Term Paper: Integrity in the Intelligence Community

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Integrity in Intelligence Community

Integrity, strength of character, ethics and morality are terms that we might never use in a discussion about intelligence community. This is because the meaning of these terms seems to contradict with the implied, perceived and evolved meaning of the term intelligence. The attributes that we commonly find in intelligence personnel or the image that we have created of these people somehow betrays our religious and moral values.

An intelligence officer is required to work for national security and he is allowed to take any action he deems fit to accomplish this noble goal even if his actions are in conflict with basic religious or moral beliefs. This is how we perceive the intelligence community and to some extent it appears to be an accurate assessment of intelligence service in any country.

The activities we normally consider repulsive such as spying, snooping, betrayals etc. are parts of intelligence personnel's job description. So where does integrity and ethics come in? Do they even have a remote hope of surviving in the intelligence community considering the kind of work these personnel are required to perform? How do we reconcile the noble goal of protecting the nation with ethical responsibilities that are universal in nature?

William Sullivan, ex-intelligence officer, explained with seething displeasure in 1976, the conduct and psyche of people in intelligence services. He realized that integrity is a difficult concept to fathom or incorporate since its definition might not remain static when you are faced with agonizing ethical dilemmas:

We [in the intelligence community] could not seem to free ourselves either at the top or bottom, could not free ourselves from that psychology.... Along came the Cold War. We pursued the same course in the Korean War, and the Cold War continued; then the Vietnam War. We never freed ourselves from that psychology that we were indoctrinated with, right after Pearl Harbor, you see. I think this accounts for the fact that nobody seemed to be concerned about raising the question, is this lawful, is this legal, is this ethical? It was just like a soldier in the battlefield.... We did what we were expected to do. It became a part of our thinking, a part of our personality. 1

It is commonly assumed that intelligence community and its activities are designed to ignore larger ethical concerns to ruthlessly pursue the goal of national security. This notion is heavily supported by evidence that clearly indicates that homeland security is always the chief concern and the route to reach the destination is devoid of ethical considerations. However a closer analysis of the history of intelligence community reveals that there have been instances of dissent when people operating from their own ethical paradigm went against their superiors. This was done not to harm national security but to precisely and solely attack the route designed to accomplish this goal. These cases give us an insight into the ethical conflicts faced by the people employed in intelligence services. While the dilemmas are agonizing in themselves, the process of seeking a solution to them is even more excruciatingly complex. In the end it all boils down to one critical question: Is the goal of national security more important than the route taken to accomplish it?

The answer of some has been an emphatic No. They work from the belief that problems faced by the intelligence community are grounded in lack of ethical values. Integrity and moral values are idealistic concepts for people who regularly encounter ethical dilemmas of extreme nature. But there have been some shining examples of people who chose to stick with universally acknowledged ethical choices when faced with competing or conflicting ethical considerations.

In this connection, the case of Henry L. Stimson is instructive. Stimson became President Hoover's secretary of state in 1929 and learned about a secret operation of the intelligence agency known as "Black Chamber." The name was given to interception, decoding and reading of secret communication of twenty nations. While this was a normal practice in the intelligence community, Stimson found it in conflict with his own ethical beliefs. To instill a sense of integrity in the intelligence operation, he abandoned the practice declaring "Gentlemen do not read other people's mail." 2 Stimson couldn't reconcile his ethical beliefs with activities carried out under this operation as David Kahn observed:

He regarded it as a low, snooping activity, a sneaking, spying, key-hole peering kind of dirty business, a violation of principles of mutual trust upon which he conducted both his personal and his foreign policy. All of this it is and Stimson rejected the view that such means were justified even by patriotic ends. He held to the conviction that his country should do what is right. 3

It is now important to study two more critical cases in this regard. These cases reveal the true nature of this job and severe ethical conflicts faced by the people in this line of work. If anything, these cases prove that intelligence personnel are not devoid of ethical values but few have the courage to go against 'orders' of the state to choose what they find is a more ethically correct path.

In July, 1944, situation in Germany was anything but enviable. Adolf Hitler, whose name had become synonymous with ruthless military tactics, called a high-level meeting with his military commander and intelligence officer. At a time when what he desired the most was unified support of his military and intelligence officers, staff officer, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, legendary Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of German intelligence created a plan with the help of several others to kill their national leader. They came to the meeting with a bomb in the briefcase feeling that this was the only way they could protect the world from evil. One of the officers confessed to a friend: "We have examined ourselves before God and our consciences. It has to happen, for this man is Evil itself." 4. They faced terrible ethical dilemma when carrying out this plan but felt their ethical and moral compass presented only one solution: end of Adolf Hitler.

However as luck would have it, Adolf Hitler narrowly escaped the powerful explosion. Several people were killed and the building was destroyed but the explosion somehow missed the real target. Hitler's response was swift. Stauffenberg was killed and another conspirator General von Treschkow explained why they took such a dangerous and drastic measure before he died:

remain, now as before, of the firm conviction that we have done the right thing. I consider Hitler not only the arch-enemy of Germany, but also the arch-enemy of the world. When I stand before God's judgment seat in a few hours from now, to render an account of my actions and my omissions, then I believe I shall be able to answer with a clear conscience for what I have done in the fight against Hitler. 5

Others who were caught involved in the conspiracy were tried in infamous "People's Court" in Berlin. One defendant observed: "The essential point is... The claim by the state of total power over the citizen, with the elimination of his religious and moral obligations toward God." 6 another defendant stated: "The points of discussion were questions of the practical and ethical claims of Christianity." It was a decisive moment when the judge concluded, "There is one thing Christianity and we National Socialists have in common, and only this one: We demand the whole human being!" 7 Canaris, who was former head of intelligence, was later executed with the rest but he was neither ashamed of his actions not sought justice: "I die for my country with a clear conscience." 8. The views of the defendants reflected integrity and a strong conviction that national security need not be attained at the cost of innocent human lives.

Ironically, the people who accused them of treason stood trail for unpardonable offenses against the entire humanity. Today the officers who stood by their ethical and moral values are annually commemorated by the German government for showing massive ethical courage in the face of extreme odds.

Another extremely useful that took place in the United States and involved the U.S. intelligence community occurred in 1977 when director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Helms was prosecuted for hiding the truth. Helms was involved in several covert operations in Chile to prevent the Marxist, Salvador Allende, from becoming the president in 1970. He deliberately misled the U.S. government when questioned about these activities and a prosecution followed to demonstrate "no segment of the community was above the law" and none had "a license to lie." 9 But the case of extremely high-profile and a plea-bargain arrangement was made since a "trial of this case would involve tremendous costs to the United States and might jeopardize national secrets," 10. The public lashed out against government's decision as one senator declared: "I thought there was to be an end to the double standard of justice for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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