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Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying by…

Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying (edition 2007)

by James M Olson (Author)

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723166,644 (3.78)2
Title:Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying
Authors:James M Olson (Author)
Info:Potomac Books (2007), Edition: 1, 306 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:toberead, xy, nonfiction, american

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Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying by James M. Olson



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The author starts with a review of his career in the CIA. He then reviews moral thought on spying in Western philosophy. He next presents 50 moral dilemmas of spy craft to people (including ex-CIA operatives, clergy, journalists, PhD students--presumably from the courses he teaches--, etc.) After the responses he presents a summary of what intelligence agencies have done about the scenario in the past. Being the good ex-spy that his is, he gave the text to the CIA to censor, so usually his explanations are just getting interesting when they are expunged by big, black blobs of ink. He also has a tendency to make the US the good guys and the Russians and the Chinese the bad guys.

When the review of Western philosophy didn't really come to any conclusions, I didn't have any expectation that the scenarios would either, and they don't. It is, as another reviewer remarked, really a random set of opinions on the scenario. The scenarios themselves are interesting and might be worth discussing in a general class on ethics or social studies in light of the Snowden revelations.

One ex-CIA operative said in response to one scenario that she found it much easier to make ethical judgements now that she didn't work for the agency. She said that when she was working she got too caught up in the operation to actually question what was going on. And that's the real moral problem, people getting into a group-think situation where they let the mission trump ethics--not to mention the law, and most especially common sense. ( )
  aulsmith | Dec 13, 2013 |
This book is a serious disappointment and I don't plan on working very hard to finish it. So far I've read the author's personal introduction, which is a heavily sanitized history of his employment as a CIA case officer working overseas, the very weak and superficial sections on espionage & philosophy, which is rather labored and silly, and about 8-10 of the fictionalized case studies.

The thing that is so irritating about these case studies is that rather than present a discussion of the moral dilemmas that each one brings up (for example, should the CIA torture people? should the CIA have undercover officers impersonate journalists or aid workers in order to get more information? etc), the author just polls random professors, graduate students, and "former CIA officers", among others. I think the point is to show that reasonable people disagree on the issues, but it just comes off as shallow and random. Especially since half the time the logic behind any individual response is completely tortured and illogical! I wasn't looking to get a lot of clear moral guidance out of this book, since I understand that a lot of actions that are taken in foreign relations are probably unsavory, but I was hoping for a thoughtful discussion of the issues at hand from someone who had worked in the intelligence world and most likely had to confront similar dilemmas in his career. Instead, I got the opinions of Joe Average on the street, who - let's face it - has probably never confronted and probably never will confront a situation in which he is being told to protect his country by doing something that is possibly immoral or unethical. The author missed an opportunity to enrich this book with his own unique experiences - or fictionalized versions thereof - and instead just gave me an unscientific poll with standard bits of CIA history that have already been written about in other books on the cold war and the CIA. ( )
1 vote fannyprice | Apr 26, 2009 |
Mr. Olson was the keynote speaker at our annual chamber of commerce banquet this year. He was such an interesting and entertaining speaker, that I bought his book afterwards. While the scope and topic of the book is quite different from the speech, it's an interesting look at spying in the US.
  reneeg | Feb 28, 2007 |
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