The information age is burying everyone in noise. Globalization increases stress. Then the poorly named Global War on Terror drove some leaders to suspend, or at least radically rethink, ethical constraints that had been settled two generations past, like the unequivocal ban on torture in the Geneva Conventions and many subsequent laws and treaties.
This was the context in which we set out to create a reader on intelligence ethics that would, a) actually be read by busy professionals buried in urgent texts, and b) make a real difference in a profession better known for breaking rules. All involved recognized the “oxymoron problem.” All know that while most of our colleagues are moral people trying to do legitimate work to protect their peoples and governments, there are some who certainly think that ethics for spies is the dumbest idea ever.
To them we say that intelligence ethics is actually a force multiplier, and dramatic deviations like officially sanctioned torture are force degraders.
So 26 intelligence professionals from seven countries collaborated to create a reader designed to be 50 pages maximum, an hour’s read for busy people who recognize why ethics matter, even for spies and the many other intelligence professionals of the modern age.
They gathered knowing only half would make the quality cut, and struggled to compress lifetimes of experience into extremely short forms. Each had specific reasons, but the overarching recognition was that national power declines when “all gloves off” immorality prevails. We are engaged in a very “Long War” that is basically between barbarism and civilized ways of life and conflict. There are always tactical voices who seek a quick victory by any means necessary. And real terrorism frightens all thoughtful people, so the danger of becoming that which you oppose has never been greater. This is a story about how that reader was created, with summaries of the 13 essays selected for publication.
First, a professor at the National Military Intelligence College (then JMIC) Dr. Jan Goldman, collaborated with a philosopher of ethics with national security background Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo and about six others to create a new “International Intelligence Ethics Association” branching off of the long-running JSCOPE conferences (Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics). They held their first meetings on January 27 and 28 of 2006, which made the front page of the New York Times precisely because the novelty of ethics for spies was, well, news. Their association can be found at: http://www.intelligence-ethics.org/ and their fourth conference will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, February 20-21 of 2009.
Inspired by them, I went to the intelligence studies section of the International Studies Association seeking permission to do this project. They concurred, and let me fill one-fourth of their next year’s panels with papers on intelligence ethics of various kinds. Those engaged 18 participants, but some solicited could not come and others were advisors to international leaders who could not participate publicly. From those, 8 other papers were procured.
A panel of judges was created. Two were editors of major intelligence publications, one was a former Chancellor of America’s National Intelligence University system, and one was an operator near the end of his career. Their task was to review all submissions and to pick the best half. The authors’ task was to compress what they thought essential into 4 double-spaced manuscript pages. All judges were invited to submit forwards to the final piece, recognizing that most could not. The one who did was INS senior editor Loch Johnson, whose forward will be reprinted here next.
This rather long report (21 pages and 9400 words) describes a multi-year process involving dozens of intelligence professionals working for at least 6 governments. The result was a 50 page 'reader' published by the Center for the Study of Intelligence and Wisdom in Minnesota. The first user was the CIA and the first cash customer was the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). One sad observation from this process was that ethics at the level of intelligence professionals, while extremely important, is almost impotent if top political leadership is fundamentally immoral. If so, the Presidents and PM's often simply fire or ignore anyone who disagrees with current party lines. This is a classic dilemma for true intelligence professionals, who in theory are supposed to offer completely objective decision support for their political masters, but in reality have to deal with all sorts of politicization of their intelligence products and processes.
The Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association was very involved, sponsoring three panels of six papers each on the topic. Those panels resulted in 18 of the 30 papers competed to produce the reader. Judges volunteered their time on the merits of the project. The ultimate sponsor and publisher was a Center for the Study of Intelligence and Wisdom at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
Andregg, Michael M..
Creating a Reader on Intelligence Ethics, 2008 for INS.
Intelligence and National Security (a journal).
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