by James Olson
I’m in the middle of my Vietnam reading spree right now, but this book was recommended to me by my friend when we were driving back from Montreal and I thought it sounded interesting, so I bought it. I’ve read lots of books about spying, but none that focused on the ethics of spying.
The book is not one that you will sit and read in one sitting (unless you’re trapped overnight in an airport and finish your other book, in which case you just might). The author worked for the CIA for a long time and now teaches intelligence at Texas A&M, so he is certainly qualified to write a book on the morality of spying.
In the book, Olson lays out fifty scenarios based loosely on real life events (my favorite being about kamikaze dolphins), then presents a decision that must be made. He surveyed a wide variety of people – ranging from intelligence officers to students to soldiers to professors – and includes all of their opinions before explaining his own.
Some of the decisions are really hard to make and it was surprising to me to see how black and white it was for some people. There were instances when I couldn’t make up my mind and the first opinion was simply someone saying, “Absolutely not, not in any case is that ever acceptable.” There are also times when someone would respond with “It’s morally right, but legally wrong” or “It’s morally right, but strategically wrong”, which gave me a newfound appreciation for how many angles have to be considered before decisions can be made, but also made me wonder which angle should trump others if there is a conflict. Is legally wrong ok if it’s morally right? Can something be strategically right and legally right, but morally wrong, and what do you do if that happens? Who decides what is morally right?
Sometimes you will reaffirm your opinions and sometimes you’ll question them, but you will always be thinking – and in my opinion, that means it’s a good book.
(… I need to review a bad book, so people won’t think I always give good book reviews…)