Monday, April 25, 2022

Cécile Fabre's "Spying Through a Glass Darkly"

Cécile Fabre is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow in Politics at All Souls College. Previously she taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh. She holds degrees from the Sorbonne University, the University of York, and the University of Oxford. Her research interests include theories of distributive justice, issues relating to the rights we have over our own body and, more recently, just war theory and the ethics of foreign policy.

Fabre applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Spying Through a Glass Darkly: The Ethics of Espionage and Counter-Intelligence, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Spying Through a Glass Darkly begins with a description of Operation Bodyguard, ‘thanks to which the Allies deceived Germany’s leadership as to the timing and location of their planned invasion of Western Europe.’ It argues that deception, not merely in war but in foreign policy in general, is sometimes morally permissible. The argument relies both on the case of Operation Overlord and on a hypothetical example in which the intelligence services of an imaginary country ask one of their operatives to infiltrate a transnational terrorist network.

The book defends an ethics of espionage and counterintelligence activities. This page is both a bad and a good snapshot of the book. It does not give a sense of the range of the methods used by intelligence agencies, and of the moral dilemmas which those methods raise. The book tackles topics as diverse as treason; various modes for recruiting agents such as manipulation, exploitation, and entrapment; economic espionage; cyberespionage; and mass surveillance. It argues that those activities are morally justified, indeed sometimes morally mandatory, but only to protect individuals’ fundamental moral rights from wrongful threats – not just in the context of war, but also in the context of foreign policy in general. To give but one, and depressingly relevant example, suppose that a country justifiably imposes economic sanctions on a foreign regime and that regime’s associates, on grounds of rights-protection albeit in peace time. On my account, it is also justified in resorting to espionage to check that the targets of the sanctions are compliant. Someone who would read only page 99 would not be able to guess as much.

That said, in some ways, page 99 is a good snapshot, because it gives examples of both espionage and counterintelligence. Operation Bodyguard was an extraordinarily successful piece of deceptive counterintelligence; and infiltrating someone into enemy networks is of course a good way of spying on the latter. Moreover, and more importantly, this page illustrates the way the book weaves philosophical arguments, historical examples and hypothetical scenarios – the latter being a trademark of the philosophical tradition in which I write. Whilst the Page 99 Test fares poorly regarding the content of the book, it fares very well regarding its philosophical flavour.
Visit Cécile Fabre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue