Ethics for Spies in an Age of Assassinations, Rationalized Torture, Black, High-tech Propaganda, and Civilizational Breakdown

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Ethics for Spies in an Age of Assassinations, Rationalized Torture, Black, High-tech Propaganda, and Civilizational Breakdown

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International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations


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Ethics for Spies in an Age of Assassinations, Rationalized Torture, Black, High-tech Propaganda, and Civilizational Breakdown Michael Andregg, University of St. Thomas, and Vice President of the ISCSC for Young Scholar Development Op-Ed for the 2018 ISCSC Newsletter In my academic life, I do war forecasting and study spies (you cannot be very accurate on causes of wars if you do not pay attention to what the spies are up to). This makes ISCSC conferences a welcome relief to me, because they gather mainly nice, safe, elderly professors and students who are concerned about the great, classical issues. Spy conferences have quite a different ambiance. Anyone who has read Sun Tzu or Thucydides knows that spies have been with us for as long as civilizations, perhaps longer. But spies usually keep a low profile, and you do not have to worry about the assassins unless you are involved in high politics or commerce. Once in a great while, big issues for civilizations and for secret intelligence entities overlap. This is one. So my task today is to convey why creating an ethos for spies is important to civilizational survival. You all have read something about the attempted assassination on March 4 of the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Great Britain by exotic nerve agent. This is part of a larger “Warm War” between current Russia and “the West,” which could become much hotter. Since nuclear weapons hover in the background, most of this is done “asymmetrically” through “hybrid warfare” and “active measures” which include extensive “information operations” and cyberattacks. Oops, the Brits chose Brexit (partly therefore) and we got Putin’s Poodle for a president. NATO, the EU, the United States and the world will never be the same. Propaganda always was more powerful than many know, but the techniques available in World War II were trivial compared with the techniques and technologies of information warfare and psychological operations today. Disinformation and black propaganda always were Russian specialties (well, the Brits and Israelis are pretty adept at these also). The problem is that spies learn from each other like any other professionals do, and sophisticated technique is spreading. Kim Jong-un also used an exotic nerve agent to kill his half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia, to prevent China from cultivating an alternative for the throne. North Korea got their VX from Russia. Meanwhile China has shown the world new heights of industrial espionage, and learned excellent brainwashing techniques from the North Koreans. These contribute to trade tensions with the US and the West, while China also develops the world’s best facial recognition software and social control technologies, like continuous video surveillance guided by novel AI software of people suspected of impure thoughts. Since China and North Korea have near total control of their media, this can have large consequences for concepts like freedom and human dignity. The West is far from pure in this domain. We invented Facebook, in the news a lot recently, the NSA and CIA, while the Brits built GCHQ and Cambridge Analytica. We also invented the term “psychological operations” during our war with North Korea (and China) in the early 1950’s. So when we of the ISCSC visit China for the 48th annual meeting of our gentle, professorial society, I will be pushing for a “Great Harmony” between the “Middle Kingdom” (China) and the “Beautiful Country” (USA). I will be remembering wise words from ancient Chinese masters, especially from Sun Tzu whose incomparable work will be cited extensively. This “clash” of civilizations must be managed as constructively as possible, lest everything under heaven be threatened with general thermonuclear war (among other bad options). Therefore, the dark arts and dark artists must be tended to, at least watched very carefully, so they do not throw monkey wrenches into everyone else’s peace plans. North and South Korea must be encouraged to pursue the sunshine policies of constructive reunification instead of war hawk dreams of containable wars with merely millions dead. And China must rise without feeling a need to wage war against western values, which will not surrender as easily as national armies may. Therefore, I have been agitating spies around the world to create a professional “ethos” for spies, complete with codes of conduct and such. You may laugh – its oxymoronic aspects are obvious. But consider, do you really want everyone’s spies to be as bad as the worst among us? That is a short path to global war, so I say step aside Sisyphus, we have work to do!


This was another solicited op-ed for our annual newsletter, when ISCSC newsletters were in style

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Andregg, Michael M.. (2018). Ethics for Spies in an Age of Assassinations, Rationalized Torture, Black, High-tech Propaganda, and Civilizational Breakdown. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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