They are grouping together Black Panthers, black nationalists, and Washitaw Nation,” said the former homeland security official. “Imagine lumping together white nationals, white supremacists, militias, neo-Nazis, and calling it ‘white identity extremists.’”

The FBI is linking the people discussed in the report based only on them being black, rather than on any sort of larger ideological connection, the official said. “The race card is being played here deliberately.”

“The race card is being played here deliberately.”

The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists’ – Foreign Policy Read it here!

Michael German, a former FBI agent and now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said manufacturing this type of threat was not new. He has criticized earlier FBI reports on “black separatists,” arguing that they conflated radical groups operating in the 1970s with attacks in 2010 and later, even though there was no obvious connection.

The use of terms like “black identity extremists” is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them,” German said.

Even former officials who view the government’s concerns about black separatists as legitimate balked at the term “black identity extremist,” and point out that the threat from individuals or groups who want to establish their own homeland is much less than from the far right.

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then a Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst, warned of the rise of right-wing extremism, setting off a firestorm among congressional critics. Johnson, who left the department in 2010, said he could think of no reason why the FBI would create a new category for so-called black identity extremists. “I’m at a loss,” he replied, when asked about the term.

“I have no idea of why they would come up with a new term.”

There have been concerns about rising violence among black separatist groups in recent years, he said, but it does not approach the threat of right-wing extremism. “When talking about white supremacists versus black supremacists, there are way more white supremacists,” Johnson said.

For historians and academics who have looked at the history of FBI surveillance of black Americans, the report also smacks of the sort of blatant racism the bureau has worked hard to leave behind. From the time J. Edgar Hoover took over the anti-radical division in the FBI at the height of the first “red scare” in 1919, the bureau began systematically surveilling black activists.

Read more from FP:

“Black protests get conflated for the bureau [with communism], and it begins there,” said William Maxwell, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who has researched the FBI’s monitoring of black writers in the 20th century.

What followed, according to Maxwell, was decades of FBI pursuit of black radicals in the belief, often mistaken, that they were part of a larger subversive movement. “It’s deep in the bureau’s DNA,” he said.

Lately, that seemed to be changing. As FBI director, James Comey famously kept a copy of the Martin Luther King Jr. wiretap order on his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s past abuses and made new agents learn the history of the FBI’s pursuit of the civil rights leader.

The FBI also appeared to be focusing more attention on the threat of white supremacists. In May, the FBI warned that white supremacist violence was growing, according to a report obtained and published by FP. That same report noted that white supremacists were responsible for more attacks in the United States than any other extremist group, including Islamic extremists.

Critics, however, accuse President Donald Trump of shifting attention away from right-wing violence. This year, the Trump administration decided to focus the Department of Homeland Security’s “countering violent extremism” program on Islamic terrorism and deprioritized funding to counter white supremacist groups.

The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists’ – Foreign Policy Read it here!

“To hear there is a new initiative targeting black identity extremists is surprising given that shift,” said Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law.

Maxwell, the Washington University professor, had an even darker view. “It’s classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together,” he said. “The language — black identity extremist — strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”

“The language — black identity extremist — strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”

In a sense, the FBI’s desire to identify a unifying ideological underpinning to what are often individual violent acts is not surprising, said David Garrow, a historian who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of MLK. “Security agencies want to perceive a threat that is political, a threat that ideological,” Garrow said, “but what we’re actually witnessing is men, almost entirely men, acting out in violent criminal ways and grasping at some chimera of political justification.”

But the document itself smacks of incompetence more than conspiracy, according to Garrow, who reviewed a copy of the report provided by FP. “The immediate instinct is to think [the FBI] are a threat,” he said. “My immediate instinct is to wonder whether they are minimally competent.”

Garrow, who has reviewed decades’ worth of FBI documents for his work, warned against seeing this report as proof that the FBI is illegally targeting black Americans.

“They are often so clueless,” he said of the FBI. “I don’t find them a threat.”

