Intelligence Ethics: Oxymoron or Hope for the Future?

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Intelligence Ethics: Oxymoron or Hope for the Future?

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Intelligence Ethics: Oxymoron or Hope for the Future? There is much to-do about intelligence failures prior to the war, prior to 9/11, or in other disasters related to ethical failures among intelligence professionals. A cottage industry has arisen searching for whom to blame how. This is why people gathered at the second “International Intelligence Ethics” conference in Springfield Virginia in January 2007. It attracted a couple of hundred analysts, internationals, professors, military inteI vets, active duty and even a few operators, who stayed murky on the fringes like they do. Almost every one of the participants has heard a hundred “oxymoron” jokes, because that’s just the natural reaction to putting those two words together. If you speak or write about intelligence ethics, you will become well versed in oxymoron jokes. But, the moral zealots protest, “Ethics is good for you!” Right. Like lots of fiber, heavy exercise and prostate exams. But I pester colleagues; the case for ethics even in this strange domain is stronger than it may appear at first. The cases that ethics in intelligence serve the national interest, and that attention to intelligence ethics can be healthy even for operators in the field, are very strong when carefully reviewed. First, alliances are critical to power on our vast planet, whether that power is democratically guided or imperial in style. Alliances fray when the center becomes untrustworthy or corrupt. Second, cohesion within the state is essential to maximum power at war. And nothing corrodes internal cohesion faster than a rotten core or visibly incompetent and immoral leadership.


This is an op-ed (opinion piece) written for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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Andregg, Michael M.. (2007). Intelligence Ethics: Oxymoron or Hope for the Future?. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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