Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying


Revolutionary War officer Nathan Hale, one of Americas first spies, said, "Any kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary." A statue of Hale stands outside CIA headquarters, and the agency often cites his statement as one of its guiding principles. But who decides what is necessary for the public good, and is it really true that any kind of service is permissible for the public good? These questions are at the heart of James M. Olsons book, "Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of ...

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Revolutionary War officer Nathan Hale, one of Americas first spies, said, "Any kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary." A statue of Hale stands outside CIA headquarters, and the agency often cites his statement as one of its guiding principles. But who decides what is necessary for the public good, and is it really true that any kind of service is permissible for the public good? These questions are at the heart of James M. Olsons book, "Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying." Olson, a veteran of the CIAs clandestine service, takes readers inside the real world of intelligence to describe the difficult dilemmas that field officers face on an almost daily basis. Far from being a dry theoretical treatise, this fascinating book uses actual intelligence operations to illustrate how murky their moral choices can be. Readers will be surprised to learn that the CIA provides very little guidance on what is, or is not, permissible. Rather than empowering field officers, the author has found that this lack of guidelines actually hampers operations. Olson believes that U.S. intelligence officers need clearer moral guidelines to make correct, quick decisions. Significantly, he believes these guidelines should come from the American public, not from closed-door meetings inside the intelligence community. "Fair Play" will encourage a broad public debate about the proper moral limits on U.S. intelligence activities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"If you're interested in the real world that intelligence agents and governmental leaders have to deal with, you will want to read this very timely and compelling book."

"This book is a must have for anyone who seeks to understand the world of espionage. It contribues much to the burgeoning study of the ethics of spying."

". . . .this book is a superb introduction to the discussion of if, how, and when the ends justify the means."

"A thoughtful, provocative analysis of practically every possible moral dilemma that is ever likely to prick the conscience of an assiduous case officer. The scenarios presented by James Olson, himself a veteran insider, have the authentic whiff of cordite that suggest little has been drawn from his imagination, but much has been looted from the operational files."

"James Olson is a legend in the clandestine service, having served in some of the most difficult, dangerous, and complicated assignments at the height of the Cold War. As director of central intelligence, I trusted him without reservation when he was chief of counterintelligence not only because he was enormously capable but also because I knew he thought deeply about the ethical and moral dimensions of what we did every day. Amid the countless books and memoirs of retired spies, especially at this time, this one is essential reading."

"Under veteran intelligence officer James Olson’s sure direction, the reader enters a world few Americans ever see or even know exists. From his insightful summary of intelligence history through each of his fifty reality-based scenarios, he confronts the difficult ethical issues head-on. An unprecedented examination of the challenging moral dilemmas of human intelligence operations, Olson’s work will soon be the standard reference."

"James Olson has deftly plumbed the depths of the spy’s dilemma: How can one spend a lifetime practicing deception and still retain a strong moral compass? Fair Play is the primer on how to balance a little bit of evil so it will yield the maximum benefit to the common good. A must read."

"Do the ends ever justify the means? CIA veteran James Olson explores the complex choices, limitations, and moral dilemmas facing U.S. intelligence officers who attempt to operate within an ill-defined standard of ‘acceptable moral behavior.’ Fascinating and thought provoking, Fair Play will become a must-read for officers on the frontlines of the global war on terror. There isn’t anything else like it!"

"James Olson, a retired operations officer cum teacher and author, has given the literature of intelligence one of its most interesting, unusual, and forthright books . . . . It should be mandatory reading for all."

"Fair Play is an eye-opener to the average American citizen like me who just assumed that the rules were pretty much set in concrete. Nothing could be farther from the truth...Olson's book will lead to discussions in our nation that will lead to better defined 'rules of engagement' for our CIA case officers."

"You've heard of business ethics, medical ethics, even journalistic ethics? Spying ethics predictably took a little longer to come in from the cold. Yet Fair Play could well become the anchoring text of a new field. As sharp as a stiletto-fitted umbrella, as tough as can be, Olson proves remarkably humane about how to balance dirty tricks with high ideals. He brings startling clarity to issues of official lying and worse."

