Journal: An Ethical Code for Intelligence Officers


Bruce Schneir
Bruce Schneir

Tip of the Hat to Bruce Schneier

August 11, 2009

An Ethical Code for Intelligence Officers

August's Communications of the ACM has an interesting article: “An Ethics Code for U.S. Intelligence Officers,” by former NSAers Brian Snow and Clint Brooks. The article is behind a paywall, but here's the code:

Draft Statement of Ethics for the Intelligence Community

Preamble: Intelligence work may present exceptional or unusual ethical dilemmas beyond those of ordinary life. Ethical thinking and review should be a part of our day to day efforts; it can protect our nation's and our agency’s integrity, improve the chances of mission success, protect us from the consequences of bad choices, and preserve our alliances. Therefore, we adhere to the following standards of professional ethics and behavior:

First, do no harm to U.S. citizens or their rights under the Constitution.

  1. We uphold the Constitution and the Rule of Law; we are constrained by both the spirit and the letter of the laws of the United States.
  2. We will comply with all international human rights agreements that our nation has ratified.
  3. We will insist on clarification of ambiguities that arise between directives or law and the principles of this code. We will protect those within our institutions who call reasonable attention to wrongdoing.
  4. Expediency is not an excuse for misconduct.
  5. We are accountable for our decisions and actions. We support timely, rigorous processes that fix accountability to the responsible person.
  6. Statements we make to our clients, colleagues, overseers and the U.S. public will be true, and structured not to unnecessarily mislead or conceal.
  7. We will resolve difficult ethical choices in favor of constitutional requirements, the truth, and our fellow citizens.
  8. We will address the potential consequences of our actions in advance, especially the consequences of failure, discovery, and unintended or collateral consequences of success.
  9. We will not impose unnecessary risk on innocents.
  10. Although we may work in secrecy, we will work so that when our efforts become known, our fellow citizens will be proud of us and of our efforts.

It's supposed to be for U.S. intelligence officers, but with one inconsequential modification it could be made international.

Phi Beta Iota Editorial Comment:

This is a fine start with two short-falls:

1.  It focuses mostly on the ethics of actions rather than the ethics of substance.  There is insufficient emphasis on the profession of decisioin-support and the importance of creating the best possible intelligence (decision-support) for the largest number of potential beneficiaries at the lowest possible cost.

2.  Concurrently, it fails to address the ends of the intelligence discipline, addressing only the means and the ways.  Intelligence at root is about the art and science of empowering the human brain and the human collective with access to all information in all languages all the time so as to create a prosperous world at peace.  Anything less is co-conspiracy with evil.

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