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Apparently, Helms was too hot to handle." 11 A another public figure obviously annoyed at government's failure to successfully try the intelligence director said: "Rather than using a court trial to press for full disclosure... The administration has decided to contain the story and manage it under the tired excuse of national security." 12 U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker however refused to accept any prearranged plea-bargain and a trial ensued.
Helms was surprisingly unapologetic. He said he was guided by his professional code and admitted he had misled the Senate: "I found myself in a position of conflict. I had sworn my oath to protect certain secrets. I didn't want to lie. I didn't want to mislead the Senate. I was simply trying to find my way through a very difficult situation in which I found myself." 13 This declaration was disturbing to many since what Helms said showed he was a man of integrity who was simply caught in an ethically difficult situation. This was what created "the dilemma that made this case genuinely agonizing to conscientious people." 14
Obviously confused by the ethical conflicts that emerged during the case, Judge Parker sentenced Helms to two years in prison in addition to levying a heavy fine. Judge Parker, in his concluding statement, lectured Helms about obeying laws of the state:
You considered yourself bound to protect the agency whose affairs you had administered and to dishonor your solemn oath to tell the truth before the committee. If public officials embark deliberately on a course to disobey and ignore the laws of our land because of some ill-conceived notion and belief that there are earlier commitments and considerations which they must first observe, the future of our country is in jeopardy. There are those employed in the intelligence security community of this country... who feel that they have a license to operate freely outside the dictates of law and otherwise to orchestrate as they see fit. Public officials at every level, whatever their position, like any other person, must respect and honor the Constitution and the laws of the United States. 15
These cases, despite of many differences in motives and results, reveal the complexity of ethical dilemmas that intelligence personnel face in their line of work. On the one hand, their main job responsibility is protection of homeland and on the other, they hearts and minds are often entangled in serious ethical considerations that stand in conflict with their professional responsibilities. We all know that it is important to promote, preserve and strengthen national security without raising any serious ethical issues or conflicts but honestly speaking, this is easier said than done.
Ethics is deeply embedded in national psyche and it definitely has a profound impact on intelligence community too. To say that they choose to operate from an unethical paradigm would be incorrect since despite the conflicts, some ethical standard is certainly present in intelligence work. But the extent to which this ethical standard is followed by the personnel varies. And the nature of this ethical standard may also unique to each member. What is right and ethically correct for one may not be the same for another. Helms believed that it was more important to follow a professional code and felt lying to the Senate was the only option available to him. Similarly German intelligence officers conspired against Hitler because they saw him as an evil influence. Who was more in tune with ethical values is difficult to judge since they operated from an ethical paradigm that suited their religious, professional or moral code. Ethics in intelligence service is thus a tricky business. And in the same vein, integrity, character, conviction come to gain different meaning and occupy a different place in an intelligence officer's life.
Few have had the courage to openly challenge the system or state orders and even fewer would risk their lives to save the humanity without regard for national boundaries. Helms and German officers knew what they did was not expected of them and neither did they opt for the easier path. It would be incorrect to label their choice in simplistic terms as ethical or unethical. They agonizing tried to choose between competing ethical values and their dilemma gave rise to serious concerns for which few answers exist. The only real answer lies in creation of laws that would bind intelligence officers to work within certain ethical limits.
Intelligence community has now attained technological capabilities that give them immense powers. It is important that these powers are not misused and for this reason, there is a need to established ethical boundaries that would encourage intelligence personnel to work with integrity. But apart from that, even greater pressing need exists for government to change its policies regarding intelligence community. To the outsider, CIA men for example, are cheaters because they are taught to lie to the general public even when hiding the truth from insiders make these men a danger for the nation. Allen Dulles, former director of Central Intelligence, candidly admitted that "I never had the slightest qualms about lying to an outsider." 16
Similarly while for some covert actions in various countries by the CIA are nothing but strategies to protect the nation and strengthen national security, for other it they are unethical practices. Former deputy assistant secretary of defense for international affairs Morton Halperin explained that covert actions:
distort our democratic system [and the other] structures that normally govern the conduct of our officials.... One obvious area is lying to the public and the Congress.... The case against covert operations is really very simple. Such operations are incompatible with our democratic institutions, with Congressional and public control over foreign policy decisions, with our constitutional rights, and with the principles and ideals that this Republic stands for in the world. 17
It is clear from the discussion and evidence presented that intelligence community needs a serious ethical overhaul that could purge the system from within. The change that United States seeks so aggressively in its relations with other nations will never come unless something is done to modify foreign policy from within. The intelligence community needs to be given a new and more ethically sound professional code of conduct. Covert operations in other countries must be abandoned and the powers that intelligences services have attained should be restricted by law. They must be permitted and encouraged to assess the lawfulness of a planned course of action. We shall now conclude the discussion with an insightful observation by E. Drexel Godfrey formers director of Current Intelligence: "foreign intelligence is not, by and large, conducted by people lacking the capacity to recognize ethical standards, but standards are lowered to accommodate the perceived national purpose. Once lowered, they can be more easily lowered a second time, or they can be lowered further and further as routine reduces ethical resistance to repugnant activities." 18
William Sullivan quoted in U.S., Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Foreign and Military Intelligence: Final Report (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976), Book III, pp. 968-969 [hereafter cited as U.S., Select Committee to Study Intelligence, Final Report].
Henry L. Stimson, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947), p. 188.
David Kahn, The Code Breakers (New York: New American Library, 1973), pp. 178-179.
Claus von Stauffenberg, quoted in Bundeszentrale fur politische Bildung, Germans Against Hitler (Wiesbaden: Wiesbadener Graphische Betriebe, 1964, p. 222.
Von Treschkow, quoted in Germans Against Hitler, p. 292.
Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, quoted in Germans Against Hitler, p. 199.
Graf von Moltke, quoted in Germans Against Hitler, pp. 249-250.
Wilhelm Canaris, quoted in Karl Abshagen, Canaris: Patriot and Welburger (Stuttgart: Union Verlag, 1957), p. 393.
U.S. Defends Helms Deal," Washington Post (November 2, 1977).
Frank Church, quoted in "No Contest' Plea Entered by Helms," Washington Post (November 1, 1977).
Laurence Birns, quoted in "No Contest' Plea."
Richard Helms, quoted in "Helms Pleads 'No Contest' in Testimony Case," Washington Post (November 1, 1977).
The Helms Bargain," Washington Post (November 2, 1977).
Barrington Parker, quoted in "Helms Fined," Washington Post (November 5, 1977).
Allen Dulles, quoted by Tom Braden in U.S., Select Committee…[continue]
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