But the former homeland security official said the report’s tendency to lump together different groups that have no obvious connection will make it harder for law enforcement to identify real threats. “It’s so convoluted — it’s compromising officer safety,” the former official said.

And even though the report mentions in a footnote that “political activism” and “strong rhetoric” by themselves don’t amount to extremism and “may be constitutionally protected,” it identifies anger with police or “anti-white rhetoric” as indicators of a potential “violent threat.”

“Just the term ‘black identity extremist’ is protected,” the former official said. “You can identify all you want.”

The FBI, however, defended the classification in its statement to FP.

“Domestic terrorism groups differ from traditional criminal groups in that they take action for a different purpose, to bring attention to a social or political cause,” the FBI wrote. “Therefore, their existence as a group has a legitimate purpose, at least in part. Their legitimate activity may include acts of protest, advocacy, and civil disobedience.”

The FBI says there are “nine persistent extremist movements” in the United States at present. Those include “white supremacy, black identities, militia, sovereign citizens, anarchists, abortion, animal rights, environmental rights, and Puerto Rican Nationalism.”

13 Sep

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti ­and Built Six Home

Marie Arago, special to ProPublica

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti ­and Built Six Homes

Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, insider accounts detail a string of failures

THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF CAMPECHE sprawls up a steep hillside in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. Goats rustle in trash that goes forever uncollected. Children kick a deflated volleyball in a dusty lot below a wall with a hand-painted logo of the American Red Cross.

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built in Campeche. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.

The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-newcommunities.” None has ever been built.

Aid organizations from around the world have struggled after the earthquake in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. But ProPublica and NPR’s investigation shows that many of the Red Cross’s failings in Haiti are of its own making. They are also part of a larger pattern in which the organization has botched delivery of aid after disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. Despite its difficulties, the Red Cross remains the charity of choice for ordinary Americans and corporations alike after natural disasters.

One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say.

In a blistering 2011 memo, the then-director of the Haiti program, Judith St. Fort, wrote that the group was failing in Haiti and that senior managers had made “very disturbing” remarks disparaging Haitian employees. St. Fort, who is Haitian American, wrote that the comments included, “he is the only hard working one among them” and “the ones that we have hired are not strong so we probably should not pay close attention to Haitian CVs.”

The Red Cross won’t disclose details of how it has spent the hundreds of millions of dollars donated for Haiti. But our reporting shows that less money reached those in need than the Red Cross has said.

Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.

Where did the half billion raised for Haiti go? The Red Cross won’t say.

In statements, the Red Cross cited the challenges all groups have faced in post-quake Haiti, including the country’s dysfunctional land title system.

“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” the charity said.

The group said it responded quickly to internal concerns, including hiring an expert to train staff on cultural competency after St. Fort’s memo. While the group won’t provide a breakdown of its projects, the Red Cross said it has done more than 100. The projects include repairing 4,000 homes, giving several thousand families temporary shelters, donating $44 million for food after the earthquake, and helping fund the construction of a hospital.

“Millions of Haitians are safer, healthier, more resilient, and better prepared for future disasters thanks to generous donations to the American Red Cross,” McGovern wrote in a recent report marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake.

In other promotional materials, the Red Cross said it has helped “more than 4.5 million” individual Haitians “get back on their feet.”

It has not provided details to back up the claim. And Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister at the time of the earthquake, doubts the figure, pointing out the country’s entire population is only about 10 million.

“No, no,” Bellerive said of the Red Cross’ claim, “it’s not possible.”


When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the Red Cross was facing a crisis of its own. McGovern had become chief executive just 18 months earlier, inheriting a deficit and an organization that had faced scandals after 9/11 and Katrina.

Gail McGovern (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Inside the Red Cross, the Haiti disaster was seen as “a spectacular fundraising opportunity,” recalled one former official who helped organize the effort. Michelle Obama, the NFL and a long list of celebrities appealed for donations to the group.

