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Conclusion: The Potential to Do Good or Harm
In the complex, dynamic, and dangerous environment of modern intelligence work there is great potential to do harm, even evil, and little time to apply rules or to calculate consequences to avoid harm. Even if there were time, such one-dimensional approaches to ethics are not always successful. Rules, duties, and principles can conflict. Sincere, well-intentioned compliance with them can sometimes lead to the most disastrous outcomes. But acting in such situations does not necessarily make someone a bad person. Actions might be evidence of the presence or the absence of virtue, but they are not in themselves virtuous. Acting virtuously might not spare one from the moral costs of intelligence work, but doing so provides a framework in which one can maintain one’s integrity as well as the integrity of the profession.
This is why developing the virtues of the profession is so important for the intelligence professional. In situations where any action can lead to a morally impermissible or harmful outcome, it will be professionals of character who will be best able to resolve the conflict and maintain their own integrity and the integrity of the profession as well. Character is an essential part of an ethical framework for any professional. This does not mean that the virtuous never consider consequences or rules to determine where their duties lie. The point is that the virtuous intelligence professional has developed the disposition to know how and when to do so in the best way possible.
Charles A. “Tony” Pfaff is a colonel in the U.S. Army. He is a Middle East Foreign Area Officer who has taught on the faculty at West Point, served two tours in Iraq, and served as Defense Attache in Kuwait. He is currently a student at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF), in Washington, D.C., and a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University.
Last Updated on Monday, 10 May 2010 11:22