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The morality of gathering intelligence

  1. Jan 8, 2007 #1
    iv been reading this book called Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying by the former chief of CIA counterintelligence. in this book the author says the CIA (or any foreign intelligence agency in a free democracy) needs to adopt a firm set of moral guidelines for its conduct because quite often the agency is told "do whatever it takes to get the job done, but don't go too far or we'll have your heads" and what classifies as 'too far' is often decided after the agency has done something objectionable. this leads to an agency that doesn't want to take any more risk then is absolutely necessary and becomes ineffective (the agency might not want to run an agent from al'queda for fear of being accused of helping terrorists, despite the potential for a tremendous intel source on that organization).

    so what sorts of basic principles should an intelligence agency abide by? what things should be considered unacceptable in pursuing national interests? how far is too far and how far is not far enough? under what conditions should these principles be bent?

    for the purpose of this thread, i would like to assume that all foreign intelligence agencies or services (meaning all such organizations that are involved with foreign affairs, not organizations that are foreign) are morally equal
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  3. Jan 8, 2007 #2


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    How about the United States Signals Intelligence Directives, for a start?
  4. Jan 9, 2007 #3
    It's a long document, but you may like to skim through the Judgement on the Interrogation Methods applied by the GSS.
  5. Jan 9, 2007 #4


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    The morality of gathering intelligence may be found in conjunction with the concept of "probable cause". If one government (state, community) has a reasonable belief (i.e. an opinion based upon evidence (fact), not speculation) that another government (state, community) is conspiring to harm it or elements thereof, then the former has a moral justification to gather intelligence or take necessary defensive or counter action.

    In United States criminal law, probable cause refers to the standard by which a police officer may make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search or obtain a warrant. It is also used to refer to the standard to which a grand jury believes that a crime has been committed. This term comes from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution:
    On the other hand, governments of most (or all) countries have acted immorally at one time or another.
  6. Jan 9, 2007 #5
    the problem with this is the implication that state A is evidently hostile to state B and thus state B is justifiable in gathering intelligence relating to said hostile acts, however, it does not refer to the morality of gaining the original evidence (unless you are saying it is immoral to 'spy' on a country that is not overtly hostile). the other implication if i understand it, is that gathering intelligence is only moral when relating to a specific act or campaign of hostility.

    the last thing i would like to point out is the word "harm". different states consider different things to be part of national security. for example, france considers economic prosperity to be part of national security and thus, the french General Directorate of External Security can be legally involved in corporate espionage that dose not involve the government. however, it would be illegal for the CIA to be involved in something like that
  7. Jan 9, 2007 #6


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    The problem is more complicated than state A vs. state B. It's more like:

    Person B has 1 million dollars. You have 0 dollars. At least 50,000 is required to survive. At least 100,000 is required to give yourself at least a 25% chance of being successful - ensuring your future beyond just short term survival. 300,000 gives you a better than 50% chance. 900,000 virtually gurarantees success. The same constraints that apply to you apply to person B - in other words, he has a lot more money than he needs.

    With no chance of getting caught, how much of Person B's money should you take?

    Team B, consisting of 10 people, has 10 million dollars. Your team has 10 people that you know (family members, for example) who are relying on your decision. Same percentages apply. How much should you take? Is it wrong to give your team mates and family members a 75% chance of eventual failure? 50% chance of failure? 25% chance of failure?

    On the other hand, you're relying on Person A to make the decision about how much to take. What amount would be so small that you'd think he wasn't doing a good job? What amount would be so great that you'd think he wasn't doing a good job?

    In general, I would guess most people would take a lot more in the second case than the first. I think having someone else taking the money would also make a person more likely to accept more even knowing the amount you accept affects the people the money was taken from. The maximum acceptable amount for someone else to take in your name would probably also be less than you'd personally take if other people relied on your decision. (This would be a wild guess on my part, since I haven't seen any 'games' that test this particular scenario - I guess the dilemma over whether to steal expensive medicine for a family member would be the closest).

    I think that with no clear guidelines, the opinions by intelligence officials about acceptable acts of intelligence gathering would always be skewed towards being overly aggressive, giving them the impression that the intelligence agency is risk averse when it fails to reach its maximum effectiveness. In fact, if the public sets ups laws and guidelines restricting the actions of intelligence agencies (or the police force, for that matter), the intelligence agency feels its ability to protect the people that depend on them is unfairly hampered - how can you expect us to protect you with 100% certainty when you keep tying our hands?

