Do Intelligence Bureaucracies Fear Ethics, and if so Why?
By Michael Andregg, University of St. Thomas in St. Paul MN USA firstname.lastname@example.org
For the International Journal of Intelligence Ethics, Fall of 2012
Yes. Why will take longer since the bureaucracies are very defensive about this topic.
Introduction: Special Challenges
Every intelligence professional knows that the domain they enter presents unusual challenges. Stakes can be extremely high (like life or death for nations, or for your personal infantry squad). Information is always incomplete and all too often incorrect. Moral ambiguities abound, and tradeoffs between alternative outcomes can be excruciatingly painful. Least evil options are sometimes the only options available better than watching catastrophe unfold.
To be considered a professional by polite society one must belong to a group mature enough to have developed codes of ethics, among many other issues of standards, training, expected skills, duties and such. It took doctors and attorneys centuries to develop their codes, and issues still remain or emerge anew with new technologies. So this is not an easy process even for normal organizations (1, 2) which intelligence bureaucracies are not.
We do not have centuries to linger on nuances now, because nuclear, biological and other ‘special’ weapons could destroy our civilization. So a sense of urgency is appropriate. Intelligence failures sometimes precede catastrophic wars. Politicians and their policy people often blame intelligence staff for their own policy failures (see “Elephants in the Room” to follow). But after the carnage is done, finding who to blame is a sad exercise among tragic people most of whom were sworn to protect the innocents of their countries.
Bureaucracies are not people. They are composed of people, like a human body is made of cells. But bureaucracies have emergent properties, system dynamics, capabilities and behaviors that go far beyond what any individual human or cell could accomplish. Bureaucracies have no souls or conscience in the human sense, but they fear ethics and oversight. This is why they often crucify whistleblowers. Fear is seldom the stated reason, but it is often the real reason.
Some secrets should be exposed, lest they lead to waste, fraud, abuse or the murder of thousands of innocents. But the mantra of protecting sources and methods generally prevails, even when the real reason for secrecy is bureaucratic incompetence, sloth or mortal sin. Finally, be assured that you can put good people into a dysfunctional system, and that bad system can then put the good people to work on very evil ends. Totalitarian governments provide numerous examples from history. Most of them are gone now; a warning to those who think the status quo is stable.
So bringing ethics to intelligence bureaucracies is not easy, but is important. I am not a moralist, rather a practical person trying to preserve civilizations faced with profound challenges in the third millennium of the Common Era. So I beg you to attend, and to do better than I have as you move forward. The order of presentation will be: 1) a brief history of the quest for ethics for spies, 2) a quick survey of a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies, 3) discussion of ‘Elephants in the Room’ that are seldom mentioned where everyone has been scrubbed by security clearances, and 4) conclusions about why systemic, bureaucratic fear of ethics is a primary cause of other problems that bedevil those guardians who would like to be called professionals of intelligence.
The experiences of many practitioners from many countries encountered during the early years of that intelligence ethics society that did not last ten years total revealed significant resistance to anything approaching "ethics" in many bureaucracies. This took many forms, all of which reduced attendance at intelligence "ethics" conferences. So this author decided to probe that problem more directly by interacting with each of America's 17 primary intelligence agencies. Then he wrote this chapter in what would become an edited chapter for a special edition of their short-lived journal. In fact, most practitioners do have consciences and are not psychopaths. Rather, they are rare patriots who put lives on lines to support high ideals, when their agencies support them. But yes, the agencies tend to fear ethics, because they fear losing secrets and thus money and power when scandals become known. And worse, the bureaucracies tend to punish their most ethical employees, which presents perverse examples to those who remain.
Andregg, Michael M..
Do Intelligence Bureaucracies Fear Ethics, and if so, Why?.
International Journal of Intelligence Ethics.
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