Last night I sat and watched this fascinating interview on Al Mohler’s ‘Thinking in Public’ channel with a former CIA operative whose wife was also a spy. It was promised to be fascinating. And it was. Here’s the full title of the interview:
Spycraft and Soulcraft on the Front Lines of History: A Conversation with Former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence James Olson
If you’ve ever contemplated the idea of the Nazis knocking on your door and asking if ‘there are any Jews in there?’ then you’ll be interested in this. Or if you’ve ever wondered what it takes to go about your life in relative peace and safety you might like it. Would you lie? I’d like to think I would. No question. Not even a debate for me. I’d rather not lie of course, but for me, it would be the moral thing to do in that situation. The spies of Jericho were quoted to make the case for lying in certain situations (Josh 2:1).
‘Spying has always been based on deception. I look for guidance from the greatest of all sources, the Bible. And we all know the story from the book of Joshua, about how when Joshua was conducting his campaign for the conquest of Canaan, he’s standing before Jericho, and he sends two spies into Jericho to gather intelligence on the defenses. And the spies are sheltered, protected, hidden by the prostitute Rahab. And thanks to Rahab they survive when the king’s men came looking for them, she lied about their whereabouts. They were able to return safely to the Israelite camp. And I think it was because of their intelligence to a large extent that the campaign was successful.’ (Quote is from the transcript)
Just this Sunday we had a sermon about Ehud. Ehud straps on a sword with the intent of killing Eglon. It was just assumed that he did the right thing but he entered with a concealed weapon and used subterfuge and lying to get an audience with the king in order to get him on his own and plunge the sword into his belly; literally spilling his guts before making his escape. He went there with one aim: kill the king. It wasn’t murder, he delivered justice. (Judges 3:19-23) So it isn’t just the spies of Jericho.
‘I often ask my students, “What are your moral absolutes?” And students say, “Well, I would never kill anyone.” I say, “Well, you’re a soldier, our country’s being attacked. You are a parent, your children are being threatened. Could you kill to protect your children or your right?” Yeah, there are exceptions. Would you ever steal? I know I can never steal anything, but how about to feed your family? How about to steal the secrets from an enemy? Would you ever lie? No, but we all tell white lies. And there are occasions, as you mentioned, where lies I believe are the only course of action to protect human life.’ (Quote is from the transcript)
The espionage world in which this man lived and operated, with his wife, and now training other operatives, is a world of lying, deceit, manipulation, subterfuge, torture, and execution (killing). What might surprise some is that he operated with a Christian moral worldview. The prospective spies he trains are expected to have a moral compass. He didn’t say this, but without some sort of objective morality they might just as well employ as many psychopaths as they can. I’m sure Russia aren’t the only ones to have psychopaths on the payroll.
You might find the whole interview intensely annoying and not agree with a single thing he says. And that’s fine. But remember this: while you sleep peacefully in your bed or go about your life each day there are men and women out ‘there’ literally putting their lives on the line for our safety and doing things so we can keep our moral superiority. I recall some years ago a story in the papers of a British Army colonel, I think, who had infiltrated the IRA. I remember thinking about what would happen to that man had he been caught.
‘And it’s really unfair after the fact, I think, for people sitting back in Washington to say, “You went too far, you should not have kidnapped that person. You should not have waterboarded that person.” Because it’s easy to say, and our people were doing this with the best of intentions. Waterboarding is nasty. I hate the fact that we had to do that. But it’s easy to take the moral high ground and say, “We’re not going to do that.” And of course the Obama administration decreed that we would not do it anymore. That’s fine, tell us, we won’t cross the line. But we have to realize that when we refrain from activities like that, and I would contend as my good friend and colleague Jose Rodriguez wrote in his book, Hard Measures, that waterboarding these three people did save lives.’
(Quote is from the transcript)
It’s a messy fallen world, and yes I know, governments aren’t always working for the interest of their own people. I’m putting a best case on this knowing, that other governments are probably operating with more dubious moral standards.
One other thing he said was that if they’d (The US) have had the intelligence at the time they could’ve prevented Pearl Harbour as the German ‘chatter’ about it was being listened to. One of the ‘What If’s of history.
A brilliant TV series, (I think), is ‘The Americans.’ It’s about Russian operatives in America living as Americans, complete with a family, but living double lives. And you get to see the CIA as well. Quite gruesome in places so if you’re squeamish or object strongly to bad language then best not to watch it. But it is quite brilliant. 6 seasons I think.
I’m fascinated by it all so I’d like to hear more on this. He’s written a couple of books so they might be worth checking out.
Note: Because the CIA was like it was in James Olson’s day, it doesn’t mean it’s the same today. Check out for example Andrew Klavan’s show.
Some might (will be) be outraged by this, but then we don’t have to make these decisions – someone else does. There was so much more and it all raises so many many questions, but here’s the video link.