The Red Cross kept soliciting money well after it had enough for the emergency relief that is the group’s stock in trade. Doctors Without Borders, in contrast, stopped fundraising off the earthquake after it decided it had enough money. The donations to the Red Cross helped the group erase its more-than $100 million deficit.

The Red Cross ultimately raised far more than any other charity.

A year after the quake, McGovern announced that the Red Cross would use the donations to make a lasting impact in Haiti.

We asked the Red Cross to show us around its projects in Haiti so we could see the results of its work. It declined. So earlier this year we went to Campeche to see one of the group’s signature projects for ourselves.

Street vendors in the dusty neighborhood immediately pointed us to Jean Jean Flaubert, the head of a community group that the Red Cross set up as a local sounding board.

Sitting with us in their sparse one-room office, Flaubert and his colleagues grew angry talking about the Red Cross. They pointed to the lack of progress in the neighborhood and the healthy salaries paid to expatriate aid workers.

“What the Red Cross told us is that they are coming here to change Campeche. Totally change it,” said Flaubert. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about. I think the Red Cross is working for themselves.”

The Red Cross’ initial plan said the focus would be building homes — an internal proposalput the number at 700. Each would have finished floors, toilets, showers, even rainwater collection systems. The houses were supposed to be finished in January 2013.

The Red Cross promised to build hundreds of new homes in Campeche but none have been built. Many residents still live in crude shacks. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

None of that ever happened. Carline Noailles, who was the project’s manager in Washington, said it was endlessly delayed because the Red Cross “didn’t have the know-how.”

Another former official who worked on the Campeche project said, “Everything takes four times as long because it would be micromanaged from DC, and they had no development experience.”

Shown an English-language press release from the Red Cross website, Flaubert was stunned to learn of the project’s $24 million budget — and that it is due to end next year.

“Not only is [the Red Cross] not doing it,” Flaubert said, “now I’m learning that the Red Cross is leaving next year. I don’t understand that.” (The Red Cross says it did tell community leaders about the end date. It also accused us of “creating ill will in the community which may give rise to a security incident.”)

The project has since been reshaped and downscaled. A road is being built. Some existing homes have received earthquake reinforcement and a few schools are being repaired. Some solar street lights have been installed, though many broke and residents say others are unreliable.

The group’s most recent press release on the project cites achievements such as training school children in disaster response.

The Red Cross said it has to scale back its housing plans because it couldn’t acquire the rights to land. No homes will be built.

Other Red Cross infrastructure projects also fizzled.

A Red Cross effort to save Haitians from cholera was crippled by internal issues. “None of these people had to die,” said a Haitian official.

In January 2011, McGovern announced a $30 million partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The agency would build roads and other infrastructure in at least two locations where the Red Cross would build new homes.

But it took more than two and a half years, until August 2013, for the Red Cross just to sign an agreement with USAID on the program, and even that was for only one site. The program was ultimately canceled because of a land dispute.

A Government Accountability Office report attributed the severe delays to problems “in securing land title and because of turnover in Red Cross leadership” in its Haiti program.

Other groups also ran into trouble with land titles and other issues. But they also ultimately built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six.

Asked about the Red Cross’ housing projects in Haiti, David Meltzer, the group’s general counsel and chief international officer, said changing conditions forced changes in plans. “If we had said, ‘All we’re going to do is build new homes,’ we’d still be looking for land,” he said.

The USAID project’s collapse left the Red Cross grasping for ways to spend money earmarked for it.

“Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this?? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?),” McGovern wrote to Meltzer in a November 2013 email obtained by ProPublica and NPR. “Can we fund Conrad’s hospital? Or more to PiH[Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?”

Jean Jean Flaubert says the Red Cross promised to transform his neighborhood. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about,” he said. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

It’s not clear what helicopter idea McGovern was referring to or if it was ever carried out. The Red Cross would say only that her comments were “grounded in the American Red Cross’ strategy and priorities, which focus on health and housing.”

