Questions? Call us on 01245 830123

Philosophy for Spies

Inspired by a visit to Castercliffe Primary Academy where they had a great cross-curricular topic – spies – here are three dilemmas from the world of espionage. Moral dilemmas can be an efficient and engaging route to discussion, and espionage is an interesting test-bed for arguments that “the end justifies the means”. It’s also very engaging, and the quality of the children’s talk was impressive as they grappled with some of these high-stakes situations. These are all scenarios from the UK, but as they are all “in-role”, I don’t think it matters where you are.

Philosophy-in-role

r

You are spymasters back at HQ, taking decisions about whom to recruit as agents and what agents should do. (As with all philosophy-in-role scenarios, there is additional interest in how they switch between in-role reasoning and reasoning as themselves, and whether indeed this makes a difference to what they say).
r
Scenario 1: World War II
r
It is December 1942. Thanks to the work of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park, you have intercepted messages that an enemy agent is to be parachuted into the country. You have laid plans to capture him, but are surprised when he hands himself in to local police and asks to speak to MI5. He offers his services as a double agent – he wants to spy for the British, while pretending to spy for the Germans.
r
He has a criminal background. As a young man, he was dishonourably discharged from the army after running away with a girlfriend while on leave.
r
He later led a gang of safecrackers and had several periods in jail. Out on bail awaiting trial for another crime, he fled to Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, and very quickly ended up in prison there for burglary. The Channel Islands were invaded and occupied by the Germans, and he offered to spy for them, saying that he hated the British.
r
He says he has been trained by German intelligence, and that his mission is to sabotage the De Havilland aircraft factory.
r
Do you recruit this man as a double agent and use him to feed misinformation to the Germans? Or do you steer clear?
r
Scenario 2: The Cold War
r
A valuable Russian agent has been supplying you with useful secrets. He was initially recruited in Denmark after some time back in Russia during which he memorised details of many Russian agents in the UK. He has now been posted to the Russian Embassy in London. Unlike most double agents, he is not interested in money: he is spying for you because he hates the oppressive regime and loves Britain.
r
He has been asked to visit KGB headquarters in Moscow, and it seems likely that he is being promoted to the top job. If he returns to the UK, it would mean that the person in charge of all Russian spies in the UK would be a double agent working for the British.
r
But you are worried. The KGB suspect that there is a double agent in their ranks. If they suspect your agent, it is likely that he will be tortured and killed. You have a plan for getting him out of the country if he senses danger, but it is a very risky plan and he may not even have time to try to escape if he is suspected.
r
Do you tell him that he has done enough for the UK, and allow him to defect and stay safely in England? Do you send him back to Moscow, and hope that you can get even more secrets from him in the future? Or do you leave the decision to him, knowing that you may be allowing him to volunteer for a horrible end?
r
Scenario 3: 2003-2010
r
A police officer has been undercover with a group of environmentalist extremists for some time. He has become very close to one member of the group, who wants to have a relationship with him. If they become boyfriend and girlfriend, it will secure his place in the group and allow him more access – but nobody in the group has yet committed a crime.
r
Do you encourage him to have a relationship with the group member, tell him not to, or leave it up to him?
r
In discussing these scenarios, it’s likely that the conversation will switch from “in-role”, operational considerations to wider ethical concerns, just as it would for those taking the decisions. After you have looked at all three, you can reveal their connections to real-world events, below.
r
Best wishes,
r
Jason
r
Scenario 1: Agent Zigzag
Eddie Chapman was recited by MI5 despite his criminal past and given the codename “Zigzag”. At the same time, he was “Fritz” to the Germans, who thought he was still working for them. MI5 faked a sabotage attack on the De Haviland aircraft factory to make it look as if “Fritz” had succeeded in his mission, and then secretly helped him get back to Germany, where he received further training. When parachuted back into England, his job was to give Germany feedback on where the deadly V1 rockets were landing. By reporting that they were hitting their central London targets when they were actually falling short, he ensured that the Germans never corrected their aim, saving many lives.
r
Scenario 2: Oleg Gordievsky
Oleg Gordievsky was a very valuable spy. His handlers left the decision to him. He went back to Russia, and was interrogated including the use of a “truth drug”, yet amazingly he avoided giving himself away. Eventually he was evacuated in a daring escape plan that included a diplomat’s wife changing her baby on the top of the car boot in which he was hiding, to distract sniffer dogs from the man inside it. His handlers felt afterwards that they had done the wrong thing by allowing him to choose. He still lives, quietly, somewhere in England.
r
Scenario 3: Mark Kennedy
Kennedy formed relationships with several women during his time as an undercover officer. Trials of activists accused of criminal acts collapsed as it was considered that he had “set them up” and the police force were later sued by some of the women.

Leave a Comment