    I think it would be interesting if there were a study for situations like those above. My opinions are just based on personal experience - for example, if person grabs an opposing player on a break away just outside the penalty area to prevent a goal from being scored, most people say the person took a red card for his team, not that he was a dirty, rotten cheat. It seems like there's always more moral leeway given for actions taken for your team or family than leeway given for personal gain.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2007
  8. Jan 9, 2007 #7


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    But not the FBI -- they are the intelligence agency that operates on domestic soil. (That they have other responsibilities doesn't change the fact they are also an intelligence agency)
  9. Jan 9, 2007 #8
    i think its illegal for even the FBI to to conduct counter intelligence operations for the sake of a private organization, unless that organization is somehow involved with national defense, like boeing or something.
  10. Jan 9, 2007 #9


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    Wouldn't that be one if the FBI's law enforcement duties?
  11. Jan 9, 2007 #10
    it depends. if company A is chinese and wants to learn the secret ingredient for a new plastic developed by company B whom are an american and company A hires someone to park their car in front of the truck loading zone of company B to watch what comes in and out, company B will have to pay their own people to find out who employs the guy parked out front. if these were states instead of companies, then the FBI would definitely get involved.
  12. Jan 10, 2007 #11


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    Industrial espionage is still a crime. I don't know if it is a federal crime that the FBI would be interested in, but whether the FBI or someone else, someone in government has the responsibility to investigate it, whether the FBI, FTC, CBP, BATF, etc.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2007
  13. Jan 10, 2007 #12
    I think industrial espionage is bigger than ever, and certainly under the mantle of the intelligence agencies for obvious reasons.

  14. Jan 11, 2007 #13
    Ive made similar arguments about intelligence gathering in a discussion with SOS. Another major factor is sovereignty. If some country suspected the US of plotting against them and tried to spy on the US it would do anything in its power to hinder the spies even arresting them if possible. And this would be within their rights.

    So say the US is spying on citizens in another country that they believe are terrorists with out the knowledge or consent of that country's government. If the country is sovereign then their laws stand within their borders. Ethically speaking does the US need warrent from the country in question to collect its intel? And what does the US do if the country refuses and states that they are investigating such persons themselves and will take care of the matter?

    It seems to me that every country has the implicit right to defend against the intrusion of intelligence gatherers and that in it self contradicts any notion that a country has the right to intrude on a sovereign nation for intel gathering. The only logical explination of how countries such as the US operate is self centered hypocrisy. You may not spy on me but I have every right to spy on you. Or its every man for himself and you're allowed to do what ever you can get away with. Neither of the options I see seem ethically satisfactory to me.
  15. Jan 14, 2007 #14
    I have no problem with in depth surveillance if it is within the law. What we have been seeing has been Bush making his own law. That is neither legal or moral. Massive amounts of domestic surveillance are ongoing.

    The latest involves the military and domestic wire taps, which once again bypass the entire intent of FISA.

    We now have the CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security, ICE, and the military doing domestic surveillance.:rolleyes: I hope that they are all on the same page. When intelligence experts are concerned, I am concerned.

  16. Jan 17, 2007 #15
    the gather of intellligence and the prevention of secrets from being stolen is a vary heated conflict, often called the intelligence war. in conflicts like this, hypocrisy is the name of the game. since it is illegal, im vary temped to say it is imoral to violate domestic laws in forign countrys, but on the other hand, everyone is expected to do it. everyone in government will take the offical stance that spying on their country is wrong and bad, but most of the people involved with it dont consider it 'unfair'. the CIA and KGB were the ground soldiers at work in the cold war, and in many respects spying prevented a nuclear war.

    actualy i was looking into it and apparently it became a federal crime in 1996. the FBI does indeed investigate industrial espionage now

    this is a good point. although many countries take part in intelligence gathering that violates the law of the target country, these acts to not violate domestic law. illegal gathering of information is vary often seen as 'imoral' in hindsight.
  17. Jan 17, 2007 #16
    currently canada has no foreign intelligence service because it protects canadians abroad. the idea is that if there was an accident at one of iran's nuclear facilities, canada would be able to send aid workers without being under suspicion of gather intelligence under the cover of being an aid worker. if americans tried to volunteer for the same accident, they could actually draw criticism to the cia for attempting to use aid workers to make an intelligence penetration of iran's nuclear facilities, sort of like helping an old lady pick up her purse only because it offers an opportunity to steal from it

    the cia has specific rules against using american reporters and missionaries as intelligence sources but many believe that if it came right down to it, if a reporter or missionaries could be a good source of information, these rules would get sidestepped one way or or another, and thus why american reporters are dealt with (and censored) so carefully in countries like iran and china

    is it negligence to the point of immorality for canada to not use a foreign intelligence gathering agency or does this give canadians more trust in foreign countries at an acceptable cost?
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