Another signature project, known in Creole as “A More Resilient Great North,” is supposed to rehabilitate roads in poor, rural communities and to help them get clean water and sanitation.

But two years after it started, the $13 million effort has been faltering badly. An internal evaluation from March found residents were upset because nothing had been done to improve water access or infrastructure or to make “contributions of any sort to the well being of households,” the report said.

So much bad feeling built up in one area that the population “rejects the project.”

The Red Cross says 91% of donations went to help Haitians. That’s not true.

Instead of making concrete improvements to living conditions, the Red Cross has launched hand-washing education campaigns. The internal evaluation noted that these were “not effective when people had no access to water and no soap.” (The Red Cross declined to comment on the project.)

The group’s failures went beyond just infrastructure.

When a cholera epidemic raged through Haiti nine months after the quake, the biggest part of the Red Cross’ response — a plan to distribute soap and oral rehydration salts — was crippled by “internal issues that go unaddressed,” wrote the director of the Haiti program in her May 2011 memo.

Throughout that year, cholera was a steady killer. By September 2011, when the death toll had surpassed 6,000, the project was still listed as “very behind schedule” according to another internal document.

The Red Cross said in a statement that its cholera response, including a vaccination campaign, has continued for years and helped millions of Haitians.

But while other groups also struggled early responding to cholera, some performed well.

“None of these people had to die. That’s what upsets me,” said Paul Christian Namphy, a Haitian water and sanitation official who helped lead the effort to fight cholera. He says early failures by the Red Cross and other NGOs had a devastating impact. “These numbers should have been zero.”


So why did the Red Cross’ efforts fall so short? It wasn’t just that Haiti is a hard place to work.

“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”

Lee Malany was in charge of the Red Cross’ shelter program in Haiti starting in 2010. He remembers a meeting in Washington that fall where officials did not seem to have any idea how to spend millions of dollars set aside for housing. Malany says the officials wanted to know which projects would generate good publicity, not which projects would provide the most homes.

“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing,’” he recalled.

The Red Cross said in a statement its Haiti program has never put publicity over delivering aid.

Malany resigned the next year from his job in Haiti. “I said there’s no reason for me to stay here. I got on the plane and left.”

Transitional shelters like these on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince, paid for by the Red Cross, typically last three to five years. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of expertise, but whether anybody was filling key jobs. An April 2012 organizational chart obtained by ProPublica and NPR lists 9 of 30 leadership positions in Haiti as vacant, including slots for experts on health and shelter.

The Red Cross said vacancies and turnover were inevitable because of “the security situation, separation from family for international staff, and the demanding nature of the work.”

The constant upheaval took a toll. Internal documents refer to repeated attempts over years to “finalize” and “complete” a strategic plan for the Haiti program, efforts that were delayed by changes in senior management. As late as March 2014, more than four years into a six-year program, an internal update cites a “revised strategy” still awaiting “final sign-off.”

The Red Cross said settling on a plan early would have been a mistake. “It would be hard to create the perfect plan from the beginning in a complicated place like Haiti,” it said. “But we also need to begin, so we create plans that are continually revised.”

The Red Cross says it provided homes to more than 130,000 Haitians. But they didn’t.

Those plans were further undermined by the Red Cross’ reliance on expats. Noailles, the Haitian development professional who worked for the Red Cross on the Campeche project, said expat staffers struggled in meetings with local officials.

“Going to meetings with the community when you don’t speak the language is not productive,” she said. Sometimes, she recalled, expat staffers would skip such meetings altogether.

The Red Cross said it has “made it a priority to hire Haitians” despite lots of competition for local professionals, and that over 90 percent of its staff is Haitian. The charity said it used a local human resources firm to help.

Yet very few Haitians have made it into the group’s top echelons in Haiti, according to five current and former Red Cross staffers as well as staff lists obtained by ProPublica and NPR.

That not only affected the group’s ability to work in Haiti, it was also expensive.

