BP: WikiLeaks’ Finest Hour?

As I wrote in my last column, the Internet and the digital revolution have enabled individuals with affordable desktop hardware to engage in forms of production, in a wide range of cultural and information industries, that previously required hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital outlays.  And the watchdog function, monitoring and exposing corporate malfeasance, is one of them.

WikiLeaks, a website that hosts leaked documents, is a case in point.  Time and again, WikiLeaks has attracted the ire of corporations and government agencies by serving as a venue in which the disgruntled employees of those corporations and agencies can expose the malfeasance of their employers.  As Reason’s Jesse Walker put it, the government “doesn’t want to deal with a world where a disillusioned functionary can spill secrets so easily.”

Most recently, Bradley Manning, a soldier who leaked the video of an airstrike that killed two Reuters reporters, suffered a penalty — arrest — that Obama considers too divisive for Bush administration torturers.  Not long before, a U.S. counterintelligence report recommended “[t]he identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistlblowers” as a deterrent to other leakers.

This was only the most recent in a long series of government and corporate attempts to shut down WikiLeaks in the face of embarrassment.  Not to put too fine a point on it, the cockroaches don’t like it when you turn on the kitchen light.  Unfortunately for would-be censors, they’ve found that attempts to suppress online information results in the so-called Streisand Effect, named for an attempt by Barbra Streisand suppress photos of her house online — with the suppression itself generating so much publicity, and mirroring of the original content, that untold millions of people wound up seeing the photos.

It seems to me that BP could benefit from running up against the Streisand Effect — or rather, that we could all benefit from it doing so.

Surely there must be more than a few disgruntled employees at BP corporate headquarters with access to documents concerning the deferral of expenditures on safety equipment, orders to go ahead with risky operations in the face of warnings from engineers, orders to cut corners on normal safety measures in order to save time and reduce costs, and so forth.  Such workers likely also have access to all sorts of documents written after the disaster occurred, ordering those in charge of cleanup efforts to refuse respirators and other protective gear to cleanup workers and to fire those who brought their own.  Or memos ordering cleanup workers to stonewall the press.  Or documented evidence of collusion with local governments to bar access to the press.  Or documented refusals to share the formula for dispersant chemicals.

Come on.  There must be countless people out there who chafed at working under sorry specimens of humanity like Tony Hayward, suffering all the indignities those of us in Corporate America know all too wall, just itching for revenge against the human filth whose criminal negligence caused this disaster to happen.

We’ve seen from this incident just how close to worthless the regulatory state really is.  In the future, the really effective sanction against corporate malfeasance is likely to be exposure by the “small people” working within the belly of the beast.  A thousand disgruntled workers who know how to anonymously upload a file attachment and click “send” are a lot harder to buy off than a government regulator.

So come on, BP workers, step up to the plate.  Help expose the scum of the earth to the public accountability they’re begging for.  You’ll be glad you did.

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