Why You Should Leak

Posted on 11/02/2011 by


It is taken for granted, I should think, that corrupt individuals can subvert institutions. However, the reverse is also true: corrupt institutions can subvert individuals. It is the latter case which I wish to focus on in this post, as it ties into the problems of getting otherwise well-meaning people to 1) recognise the corruption in their institutions, and 2) take what steps they can to correct the situation.

Generally speaking, corruption can be rooted out and dealt with in very standard channels. If a given accountant has been cooking the books in his favour – perhaps engineering the proverbial situation where he receives 1/10th of a penny for every business transaction – this is usually discovered and ended in appropriate manners.

What I am interested in, are those institutions which are so corrupt, that every systemic check against such problems have themselves become subverted, or at least rendered impotent. It is this situation wherein generally well-intentioned people are at their most conflicted.

It is standard practice in the modern institutional world, be it corporate, non-profit, or government, to instill in employees a sense of loyalty to the institution. It is not enough that an employee is dependent upon the institution for a paycheque; the employee must incorporate the institution into their self-identity, even to the point where the employee sees the institutions goals as coincident with their own. The more successfully an employee can do this, generally the more successful they become in rising through the ranks; it is ‘feeling part of something bigger than one’s self’.

This is a very basic sketch of the economic and psychological method by which corrupt institutions can subvert otherwise well-intentioned employees. Because the institution’s goals are ‘bigger’ than the individual’s, the institution tends to dominate, especially when pecuniary remuneration and considerations of social status are brought to bear. Even if those goals are corrupt, or criminal, the individual will still tend to bend toward accepting those goals as valid. Concurrently, there will develop a resistance against questioning those goals, as well as an antagonism toward calls for reform of said goals.

Typically, criminally corrupt institutions will invest heavily in perception management: it will do everything in its power to ensure that its public appearance is that of a legitimate and functional organisation. Included in this process are employees, because every employee becomes not only a worker, but a tool of propaganda. Thanks to employees identifying personally with the institution, they will actively work as agents of perception management, by correcting ‘false’ impressions of their institution and propagating the ‘correct’ interpretation, (ie the propaganda.)

When this level of persuasion and self-identification is found in the context of a criminally corrupt institution, which otherwise has a highly-regarded public image, it is especially difficult to contain and correct the problem. All forms of internal controls, as I commented above, have been subverted or maginalised to the point of uselessness. Most people within this institution, as well, are blind to the state of the situation, and are either consciously or unconsciously helping to reinforce and defend the institutional status quo.

In addition to the internal control mechanisms, it is often quite likely that those external control mechanisms which directly interface with the criminally corrupt institution will have been subverted as well. This is part and parcel of institutional self-defence: ensure that there are no threats to the stability of the system. One need only consider the case of Bernard Madoff to see how this is true.

An institution in this state is, frankly, beyond any sort of normal reassertion of legal operation. The criminality has become so pervasively criminal that illegal has become normal, and legal has fallen off the table. There is not a chance for institutional methods of correcting the situation; sitting around and waiting for it to happen is hoping for a miracle which cannot occur.

When this is the case – and I posit it is pervasive throughout the world – the responsibility for asserting what is legal falls upon well-intentioned individuals. It can only be such a person who will see the criminality, by virtue of being on the ground and participating with the system, even at a low level. It might take quite awhile for realisation to dawn, and indeed an otherwise well-intentioned individual might find themselves involved quite deeply in the institution before they recognise the ongoing criminality.

A well-intentioned individual, when finally conscious of the criminality of their institution, can either sacrifice themselves for the continuation of that criminality, or they can take steps to defend the rule of law. There is no choice in the matter, full stop; any suggestion to the contrary will by definition be an attempt to argue for continued support of the institution. When corruption – especially criminal corruption – is discovered, it must be dealt with.

That is the rule of law; when it is no longer followed by institutions, that is no excuse for individuals to do the same. In the case of a criminally corrupt institution, what is legal is a revolutionary act: an individual who is to attempt to correct this criminality will have to turn to revolutionary means. In the past, as well as the present, this method is leaking. An excellent example this is Mr Rudolf Elmer. He was just an accountant, but being stymied in his attempts to do the right thing, he had to turn to the only means left to help correct the situation: leaking.

Despite much frothy press to the contrary, leaking is a legitimate action. It is, in essence, resistance to criminal corruption, or even pure criminality run amok. To quote the Nuremberg Principles: Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment…The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him… Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

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Posted in: Activism