According to an internal Red Cross budgeting document for the project in Campeche, the project manager – a position reserved for an expatriate – was entitled to allowances for housing, food and other expenses, home leave trips, R&R four times a year, and relocation expenses. In all, it added up to $140,000.

Compensation for a senior Haitian engineer — the top local position — was less than one-third of that, $42,000 a year.

Shelim Dorval, a Haitian administrator who worked for the Red Cross coordinating travel and housing for expatriate staffers, recalled thinking it was a waste to spend so much to bring in people with little knowledge of Haiti when locals were available.

“For each one of those expats, they were having high salaries, staying in a fancy house, and getting vacation trips back to their countries,” Dorval said. “A lot of money was spent on those people who were not Haitian, who had nothing to do with Haiti. The money was just going back to the United States.”


Soon after the earthquake, McGovern, the Red Cross CEO, said the group would make sure donors knew exactly what happened to their money.

The Red Cross would “lead the effort in transparency,” she pledged. “We are happy to share the way we are spending our dollars.”

That hasn’t happened. The Red Cross’ public reports offer only broad categories about where $488 million in donations has gone. The biggest category is shelter, at about $170 million. The others include health, emergency relief and disaster preparedness.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

It has declined repeated requests to disclose the specific projects, to explain how much money went to each or to say what the results of each project were.

There is reason to doubt the Red Cross’ claims that it helped 4.5 million Haitians. An internal evaluation found that in some areas, the Red Cross reported helping more people than even lived in the communities. In other cases, the figures were low, and in others double-counting went uncorrected.

In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.

For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)

The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.

The Red Cross also won’t break down what portion of donations went to overhead.

How the Red Cross’ Overhead Claim Stacks Up

The Red Cross says that for each dollar donated, 91 cents went to Haiti. But here’s what actually happened in one $5.4 million project to improve temporary shelters.

Overhead and Management
Spent on Doing the Work
What They Say
What Actually Happened
9%
91%
9%Red Cross’ overhead
24%Red Cross’ program management and other
~7%Other groups’ overhead
60%

Source: American Red Cross and ProPublica Analysis
Credit: Sisi Wei/ProPublica

McGovern told CBS News a few months after the quake, “Minus the 9 cents overhead, 91 cents on the dollar will be going to Haiti. And I give you my word and my commitment, I’m banking my integrity, my own personal sense of integrity on that statement.”

But the reality is that less money went to Haiti than 91 percent. That’s because in addition to the Red Cross’ 9 percent overhead, the other groups that got grants from the Red Cross also have their own overhead.

In one case, the Red Cross sent $6 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross for rental subsidies to help Haitians leave tent camps. The IFRC then took out 26 percent for overhead and what the IFRC described as program-related “administration, finance, human resources” and similar costs.

Beyond all that, the Red Cross also spends another piece of each dollar for what it describes as “program costs incurred by the American Red Cross in managing” the projects done by other groups.

The American Red Cross’ management and other costs consumed an additional 24 percent of the money on one project, according to the group’s statements and internal documents. The actual work, upgrading shelters, was done by the Swiss and Spanish Red Cross societies.

“It’s a cycle of overhead,” said Jonathan Katz, the Associated Press reporter in Haiti at the time of the earthquake who tracked post-disaster spending for his book, The Big Truck That Went By. “It was always going to be the American Red Cross taking a 9 percent cut, re-granting to another group, which would take out their cut.”

Given the results produced by the Red Cross’ projects in Haiti, Bellerive, the former prime minister, said he has a hard time fathoming what’s happened to donors’ money.

“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more or less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”

A resident in a Port-Au-Prince transitional shelter paid for by the Red Cross. (Marie Arago, special to ProPublica)

This story was co-published with NPR. Mitzy-Lynn Hyacinthe contributed reporting. Design direction by David Sleight, production by Hannah Birch.

Read about how the Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac in PR Over People: The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster. And about how the Red Cross’ CEO has been serially misleading about where donors’ dollars are going.

