An Exotic Tool for Espionage: Moral
By Scott Shane
New York Times
January 28, 2006
there such a thing as an ethical spy?
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.
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
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."
said conferees would ponder such timely issues as
how many civilian deaths can be justified in a C.I.A.
Predator missile strike to kill a known terrorist,
or what legal assurances a National Security Agency
eavesdropper should demand before singling out the
phone calls of an American who was linked to Al Qaeda.
an intelligence officer, you are confronted with ethical
dilemmas every day," said Melissa Boyle Mahle,
who retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in
2002 after 14 years as a case officer, much of it
under cover in the Middle East.
Ms. Mahle, now a foreign policy consultant, was scheduled
to speak Saturday on the practice of rendition, in
which terrorism suspects are seized abroad and delivered
either to trial in the United States or to imprisonment
in other countries.
in a required security review, the C.I.A. refused
to clear about one-fourth of her proposed 23-page
text, Ms. Mahle said Friday. She said the deletions
"gutted" the paper and made it impossible
to deliver. She decided to attend the conference anyway,
because she believes its goal is "so important."
she had received C.I.A. training on agency rules and
the law, Ms. Mahle recalled that she got "none
whatsoever" in ethics. But she found that her
work demanded constant moral balancing.
Mahle said she came up with her own ad-hoc ethical
checklist, including imagining what her mother would
say about a proposed action or how she herself would
feel if it were described on the front page of an
American newspaper. But she believes any officer would
benefit from more rigorous training in moral decision-making.
the point of the spear, and no one's going to be there
to make decisions for you," she said.
all agree. "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
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.
you don't want to do that," he added, "just
have a State Department."
Mr. Clarridge's view may be colored by his history;
he was indicted on perjury charges in 1991, accused
of lying to Congress about the Iran-contra affair.
He was pardoned in 1992 by President George H. W.
skepticism about the ethics project inside the agencies
is widespread, conference participants said, some
of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because
they were not authorized by their agencies to be quoted.
"A lot of current intelligence practitioners
are afraid to come," said one who is attending.
"They think it could be held against them."
A. Emmel, a spokeswoman for the director of national
intelligence, said American intelligence officers
received training on "legal issues appropriate
to their responsibilities," and on ethical regulations
governing matters like conflicts of interest.
Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said the agency had
"a robust ethics training program" that
focused on "integrity, honesty and accountability"
and included the use of case studies. As for the agency's
deletions from proposed speeches, by Ms. Mahle or
any other former employee, he said such editing was
based on the secrecy agreement employees sign and
was "only to ensure that they contain no classified
material," not to censor anyone's opinions.
conference organizer, Jan Goldman, a 25-year intelligence
veteran who teaches at the Joint Military Intelligence
College, edited a just-published collection of articles
on the subject called "Ethics of Spying"
The book includes 22 imaginary cases, from a female
operative who must decide whether to have sex with
a "repulsive" terrorism suspect in order
to stay in contact, to a counternarcotics officer
who must decide whether to relocate a drug lord-informant
to protect him from arrest.
dramatic but more common ethical choices come routinely
to intelligence analysts, who must decide each day
what gets reported to policy makers. Melvin A. Goodman,
a C.I.A. analyst from 1966 to 1990, is speaking at
the conference on his experience with the politicization
of intelligence during the cold war, which he believes
has been echoed in the Iraq war.
feeling is that every problem with the intelligence
in the run-up to the war was an ethical question,"
from the handling of the dubious defector code-named
Curveball to the cherry-picking of evidence on Iraq's
nuclear program, Mr. Goodman said.
a lot of pandering at the C.I.A.," with the White
House being given intelligence reports that suit known
policy preferences, he said.
Goodman is a critic of the Bush administration's policies,
but conference organizers say they have tried to avoid
bias. The top intelligence officer of the National
Guard, Brig. Gen. Annette L. Sobel, is a scheduled
panelist. And one organizer, Fritz Allhoff, who teaches
philosophy at Western Michigan University, has written
an essay arguing that torture in interrogation is
ethical in some circumstances.
Mahle, the former C.I.A. officer, says merely taking
a tough line is not enough. If intelligence tactics
are not supported by a public consensus of Americans,
they can backfire, she said.
example, the past capture of terrorists abroad who
were then convicted in American courts stirred little
controversy. But more recent rendition cases, like
the delivery of a suspect to Egypt, where he complained
of torture and provided information that turned out
to be false, shifted the public focus from the would-be
terrorist to the actions of the C.I.A.
there's not a consensus, then the public focus will
be not on the bad guy you got off the street, but
on what the C.I.A. was doing," Ms. Mahle said.
New York Times