Ethics will not solve all problems or
make decisions easy, but should help
reduce the number of bad decisions
that might be regretted later.
Could such a code be devised that
would truly be useful? In October 2005,
six IC employees and two corporate
employees met to discuss this issue.
By the end of the day we had decided
devising a code was possible and that it
would be well worth the effort.
The intelligence organizations of
concern to us typically report to nation-states that have differing legal structures, cultures, and value systems.
We restricted our attention to the U.S.
intelligence community, which functions as an agent of the U.S government, a government designed to be
responsive to its citizens and their values. Differing contexts would lead to
differing ethics codes.
We agreed on several points:
The code should be aspirational, ˲
not proscriptive. That is, it should outline behaviors to aspire to and not get
into specific details of do’s and don’ts.
It should not be viewed as regula- ˲
tion or law, but as guidelines for making
It should be a set of short, easily ˲
understood sentences (for example, the
Ten Commandments are not verbose).
The statements must address at ˲
least the issues of lawfulness, transparency, accountability, truthfulness,
examining consequences of planned
actions, and protection of innocent
other ethics codes
legal, security, and
military) as models,
which helped us
structure our code.
It should be unclassified and ex- ˲
plicitly made available to the public.
An unclassified code has many benefits. It keeps the code from being too
detailed or focused on arcane intelligence matters such as sources and
methods. It might also offer some protection against public outrage when
classified actions become publicly
known (and at times they will). If the
citizenry accepted the published code
language and the exposed action is in
line with the public language, it could
help citizens understand the rationale
for the action and lessen adverse reactions or possibly offer an opportunity to further refine the language (and
constraints on future actions) to be
more in line with national values that
may change over time.
Also, being public may actually give
the ethics code more “teeth” because
employees will know that not just their
bosses could be sitting in judgment on
their actions. This fact might encourage
junior employees to resist (however gently) bosses who might be ordering questionable actions, as well as reducing the
number of times such bosses might be
tempted to order such actions.
We knew the task of crafting actionable language of value would be difficult; we attempted a draft as an exercise
to judge the difficulty. We explored other
ethics codes (including medical, legal,
security, and military) as models, which
helped us structure our code. We started
from fundamental principles. Our oath
as federal employees to support the
U.S. Constitution was a key factor and
helped prioritize other allegiances we
had, such as to bosses, organizations,
and fellow citizens. For example, we
decided the required oath-of-office we
all take to support the U.S. Constitution
also requires us to first serve our fellow
citizens—since the Constitution’s first
words are: “We the People of the United
States, in order to…”.
We concluded that writing a code
was possible, but not necessarily easy.
We expanded the effort in December
2006 to a closed, invitation-only Internet discussion group of approximately 50 people (approximately one-third with substantial IC experience,
one-third professional ethicists, and
one-third other). As expected, the ensuing discussion was difficult work—
Draft: U.S. Intelligence Community
“Mission Ethics” Projects
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. citi- ˲
zens or their rights under the
We uphold the constitution ˲
and the Rule of law; we are
constrained by both the spirit
and the letter of the laws of the
We will comply with all inter- ˲
national human rights agree-
ments that our nation has rati-
We will insist on clarification ˲
of ambiguities that arise be-
tween directives or law and the
principles of this code. We will
protect those within our institu-
tions who call reasonable atten-
tion to wrongdoing.
expediency is not an excuse ˲
We are accountable for our ˲
decisions and actions. We sup-
port timely, rigorous processes
that fix accountability to the re-
statements we make to our ˲
clients, colleagues, overseers
and the U.s. public will be true,
and structured not to unneces-
sarily mislead or conceal.
We will resolve difficult ethi- ˲
cal choices in favor of constitu-
tional requirements, the truth,
and our fellow citizens.
We will address the potential ˲
consequences of our actions in
advance, especially the conse-
quences of failure, discovery,
and unintended or collateral
consequences of success.
We will not impose unneces- ˲
sary risk on innocents.
Although we may work in se- ˲
crecy, we will work so that when
our efforts become known, our
fellow citizens will be proud of
us and of our efforts.