If you have information about the Red Cross or about other international aid projects, please email justin@propublica.org.


author photoJustin Elliott is a ProPublica reporter covering politics and government accountability. Previously, he was a reporter at Salon.com and TPMmuckraker and news editor at Talking Points Memo.

Laura Sullivan is a NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country’s most disadvantaged people.

05 Sep

Don’t Give Money To The Red Cross, It Won’t Save Houston

It has proven itself unequal to the task of massive disaster relief. We need a new kind of humanitarian response.

Houston Evacuation
People evacuate their home after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on Sunday in Houston.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 2004, I was just starting my first full-time job in a Washington newsroomwhen disaster struck. It was on the other side of the world: an extraordinarily powerful earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia, that triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean. But thanks to CNN it felt like the anguish and terror were happening in the next cubicle. I still remember the fear on the fishermen’s faces and watching mothers cry as they searched for their children in the waves. Powerless, eager to help, I did the only thing I could think of: I went online and sent $20 to the American Red Cross.

Thirteen years later, we’re watching another disaster, this time much closer to home. Tropical Storm Harvey, supercharged by a freakishly warm Gulf of Mexico, has slammed into the Texas coast and is now running a dayslong conveyor belt carrying trillions of gallons of water from the ocean to the sky to the bayous and streets of Houston. Highways have become rivers in America’s fourth-largest city. Apartment complexes are filling up like bathtubs. Dams are nearing failure. Thousands have had to be rescued from the still-rising floodwaters in the overbuilt, improperly drained city. The scariest part is that, with the water still rising, no one can really know how bad the damage has been so far or what is to come. Once again, most of us outside the zone feel powerless but want to help. Once again, leaders and noble souls are telling us the best way to do so is to turn to the best known, most bipartisanly loved brand in humanitarian relief.

But I won’t be donating to the Red Cross this time. And after years of reporting on and inside some of the biggest disasters of the decade and change, I know what a costly mistake the focus on donating anywhere can be.

Part of the problem is the American Red Cross’ track record when it comes to disasters. It isn’t great. I learned this best in Haiti, where I survived the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and ran the Associated Press bureau from 2007 until 2011. When the earthquake struck, killing an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern’s staff swung into action doing what it does best: raising money. Their appeal to “save lives,” aided by endorsements from President Obama and celebrities, and fueled by a pioneering text message campaign, raised a staggering $488 million.

It quickly became clear that the organization’s biggest problem would be figuring out what to do with all that cash. The U.S. chapter had just three full-time staff in Haiti at the time of the disaster. Though it soon sent more, and subcontracted staff from the local Haitian Red Cross, the truth was that there wasn’t all that much they could do: ARC isn’t a medical aid group à la Doctors Without Borders. It doesn’t do development work or specialize in rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. What it does best is provide immediate assistance—often in the form of blankets, hygiene kits, or temporary shelter—and as incredibly destructive as the earthquake was, there wasn’t half a billion dollars of tarps and hygiene kits to hand out. Staffers came up with all kinds of creative ways to unload the money, including handing it off to other aid groups that could use it better (after ARC had taken its customary 9 percent administrative cut). As it became increasingly clear that the entire earthquake response, from the lowliest neighborhood to the top floor of the United Nations Secretariat—had been a failure, ARC found itself scrambling to explain why the half a billion dollars it took hadn’t made a substantive difference in survivors’ lives. “There’s only so much money that can be forced through the emergency phase,” an ARC spokeswoman told me when I asked how it was possible that just a third of the money it had raised had even been committed, much less spent, two years later.

What no one at the organization bothered to do was explain to the public—in Haiti or back in the States—that it had never needed anywhere near that much money in the first place. (In contrast, some NGOs state their fundraising goals in advance and cap or redirect donations once they have exceeded those amounts.)

