Monday, August 10, 2009

Navy Football Facebook Parody

By the always reliably hilarious Birddog. Put down your beverages and enjoy


A thing of comedic genius.

Kodos the Executioner, or; The Lifeboat Dilemma Writ Large

Entire Episode Here

This is Kodos, Governor of Tarsus IV an isolated earth colony. The year is 2246. An exotic fungus has destroyed most of the colony's food supply, and the 8,000 inhabitants face starvation. Without prospects of relief arriving soon, doing nothing will ensure that very few or none of the inhabitants of Tarsus IV will survive.

Kodos, a believer in eugenics, selects 4,000 of the colony's residents to be put to death. This allows 4,000 to survive on the limited food supplies available. Among the dead were Lt. Kevin Riley's and Capt. James T. Kirk's parents.

"The revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered, signed Kodos, Governor of Tarsus IV."

Now, assuming you are Governor Kodos, in this situation, what other options would you have? Are any of them morally acceptable alternatives to what he actually did? Kodos did implement certain eugenic beliefs as he picked half the population for death. Suppose he had implemented a random lottery instead? Would this be acceptable, or is the only correct course of action to do nothing and hope/pray for the best? Is there no rational basis for selection, even if not eugenic? For instance, shouldn't he have picked the young over the old, women over men? Isn't this commonly done in similar situations? Why not here?

Supposing that Kodos's actions or something very nearly like them in effect (as for instance the lottery) were the only way to ensure any survivors, should Kodos be tried for crimes against humanity, or should he be 'let off' due to extraordinary circumstances? Does your opinion change on this question if Kodos uses the lottery instead of relying on his own eugenic beliefs?

The Ethical Challenges of Intelligence Gathering

In a field where much hyperventilation occurs, it is refreshing to see a level reasoned discussion, blessedly free of ad hominem hand waving and motivation mongering. James M. Olson, formerly in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA, now faculty of Texas A&M, has authored a book that I cannot wait to get my hands on. If the article he penned for the Winter Spring edition of SAIS Review (click blog title to see this) is any indicator, he has a knack for clarity of expression, while not sacrificing the "nuance" to coin a phrase, (or rather, abuse a phrase much in need of official retirement from the language),when discussing the ethical challenges inherent in the gathering of intelligence.

The article presents us with 10 cases. We are asked to consider them, and whether or not we would go along with the recommended course of action for each case. Olsen presents this set as a sort of self-diagnostic tool. With our results we can see where we stand on the spectrum of possible attitudes toward intel gathering practices used by CIA FBI and law enforcement in general. The spectrum runs from an "all bets are off" "Rambo" position, to the "hardcore civil libertarians and human rights advocates who fundamentally object to any use of deceit" position, aka, the Code Pink position (my label not his).

A sample of the cases:

Case Study #1
A senior al-Qaida operative, known to have masterminded a major terrorist attack in the United States (killing 700 U.S. citizens), is in hiding in Sudan. The CIA learns from intelligence sources exactly where he is, and has the capability of inserting an assassination team into Sudan. Other options, such as kidnapping or extraditing him, are excluded for operational and political reasons. Would it be morally acceptable for the CIA to assassinate this terrorist inside Sudan?

Case Study #3
An Albanian member of the terrorist group Egyptian Jihad is running a large cell of this organization in Sofia, Bulgaria. Would it be morally acceptable for the CIA, in collaboration with its official liaison within Bulgarian security, to kidnap this terrorist on the streets of Sofia, send him secretly to Cairo, and turn him over to Egyptian authorities for interrogation that will likely include beatings and torture?

Case Study #7
A female CIA officer is operating undercover in Rome. To expand her spotting opportunities for potential recruits, she joins a local tennis club. She strikes up a friendship with the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Iranian Embassy, who is an avid tennis player. Over time, it is clear to the CIA officer that the Iranian is infatuated with her and can be easily manipulated. Would it be morally acceptable for the CIA officer to seduce the Iranian (she is willing to do so) as a means of drawing him into espionage on behalf of the United States?

Case Study #9
A Middle Eastern graduate student at a U.S. university walks into the local FBI office, and volunteers his services as a penetration of an Islamic terrorist cell of which he is a secret member. In exchange, he wants the FBI to assist him in completing his Ph.D. dissertation, with which he says he is hopelessly bogged down. Would it be morally acceptable for the FBI to assist the student in plagiarizing his dissertation in return for his cooperation against the terrorist cell?

Makes you want to go out and grab that book and take that diagnostic, doesn't it?

Particularly intriguing: For the book, he convened a group of people from academia, and other walks of life and did a bit of experimental ethics, tabulating their views of these cases. Those results will be very interesting to see.

Olsen makes a strong case that we need to provide clear legal and ethical guidance, and SOPs for folks in this business. It is neither fair to them, nor prudent, to keep things intentionally vague and undefined, whilst politicizing the arena. We either make use of the techniques, and be grown up about it, or abstain. We cannot play politics with the freedom and moral reputation of intelligence agency personnel.