Saturday, January 28, 2006

And yet not one mention of John LeCarre

or George Smiley.

Is there such a thing as an ethical spy?

A 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.

The 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 the subject.

Conference 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."
One seldom thinks of spies as having ethical conflicts, outside of LeCarre novels. And even then, LeCarre seems to be a hopeless idealist.

Spiritual concerns would seem to be a constant of the human experience.

Not 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 is unethical."

To 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.

"If you don't want to do that," he added, "just have a State Department."
And there is always the bottom line:

Ms. Mahle, the former C.I.A. officer, [and one of the speakers at the conference] 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.

For 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.

"If 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.
It's all about the effective use of power.

1 comment:

  1. In the age of "water boarding" advocates somebody should try to inform the world what good interrogation is. You can get plenty of samples from le Carre's novels. Many of the times George Smiley, the poor and pathetic looking civil servant, does the interrogation. He is the opposite of the archetypal bad cop inquisitor. He is a polite and attentive listener and asks the right question at the right moment- without any dramatics. and gets the required answers or directions to the answer.