ARC was roundly blasted in the U.S. for its shambolic response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, with international observers warning that elements were so bad that they verged on criminal wrongdoing. Seven years later, despite an internal retooling effort, it failed again in 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. (The response was “worse than the storm,” one Red Cross driver told ProPublica during its jaw-dropping investigation.) Typically, the organization has had more success responding to small-scale disasters; it’s common to hear stories people tell of the blankets and compassion they got from Red Cross volunteers after house fires. But even there, they’ve been getting into trouble: ARC’s 2015 response to a string of northern California wildfires was so bad—showing up unequipped and unprepared, shutting down other volunteer operations, and then failing to provide promised food or shelter on its own—that locals shunned the organization to focus on their own relief efforts.

Worse than what we know is what we don’t. The ARC, which boasts annual revenues of more than $2.6 billion, is notoriously opaque when it comes to what it does with the money it raises for disasters. It has never produced a meaningful breakdown of its spending after the Haiti earthquake. If you look at RedCross.org right now, you’ll see a prominent link inviting you to “make a difference” by donating to its Harvey effort. But nowhere does it say what it will do with the money. A tiny video shows empty cots in a shelter.

When I emailed and called the organization’s full-time media relations department Sunday and Monday asking how much it had raised so far, how much it thought the group might need, and what Red Cross volunteers and staff were doing in the response to Hurricane Harvey, I eventually got back this reply: “At this point in our active disaster response, we are unable to answer your questions by your deadline. Thank you for understanding.” I followed up again. A few hours later, the organization sent a second note saying it was providing food, cots, blankets, and other support to 6,000 people in various shelters across the region—again with no information about the cost or money raised so far.

It isn’t just journalists who get the shaft. ARC’s leaders have misled Congress. In a scathing 2015 report, the federal Government Accountability Office noted that “no regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross’s disaster services.”

As ProPublica’s Justin Elliott has reported, many of these issues are the result of a team of former AT&T executives taking over a complex organization—one that manages tasks as critical and disparate as blood-banking and providing resources to military families, while operating in a blurred, neither-fish-nor-fowl zone with some of the privileges of a government agency (such as free rent for its D.C. headquarters) but the moneymaking latitude and lack of oversight of a private corporation.

ARC and its defenders sometimes protest that there’s too much focus on them; that scores of other actors have also failed in their responses to the same disasters. In part, that’s just the other side of the double-edged sword that comes with having a higher profile than others and raising far more money than anyone else—for being, as McGovern likes to say, “a brand to die for.

But in another way, they are entirely right. There is too much focus on the ARC in disasters such as Harvey, in a way that goes beyond any one organization. The way our society handles disasters—first the calamity; then the outpouring of sympathy and donations; then the long, slow rebuild—is wrong. As humans have long known, it is easier, cheaper, and better to mitigate or prevent disasters from happening than to rescue victims and rebuild after them. We’ve known for centuries about the threat of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts have warned for years that the Texas coast needed to make serious investments to prepare for nigh-inevitable storms, including preparing mitigation specifically for intense, unprecedented floods worsened in part by climate change. It seems that some, including many of Houston’s hospitals, heeded those warnings and are benefiting from the preparation. Other sectors did not. At a systemic level, instead of taking those threats seriously, Texans elected a governor who distorts facts about climate change. Americans picked a president who—days before this disaster and moments before rushing to the defense of rampaging neo-Nazis—announced in front of his gilded elevator that he was scrapping federal construction standards that had required new projects to account for climate change’s effect on storms like Harvey.

Local news organizations in Texas are maintaining lists of organizations, both local and run by the Red Cross, where those affected by the storm can get help and those inclined can send donations. Experts and experience say that, if you are going to donate to anyone from outside the disaster zone, send cash, not stuff. Boxes full of food, clothes, or other stuff will clog up supply lines and as likely as not go unused.

