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Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying
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Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  282 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
Revolutionary War officer Nathan Hale, one of America’s first spies, said, “Any kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.” A statue of Hale stands outside CIA headquarters, and the agency often cites his statement as one of its guiding principles. But who decides what is necessary for the public good, and is it really true that any ...more
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published October 1st 2006 by Potomac Books
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Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was ok

Skim it in a library for an hour, but don't buy it.

James Olson is well-credentialed, and his work in the Agency seems to have put him in a lot of interesting situations. He brings his experiences to his writing to contemplate the moral problems of spying.

His book, Fair Play, tries to introduce the American reading public to some of the moral qualms of the spy business. Should a spy agency make up fake academic credentials for someone's child in exchange for secrets important to national securi
Yana Shevkirova
Jun 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book, but one needs to have in mind who the author is and realize that it just can't be completely unbiased and transparent account of some of the events. However, I do like the approach of providing scenarios as an example of the (mostly moral) issues within the intelligence field. The author follows these examples with comments made by professionals (academics and practitioners) and clearly introduces variety of opinions on the subject. It is sort of a short introduction ...more
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not a profound book, but it's a novel concept. The 50 scenarios Olson provides are terrific, but not just because of the moral dilemma each poses. The book ends up being a good starting point for the countless folks who can't seem to separate the reality from the fiction in espionage. There are legal boundaries and moral limitations that aren't crossed on a daily basis, contrary to popular misconceptions. On the other hand, it's not all black and white. Cost-benefit analyses don't ignore mo ...more
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spy-stuff
My high ratings reflect the book's engaging style and clarity when conveying information. This is the first source I have found that reveals at least some basic structures of CIA operations, recruitment, and training. Recommended by a fellow author for research purposes, I find this book to be informative, even fascinating. A real, retired CIA case worker wrote it, a man with covert action experience. This sort of information helps me decide which facets of my spy character are realistic and whi ...more
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Without any hesitation, this is the best book on the intelligence community that I've come across to date. Olson is a fantastic writer who capably navigates the murky intersection of morality and intelligence-gathering, first with an overview of various philosophical standpoints and then with a series of deliciously compelling hypotheticals. His experience as a former CIA officer adds to the conversation but doesn't color it, as Olson's insights guide the reader through the full scope of ethical ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Professor Olson discusses his CIA career and poses many questions CIA personnel face every day. I found it interesting but was beginning to be bored before I finished the book. The reason may be that I read small parts of this book over an extended period of time. Olson is a great public speaker and I had the pleasure of hearing him at a county fair dinner. His presentation was great!
Alex Yalen
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spooks
The author, James Olson, shepherds you through a series of case studies, where you are ultimately presented with the question of, "is this operation moral or is it immoral?" He then solicits opinions from a wide array of people -- from hard left/strenuously anti-CIA types to priests to graduate students to professors and school teachers to veteran "spooks" to military personnel. Mr. Olson himself offers his take on the issues and similar issues like it that he encountered during his time in the ...more
Mar 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
There are a number books available for one looking to learn a little something about the art of spying, and what it entails. But this one seemed to be the most detailed. Rather than droning on and on in an autobiographical format, the author presents several (I think around 80) scenarios with the moral question at the end. Then, he solicits comments from professionals with diverse backgrounds (teachers, retired agents, university classes, clergy, several well decorated military generals, etc.). ...more
Apr 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed most of this book. The author gave a brief introduction to the world of espionage, and ran through a basic philosophical framework for understanding morality and ethics. Then he presented 50 fictional scenarios based on actual moral dilemmas that intelligence professionals deal with on a daily basis. Some of them seemed somewhat redundant, and they tended to drag on toward the end. What I liked most was that he solicited comments from a wide variety of sources- academics, studen ...more
Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book begins with an overview of philosophers and their views on morality as it pertains to taking care of the best interests of all those who represent a group of people - primarily a city-state or nation.

From there it goes into about 50 real life scenarios faced by today's intelligence and diplomatic corps and offers options to conclude the problems posed in each case. The pros and cons of those options are then discussed by a very diverse group of people.

Sound boring and complicated? It'
Major Hayden
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've been on a spy book kick for a while, but this one is definitely unique. It dives deep into detailed scenarios and lets you come up with your own conclusions about what is morally acceptable in spy operations. The author also enlists experts from many fields (not just intelligence or military) to weigh in on the scenario and offer their input.

This book is fun to share with someone because you can read a scenario and then argue about why it would be okay or not okay. It has 50 scenarios -- w
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read most of this book and probably won't ever finish the rest of it. It's really nothing special. I was hoping for a real intellectual look at the ethics of spying, but the author just does not have the tools perform that analysis. Instead it farms a lot of it out to other contributors, so who have the experience to speak realistically to case studies and some who have the academic background to analyze the situation but no one who demonstrates a knowledge of real-life operations AND the abil ...more
Jon Koebrick
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book for those who wish to ponder the moral elements of intelligence work amidst the competing interests of security, privacy, and civil liberty, et al. Olson specifically does a good job with creating hypothetical situations and showing the highly gray nature of the choices. The chapter that examines the different philosophical perspectives on spying is a little dry but it is valuable in the examples.
Nov 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ethics
This book typifies my frustrations with "applied" ethics. They always seem to begin with a cursory survey of various ethical theories and then the remainer is given over to case study after case study. Reading interpretations of case studies does not build a solid ability to reason over ethical issues. Without taking a position on a theory any discussions of ethics becomes impossible to make a judgement on.
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book considers the moral aspects of espionage. The author begins with a summary of what moral philosophers have said about spying in the past. He continues by offering a number of scenarios of controversial issues involved in spying, and consults a panel of respondents to get their views on each scenario. The topic is interesting and the book is well-written. I wish the author would have included more information about his panel of experts and how/why they were chosen.
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books. It has an awesome format - a short scenario is presented which brings up a possible moral dilemmas, then people from all walks of life comment on whether they feel it is moral, then the author gives his views and other comments on the effectiveness or legality of it. Extremely well-done.
Matt Skains
Dec 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Very interesting read that will spur you onto conversation about the content with your friends. If you're like me, many will not be interested but the content is still pretty interesting. I think it should make for some great conversation starters, but YMMV.
renee g
Mr. Olson was the keynote speaker at our annual chamber of commerce banquet this year. He was such an interesting and entertaining speaker, that I bought his book afterwards. While the scope and topic of the book is quite different from the speech, it's an interesting look at spying in the US.
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-book
Very interesting, and a lot of information. Unfortunately, also a lot of recommendations for other great books on spying: now I'll have to read those, too!
Eugene O'Neal
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Good book. Not your typical spy thriller but great.
Aug 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Not at all was I was hoping/looking for. Thought more of his work and moral dilemmas while operating as a spy would be discussed in lieu of academic hypotheticals.
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Sep 01, 2014
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Jan 03, 2015
Keith Boyea
rated it it was ok
May 14, 2014
Christian Husby
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Dec 01, 2013
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Aug 08, 2017
Jennifer Keel
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Nov 12, 2017
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Jun 25, 2017
Jill Wagner stewart
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Nov 18, 2012
M.K. South
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May 16, 2017
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Henley-Putnam Uni...: Ethics and Moral Dilemmas of Spying 1 5 Jan 21, 2014 12:39PM  
reality 1 4 Jan 26, 2009 01:56PM  
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