Term Paper: Political Science -- Government Agencies

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Political Science -- Government Agencies -- the CIA

Any agency which works in secret can behave in a scandalous manner, and the CIA is no exception to this rule." This paper will analyze this statement on two grounds: is it true that agencies which act in secret behave in a scandalous manner? And if so, is the CIA an exception or a demonstration of this rule?

This author will argue in this paper that all agencies, throughout history and in whatever country, region or empire, which act in secret are inherently prone to dishonesty and unethical acts. Secondly, the CIA must act, to some degree, in secret with some of its operations. Finally, the paper will argue that the CIA will always be prone to dishonesty and unethical actions, which requires more regular oversight.

First Hypothesis: There has been an ethical agency in history

All agencies throughout history and across nations are prone to act in a dishonest and unethical manner. The proof to this hypothesis is the null hypothesis: that is, if the author has been unable to find a government agency which acts in secret, which over time has not acted in an unethical manner. A second null hypothesis would be to find a spying operation which has operated in an ethical and honest manner over a long period of time, therefore disproving the above statement.

One can argue that any government agency requires power in order to be effective. Power comes through the purse -- ability to fund, through coercion -- ability to force, or through persuasion -- ability to convince. None of these methods is, in and of itself, inherently unethical. One can persuade, coerce or bankroll activities in an open and above-board way. The Founding Fathers intended to create a system of public accountability and checks-and-balances such that administrators were not able to rule the citizenry in an unbridled way. The American Society for Public Administration's ethics statement includes three pillars: to serve the public interest, the law, and standards of personal and professional excellence (Lempert, 1997).

Whereas government agencies should be engaged in controlling negative consequences (crime, foreign attacks) or assuring the improvement of the standards of living of the governed (from roads to schools), a good deal of the effort expended in public administration is on controlling public officials themselves:

To a significant extent, the organization, rules, and energy of urban government are focused on surveilling and controlling officials rather than on the production of government outputs (Anechiarico, 1994)

This is true not only in American government, but government around the world. Patronage, politicking and pork have been an integral part of politically-associated government agencies since the founding of America. Washington, Adams and Jefferson complained of the "shameless corruption" in appointments and administration of public agencies (Kurtz, 1957).

Is there any spying agency which has proven, over time, to maintain high ethical standards? One can argue that Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, had the most impeccable reputation for ethical behavior from the founding of Israel in 1947. Its earlier actions, in the 1950's and 1960's concentrated on protecting the state of Israel from hostile surrounding powers, and retrieving Nazis, such as Adolf Eichmann, who had participated or led atrocities during the Holocaust of World War Two. One could term Mossad's kidnapping of Eichmann from Argentina as ethical, despite using subterfuge with Eichmann and the (then dictatorial) Argentinian government (Rosenbaum, 1993). From that "virtuous" time in the 1950's, Mossad's reputation has declined as it has engaged in torture and targeted killings of Palestinian terrorists (David, 2003).

Spying is inherently deceptive: the acts of lying, subterfuge and deception can be necessary to coerce or fool others to betray their country or fellow citizens. One can call it ethically justified, but even the "purest" spying agency can be accused of losing sight of its goals over time. Mossad provides such a cautionary example.

Second Hypothesis: The creeping moves toward professionalism have reduced ethical inhibitions

Our founding fathers depended on the moral superiority of our society as handed down directly from God to each citizen, and not through the intermediary of a King or other public official:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (Jefferson, 1776).

Thus, according to the Declaration and the following Bill of Rights in the Constitution, each of us as citizens has the "inalienable" right to dictate how we are governed. The ethical structure, which was "self evident" in the minds of the Founding Fathers, was pinned on the Creator.

A creeping rationalism and rejection of these values has led to a replacement by "professionalism," or an understanding that governmental matters are too complex, too opaque, or too important to be overseen by citizens or their representatives. According to Guy Adams in a journal article, "professionalism has assimilated ethics as a part of its ordinary definition," which implies that the fundamental compact between the governed and those in government can be replaced by a creeping Mandarinization of modern government practice (Adams, 1993).

However, professionalism may be a necessary result of the growth in public agencies. Imposing a moral set of precepts becomes equally hard, and grows more difficult as society changes rapidly. According to Rockeach:

If values were completely stable, individual and social change would be impossible. If values were completely unstable, continuity of human personality and society would be impossible. Any conception of human values, if it is to be fruitful, must be able to account for the enduring character of values as well as for their changing character (Rockeach, 1972).

Thus an appeal to "universal values" of our Founding Fathers, or even those values of particular religions, becomes difficult to apply over time as society, religion and ethics change in their meaning.

Ethics, the CIA and Recent History

The CIA has been implicated in unethical conduct since its founding after World War II. Allende in 1973, Mossadeq in 1952, Diem in 1962, all were national leaders and victims of CIA operations (Johnson, 1992). The "moral authority" for these actions was assured by Presidential order in all these and many other cases. One can question whether the moral authority was (1) justified, (2) if not justified, carried primarily by the Executive, and/or (3) if not justified, carried also by CIA operatives and directors, as they were complicit in the actions which led to the deposition and deaths of those leaders.

If one defines Mossad's kidnapping of Eichmann as morally "pure," then one can argue at least a partial "moral purity" to the above three actions. if, for example, the CIA were in existence and could have killed Hitler in the 1930's, few today would argue that the CIA's actions would be "morally justified."

Politics by Innuendo: Contributing to Unethical Conduct?

Ginsberg and Shefter argue that the United States government is being dramatically undermined by the combination of invective, political intrigue and innuendo (Ginsberg, 2002). This author would argue that (1) such tactics have existed -- as we have seen -- since the founding of this country, and (2) unethical conduct is a continual danger in any government agency, at any time and in any country, and (3) unethical conduct is a particular concern amongst spies.

Certainly Watergate, which was only marginally linked with the CIA, marked an increase in the public's distrust of the White House and the Federal Government in general. While perceptions of corruption were raised, the longer-term effects may have been salutary.

Connected to, and perhaps due to the Watergate break-in, Frank Church, D (Idaho) conducted hearings in the Senate on the CIA which resulted in a significant cut-back in the CIA's powers (Olmsted, 1996). While Church placed an appropriate spotlight on earlier CIA operations, his oversight also resulted in a significant crippling of the agency, particularly the human intelligence operatives who were compromised, and who were so critical to the on-going functioning of the agency as an information gatherer. One could argue that the CIA's lack of "hum-int" during the 1980's and 1990's resulted in major lapses in predictive powers, from the Iran revolution in 1979 to the bombing of the Marines in Beirut in 1984, to the inability to track and predict 9/11 in 2001.

Conclusion: Is the CIA Inherently Untrustworthy?

The initial statement made in this paper is, in the opinion of the author, true. That is, any government agency, over a long period of time, will tend towards unethical behavior. This is true of even those agencies, such as Mossad, which had developed nearly impeccable reputations for moral probity and correct conduct over time. The addition of money, power and secrecy can corrupt over time in such a way that any agency can give in to unethical or dishonest behavior.

As we have seen in this essay, unethical behavior is not a modern construct. The Founding Fathers were equally concerned about the powers of government appointees, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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