Yet the hard reality is that we still don’t know what the needs in Houston and other parts of Texas or Louisiana are going to be or who will be best to respond to them. Millions of people are still in the middle of the storm, with the National Hurricane Center warning that some areas could get double the already awe-inducing amounts of rain they’ve already received. Survivors, in other words, haven’t even gotten past the emergency to take stock of the damage and really begin the difficult relief phase; if this was an earthquake, the ground would still be shaking.

It is difficult for rescuers to get in. There is nowhere for most people to go. While there are heroic efforts going on right now by locals and neighbors to save as many as they can from the floods—efforts that authorities should encourage and help coordinate—the hard, frustrating reality is that there is not very much an untrained outsider can do to help once a complex disaster has begun. And with, at a bare minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage expected and future storms on the way, the costs in cleaning up this mess and getting people back into their old lives again are going to be astronomical, on the level that only wealthy and powerful governments, and the combined power of their citizenry, will be able to address.

Some people get personally offended by talk like this. They are seeing pain, they are being generous, and they hope it might help—just like I did watching the pictures from Indonesia from my cubicle years ago. The people suffering in this storm deserve all of that and more. But what you learn when you really dive into these situations is that momentary intentions, no matter how kind, are not enough—not on this scale. Those past, ineffective, and opaque disaster responses, from Haiti to New Jersey to the Gulf Coast, have created a legacy of mistrust, not only of the Red Cross but of the entire humanitarian aid apparatus its iconic brand represents. We can’t afford to do that again.

If we really care about the people of Houston and the rest of the Gulf Coast, we have to commit fully to a combined, sustained, serious response to recover and rebuild—meaning lots of money, lots of attention to helping those areas adapt for the future, and lots of concern for the people who we know are most vulnerable. We all need to come together to prevent future disasters, whether the growing risk of a major Oklahoma earthquake, a Caribbean tsunami, and especially the many threats we face from climate change. The sooner we acknowledge and act on that and stop debating the best place to send $20, the better off all of us will be.

06 Jul

Fam 1st Family Foundation Week

11th Annual Football Camp

Family First Football Camp this Saturday at Oakland Tech High School! Kids 6-12 are from 9 am -12 pm with registration at 8 am, and kids 13-18 are from 1-4 pm, with registration at noon. Still have plenty of room…it’s FREE!

Saturday, July 8, 2017, 8 AM – 5 PM

Family Bowl Night

Join us for a evening of FAMILY FUN!!

ALBANY BOWL
540 SAN PABLO AVE
ALBANY, CA 94706

July 7, 2017

5pm-9pm

PRE-Sale $25 per person
$35 per person (@ door) See More

Talent Show

This is a premier event that sets the stage for our youth to display their talents. We want to encourage our youth to become anything they want by showing them that working hard and being dedicated to their dream is the path to success. It is our responsibility to help our youth see the special talents they have within them and help them to dig deep and be both creative and outgoing. Take pride in helping to create a confident adult!

The talent show is open to children ages 4 – 18. All participants will audition for the talent show by submitting a short video via email to Fam1stFamilyFoundation@gmail.com.

Fam 1st Family Foundation

519 17th street, Oakland, California 94612

July 6, 2017

5pm-9pm

06 Jul

Marshawn Lynch’s Charity Host Unique Camp

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch tweeted out a picture Saturday of a

camp that his Fam 1st Family Foundation and he will be hosting a unique camp, “Coding & Cleats” going against the grain. The “7 ON 7 Summer Session” camps will be held from 9am- 3pm, June 17 & 24 and second session July 1 & 15, 2017, at Oakland Tech High In Oakland.

In the camp, attendees will “learn how to build and use sports technology.” This definitely is a unique type of camp, teaching kids that all parts of football can be cool, not just the players we see out there on Sundays.

The foundation is adamant about kids attending both portions of the camp and not letting kids participate in just one or the other.

Being close to the Fam 1st Family foundation was likely a factor in Lynch’s decision to sign with the Silver and Black, as it’s based in the Bay Area.

Seeing Lynch get involved in his home community and doing everything he can really speaks to the type of person he is and not the person we see when he’s speaking to the media.