Why should American intelligence be ethical? The short answer is that it’s American. And Americans, whatever their religious creed or background, have generally expected that our democratic government will be guided by ethical standards in all its activities and functions. Intelligence, despite the misleading portrait of it offered by popular culture, is not, nor can it be, a “values-free zone.”
For Americans to flourish, they need to be free from undue anxiety about their security, even at a time when there are so many potential threats to that security from beyond our borders: North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, ISIS, the list goes on. For American democracy to flourish, the US Intelligence Community needs to do its job identifying and understanding foreign threats. At the same time, the American people expect that the clandestine collection and covert operations conducted to accomplish these national security goals must not threaten or diminish democratic liberties and values and will reflect as much as possible the ethical standards of the people for whom and in whose name these activities are conducted.
How do we determine the right balance between security and liberty? What moral dilemmas do US intelligence officers encounter in their work? Are the various mechanisms of accountability over intelligence, especially congressional oversight, working? Most fundamentally, can a Christian (or an ethical person) serve as an intelligence officer? These and other relevant questions will be explored at a symposium sponsored by the Intelligence Studies Program of The Catholic University of America, in partnership with the Institute for Human Ecology in order to illuminate the ethical dimension of US intelligence.
Featured participants include the main speaker, former CIA director Michael Hayden, and a distinguished panel with diverse backgrounds in journalism, the law, and the intelligence profession. This unique discussion promises to bring insight and understanding regarding the moral challenges facing the men and women who serve in US intelligence.
For more information on the event “Double Lives and Moral Lives: An Exploration into the Ethics of Intelligence,” please visit
Nicholas Dujmovic, Ph.D. is Director of the Intelligence Studies Program at The Catholic University of America.