Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Ethics of Espionage: A Contradiction?

There's an interesting ethical discussion happening in Washington. The question is: What, if any, moral constraints should be placed on the activity of intelligence officers? Some say that the work itself is already unethical, so how can you speak about ethics at all? Others contend that despite the fact that spying itself might be considered unethical, there must be limits as to what spies can and cannot do. The NYT reports on efforts to reflect on this topic:

An Exotic Tool for Espionage: Moral Compass

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 — Is there such a thing as an ethical spy?

A group of current and former intelligence officers and academic experts think there is, and they are meeting this weekend to dissect what some others in the field consider a flat-out contradiction in terms.

The organizers say recent controversies over interrogation techniques bordering on torture and the alleged skewing of prewar intelligence on Iraq make their mission urgent. At the conference on Friday and Saturday in a Springfield, Va., hotel, the 200 attendees hope to begin hammering out a code of ethics for spies and to form an international association to study the subject.

Conference materials describe intelligence ethics as "an emerging field" and call the gathering, not sponsored by any government agency, the first of its kind. The topics include "Spiritual Crises Among Intelligence Operatives," "Lessons From Abu Ghraib," "Assassination: The Dream and the Nightmare" and "The Perfidy of Espionage." . . .

"It doesn't make much sense to me," said Duane R. Clarridge, who retired in 1988 after 33 years as a C.I.A. operations officer and who will not attend the conference. "Depending on where you're coming from, the whole business of espionage is unethical."

To Mr. Clarridge, "intelligence ethics" is "an oxymoron," he said. "It's not an issue. It never was and never will be, not if you want a real spy service." Spies operate under false names, lie about their jobs, and bribe or blackmail foreigners to betray their countries, he said . . .

read the rest


Blogger Jenstall said...

That entire article is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I've ever read.

10:06 PM  

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