Dangerous allegations in the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico residents accuse BP and their security company of harassment. By Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera. [The following is an excerpt]. This Spring [Steven] Aguinaga filed a lawsuit against BP in hopes of obtaining compensation for his deteriorating health.
Aguinaga's attorney encouraged him with the prospect of setting a precedent for other health-related lawsuits against BP. But instead of bringing Aguinaga relief, the process has turned his life upside down.
Within 30 days of filing the lawsuit, Aguinaga had his home in Hazelhurst, Mississippi broken into.
"I found the Norton Security alert on my laptop warning me that someone had tried to access my information, and the door to my house was left open," he explained. "I think somebody wanted me to know they could get in easily."
Aguinaga's employer, Star Services, who had placed him on workers' compensation for a work-related injury, cut off his cheques after he filed the lawsuit against BP.
According to Aguinaga, both he and his wife are being followed, while in early September a truck tried to run him off the road near a bridge.
Three of his four security dogs were recently killed, and the fourth was stabbed.
While Aguinaga's story is the fodder of conspiracy theorists, it has precedent.
Washington DC attorney Billie Garde has seen this kind of thing before.
"I've had cases where similar tactics [by the defendant] were used," Garde, whose firm Clifford and Garde often represents whistleblowers, told Al Jazeera, "I represented people in years past in a case against Wackenhut when oil companies [in Alaska] hired a bunch of people to spy on these folks."
In December 1993, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement of an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit by whistleblower Chuck Hamel and his associates, that resulted from a spying campaign that Alyeska had mounted against him. Hamel had tipped off regulators and Congress about alleged environmental wrongdoing along the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
At the time, Alyeska, which runs the pipeline for the oil companies, was owned by BP and Exxon/Mobile, among other oil companies, as it is today. Wackenhut's operation was shut down after it had run for seven months by Alyeska's owner oil companies.
Alyeska did not contest that during its campaign against Hamel, its operatives from Wackenhut security it had hired to spy on him had secretly taped his phone calls, searched his mail, garbage, phone and credit card records (and those of his associates), and even employed attractive female operatives to try to entice Hamel into admissions or actions that might have discredited him.
"Alyeska hired Wackhenhut to basically find the people who were leaking information to Congress and newspapers about the safety issues along the pipeline," Garde said. "Wackenhut at the time had a special investigations department that undertook this task with vigour, and carried out this campaign against Alyeska's critics."
The case eventually became the subject of Congressional hearings and lawsuits, and has all become public record.
While some of the tactics might sound sensational - the stuff of Hollywood movies - Garde cautions those who may write it off.
"When people say you're just paranoid, and that this kind of stuff doesn't happen, I say yes it does."
Image: Steven Aguinaga, holding up two tickets from police for a DUI he was never tested for, told Al Jazeera he believes he is being intimidated for filing a lawsuit against BP [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]