". . . .fascinating. . . .[Olson] has written a valuable work that puts a ticklish subject on the table for reasonable discussion."

". . . .a unique, compelling read."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597971539
  • Publisher: Potomac Books
  • Publication date: 12/31/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 138,684
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James M. Olson is on the faculty of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, where he teaches courses on intelligence and national security. He served his entire career in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. His career highlights include serving as the chief of CIA counterintelligence at CIA headquarters and in overseas assignments in Moscow, Vienna, and Mexico City. He lives in College Station, Texas.
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Table of Contents

Preface     ix
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction: A Career Under Cover     1
Philosophical and Historical Arguments
Bible     15
Aristotle     17
Cicero     18
St. Thomas Aquinas     20
Machiavelli     22
Kant     24
Realpolitik     25
Utilitarianism     27
Veritatis Splendor     29
U.S. Attitudes Toward Spying     33
Homosexual Blackmail     46
Trojan Horse     49
False Flag     52
Hit Team     57
Torture     61
Kidnapping and Torture by Surrogates     67
Truth Serum     70
Journalism Cover     72
Operational Use of Journalists     77
Human Rights Violators     81
Torture Training     85
Humanitarian Aid Worker Cover     87
Missionary Cover     90
Operational Use of Academics     93
P-Sources     97
Prostitute for Terrorist     101
Child Prostitute     103
Terrorist Act for Bona Fides     105
Election Tampering     109
Seduction and Compromise     112
Romeo Operations     116
Coercive Pitch     120
Feeding a Drug Habit     123
Kidnapping or Killing a Defector     126
Fabricating Evidence     131
L-Devices     135
Insertion Operations     138
Fake Diagnosis     142
Drugging a Foreign Diplomat     145
Press Placements     149
Fabricating Academic Credentials     154
Plagiarizing a Ph.D. Dissertation     157
Exposing Unwitting Person to Risk     160
Kamikaze Dolphins     163
Spying on Americans Overseas     166
Spying on Friends     168
Spying on the United Nations     171
Industrial Espionage     175
Bribing a Foreign Government     179
Tampering with U.S. Mail     182
Protection of Code Breaking     185
Breaking a Promise to an Agent     190
Unauthorized Cover     194
Bogus Websites and Chatrooms     197
Back Doors     199
Biological Attack     203
Forging Documents from Friendly Countries     207
Collateral Damage      210
Foreign Officer Visitors     215
Interrogation     218
Afterword     225
Notes: Spying 101     229
The Essential Intelligence Library     263
Commentators     269
Index     287
About the Author     291
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2013

    When I initially ordered this, I was under the impression that i

    When I initially ordered this, I was under the impression that it was a kind of hard-hitting ethical treatise on what counterintelligence organizations do on a regular basis. It's not quite that, but it still has some very great qualities. Every chapter is made up of about a dozen people from all walks of life (grad students, for CIA officers, religious men, etc) offering their opinion on what James olson feels are specific plausible situations in counterintelligence operations. After they have their piece, James Olson provides a commentary. While I feel most (not all) of the non-author opinions are kind of lackluster, they do provide a fair perspective on the opinions that one could realistically encounter. The author's comments tend to be much more insightful. While I've never actually been in intelligence, I feel that after reading this book I have a better understanding of how operations generally run and what the practical considerations are. Overall, I feel it's a really good introduction and points you in the right directions to learn more about the topic. However, if you're looking for a very deep discussion on the philosophical and ethical implications of covert operations, this might not be the right book, but it can be one that opens doors to a larger and more in-depth discussion. An excellent starting point!

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  • Posted June 20, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An excellent manual for understanding the tension between CIA Case Officers and the country they serve.

    A well thought-out discussion of the challenges facing the CIA and spys of all nature. The use of the scenario method was brilliant and leaving in the CIA redacted black lines added to the intrigue. Not for everyone (e.g. book clubs) but well worth reading if you interested in a first hand view of the ethical challenges our CIA officers face in today's world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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