Principled Spying

The Ethics of Secret Intelligence

David Omand and Mark Phythian

"Provides valuable both-sides arguments on the issue that warrant a read by both intelligence professionals and the lay citizen alike."
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Intelligence agencies provide critical information to national security and foreign policy decision makers, but spying also poses inherent dilemmas for liberty, privacy, human rights, and diplomacy. Principled Spying explores how to strike a balance between necessary intelligence activities and protecting democratic values by developing a new framework of ethics.

David Omand and Mark Phythian structure this book as an engaging debate between a former national security practitioner and an intelligence scholar. Rather than simply presenting their positions, throughout the book they pose key questions to each other and to the reader and offer contrasting perspectives to stimulate further discussion. They demonstrate the value for both practitioners and the public of weighing the dilemmas of secret intelligence through ethics. The chapters in the book cover key areas including human intelligence, surveillance, acting on intelligence, and oversight and accountability. The authors disagree on some key questions, but in the course of their debate they demonstrate that it is possible to find a balance between liberty and security. This book is accessible reading for concerned citizens, but it also delivers the sophisticated insights of a high-ranking former practitioner and a distinguished scholar.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Ethics Matters in Secret Intelligence
1. Thinking about the Ethical Conduct of Secret Intelligence
2. Ethics, Intelligence, and the Law
3. From Just War to Just Intelligence?
4. Secret Agents and Covert Human Sources
5. Digital Intelligence and Cyberspace
6. The Ethics of Using Intelligence
7. Building Confidence through Oversight and Accountability
Conclusion: Toward Principled Spying
Selected Bibliography
About the Authors


"This groundbreaking volume admirably brings these two worlds into dialogue, bridging an imagined divide of utility versus principle with a new paradigm for considering the ethics of intelligence operations."—Theological Studies

"Provides valuable both-sides arguments on the issue that warrant a read by both intelligence professionals and the lay citizen alike."—

"The format is unique, taking the form of a dialogue between the two authors, with each author’s contribution labeled as such. Their approach to the problem of intelligence ethics is promising as they seek to use just-war theory as a way to offer ethical guidance on how to engage in actions forbidden altogether in normal society."—Choice

"If spying is the world's second oldest profession, or perhaps the oldest, ethical issues it raises are almost as old. But as this wonderful conversation between an eminent practitioner and a senior scholar displays, those have been reshaped by the long transition from royal sovereigns to popular sovereignty, and sharpened more recently by the focus on terrorism and the rise of big data. The former both makes "war" continuous and puts enormous pressure on warning. That pressure then stresses ethics in familiar collection, like interrogation, but also requires searching through big data sets , including information about innocent citizens. for tips about would-be terrorists. Omand and Phythian creatively apply the principles of just war to intelligence, and make a strong argument for a new "social compact," one that benefits from the paradox of Edward Snowden's revelations, which were very damaging but also sparked a real conversation about privacy and other ethical issues inherent in intelligence in this era that is neither peace nor war."—Gregory Treverton, former chair of the US National Intelligence Council

"Principled Spying is a must read for all involved in the intelligence profession as well as for those who are interested in understanding how intelligence agencies can and should operate ethically in the 21st century. David Omand and Mark Phythian provide a comprehensive review and stimulating discussion of the role and responsibilities of intelligence professionals and how the ethical foundations of liberal democracies can be preserved and even strengthened by 'principled spying.' A most compelling narrative!"—John Brennan, Former Director, CIA

"Most people agree that a safe society means that intelligence gathering is necessary but too few agree on its limits in a free society. This valuable book, a debate between two informed and experienced experts, provides perceptive insights to help both the public and the policy makers come to the right decisions."—George Robertson, Secretary General, NATO 1999-2003, UK Secretary of State for Defence 1997-99


Supplemental Materials


Runner-up for the 2018 of the

About the Author

Sir David Omand, GCB, was previously UK security and intelligence coordinator, permanent secretary of the UK Home Office, and director of GCHQ, the UK signals intelligence and cyber security agency. He is the author of Securing the State.

Mark Phythian is professor of politics in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester and coeditor of the journal Intelligence and National Security. He is coauthor of Intelligence in an Insecure World and has nearly a dozen other books to his name.

296 pp., 6 x 9
1 figure
ISBN: 978-1-62616-560-1
Apr 2018
Only available for sale in the US and its dependencies, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines

296 pp., 6 x 9
1 figure
Apr 2018
Only available for sale in the US and its dependencies, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines

296 pp.
1 figure
ISBN: 978-1-62616-561-8
Apr 2018
Only available for sale in the US and its dependencies, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines

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