What’s the Harm? The Ethics of Intelligence Collection

  • Ross Bellaby

Traethawd ymchwil myfyriwr: Traethawd Ymchwil DoethurolDoethur mewn Athroniaeth


As the professional practice of intelligence collection adapts to the changing environment of the twenty-first century, many academic experts and intelligence professionals have called for a coherent ethical framework that outlines exactly when, by what means and to what ends intelligence is justified. Recent controversies, including reports of abuse at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, allegations of extraordinary rendition programmes and the ever-increasing pervasiveness of the ‘surveillance state’, have all raised concerns regarding the role of intelligence in society. As a result, there is increased debate regarding the question of whether or not intelligence collection can be carried out ethically. This thesis will tackle this question by creating an ethical framework specifically designed for intelligence that is capable of outlining under what circumstances, if any, different intelligence collection activities are ethically permissible.
This thesis argues that there is a tension presented by intelligence collection between the damage that it can cause and the important, ethical role it can play in the political community. In order to deal with this tension the ethical framework proposed in this thesis is comprised of two parts. The first part is designed to recognise those features of intelligence that might be considered ethically unacceptable by highlighting the ‘harm’ it can cause. Once the harm is understood, the second part of the ethical framework establishes a set of Just Intelligence Principles that can outline if and when the harms caused are justified. These Just Intelligence Principles are developed by drawing upon the just war tradition and its criteria of just cause, legitimate authority, right intention, last resort, proportionality and discrimination. By placing the harm that intelligence can cause into context with the Just Intelligence Principles it is possible to limit the use of intelligence while recognising the important role it plays in protecting the political community.
Once the ethical framework has been established in Chapter One it is then applied to a range of intelligence collection activities in Chapters Two, Three, Four and Five. This thesis will examine three of the most prominent collection disciplines in the field of intelligence studies: imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and human intelligence. By applying the ethical framework established in the beginning of the thesis to these three important intelligence collection disciplines, it is possible to better understand the ethical framework.
The main argument of this thesis will be that the most appropriate ethical framework for intelligence collection is one which is able to recognise that intelligence collection does indeed cause harm, but that sometimes this harm is necessary in order to protect the political community.
Dyddiad Dyfarnu2011
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  • Prifysgol Aberystwyth
GoruchwyliwrToni Ann Erskine (Goruchwylydd) & Peter Darron Jackson (Goruchwylydd)

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