Revolutionary War officer Nathan Hale, one of America’s first spies, said, “Any kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.” A statue of Hale stands outside CIA headquarters, and the agency often cites his statement as one of its guiding principles. But who decides what is necessary for the public good, and is it really true that any kind of service is permissible for the public good?
These questions are at the heart of James M. Olson’s book, Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying. Olson, a veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service, takes readers inside the real world of intelligence to describe the difficult dilemmas that field officers face on an almost daily basis. Far from being a dry theoretical treatise, this fascinating book uses actual intelligence operations to illustrate how murky their moral choices can be. Readers will be surprised to learn that the CIA provides very little guidance on what is, or is not, permissible. Rather than empowering field officers, the author has found that this lack of guidelines actually hampers operations. Olson believes that U.S. intelligence officers need clearer moral guidelines to make correct, quick decisions. Significantly, he believes these guidelines should come from the American public, not from closed-door meetings inside the intelligence community. Fair Play will encourage a broad public debate about the proper moral limits on U.S. intelligence activities.
A Peek Into the World of Espionage
By Chris Fitzpatrick "CP" - March 12, 2007
Fair Play offers the reader a peek into the murky world of espionage. CIA veteran Jim Olson has a unique perspective that few other authors can offer to anyone interested in intelligence. Fair Play is not your standard historical narrative. It is an interactive experience, which invites the reader to participate in fifty realistic and morally challenging scenarios that our spies must contend with. Olson adds further credibility to Fair Play by sharing with the reader a cross section of responses to his very realistic scenarios. These elicited responses are from accomplished professionals, whose vocations vary from the former Deputy Director of the CIA to practicing physicians.
Fair Play includes chapters on Olson's under cover career in the CIA, changing U.S. attitudes toward espionage from the Revolutionary War to the present, and historical, biblical, and philosophical justifications for committing espionage. Armed with this requisite knowledge, the reader is... read more
Worth more than the price.
By K. Elshoff "USNKen" - February 20, 2007
I wanted so badly to give this book 4 stars but couldn't bring myself to do it.
The concept of the book is interesting and Mr. Olson tackled it very well. The early part of the book details Mr. Olson's experiences growing up in Iowa, attending the University of Iowa Law School (Go Hawks!), how he came to join the CIA, and gave a brief summary of his career, although I say it was TOO brief and if Mr. Olson ever wrote a biography about his experiences in the Agency it would make a tremendously interesting read. He also mentioned that when he was recruited into the CIA, all he knew about it was what he had learned in Allen Dulles' book The Craft of Intelligence, which is ironic because I ordered that book on the same day as Fair Play. Both turned out to be greatly enjoyable.
The largest portion of Fair Play focuses on different (hypothetical) moral dilemmas potentially faced by Intelligence Officers, with each dilemma being asked in question form, "Would it be moral... read more
By Celia Drake - December 1, 2006
I can't put this book down. It is a wealth of information on CIA operations in general, but also deals with some very tough questions of morality. All U.S. citizens should inform themselves on this topic, especially as so many people have lots to say about it---but are relatively uninformed. Highly recommend it.
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