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Free «Ethics and Ethical Misconduct in the CIA» Essay Sample

Ethics and Ethical Misconduct in the CIA

For decades, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had pursued the values of integrity, excellence, and professional service (CIA, 2012). For decades, the CIA had been considered as an organization of high moral and ethical standards. The CIA had all chances to preserve its public reputation, if not for the most recent scandal involving now the ex-commander of the CIA David Petraeus. A few days ago, Mr. Petraeus announced his voluntary decision to leave the post of the CIA Commander due to an extramarital affair. However, what looked like a family scandal soon turned into a threat to the U.S.’s stability, both nationally and globally. As of today, David Petraeus has already outstripped the newly re-elected President Obama in mass media popularity and public discussions. It is a serious hint that the CIA must reconsider the fundamental principles of its professional performance.

The CIA and Extramarital Affair: Explaining the Issue

On November 10, 2012, now the ex-commander of the CIA David Petraeus announced his decision to resign from the post. What he said has already become the ethical quote of November:



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Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.” (Ethics Alarms, 2012)

From the very beginning, Petraeus’s decision to leave the post due to the extramarital affair sounded quite bizarre. The public did not want to accept Petraeus’s ethical move and did not believe in its truthfulness. Eventually, what looked like a family issue turned into a serious national and, later, international ethical scandal. The news about Petraeus’s resignation even robbed headlines from the Presidential Elections – an almost impossible endeavor (Welch, Johnson & Leger, 2012).

At the heart of the ethical scandal is the extramarital affair that could readily compromise the entire system of national defense (Welch et al., 2012). For a long time, David Petraeus had an affair with Mrs. Broadwell, his colleague and biographer. Both were married and had children. When they broke up, Mrs. Broadwell did not want to admit her personal failure and started to send harassing anonymous email to the woman she considered as the new mistress of her ex-lover (Welch et al., 2012). The latter asked her friend, an FBI agent, to interfere with the problem and try to detect who was that person sending her numerous harassing messages (Welch et al., 2012). Now this triangle of players, including Petraeus himself and the FBI agent participating in the case, raises many questions regarding the quality and security of the sensitive information that could have been revealed by the parties. The number of people involved in the scandal constantly increases: currently, one of top US military commanders, General John Allen, is under investigation for having sent similar emails to the woman, who had been linked to Petraeus (Harding, 2012).

Ethical Implications of the Scandal

The scandal has far-reaching ethical implications both at the individual and organizational levels. To begin with, for many years, David Petraeus had been considered as a gifted leader, strongly committed to the principles of ethical leadership and military discipline. Among others, Petraeus constantly promoted the importance of social responsibility and sound decisions reflected in tenets 3,4 and 5 of the Eleven Principles of Leadership (Ethics Alarms, 2012). In the CIA, an organization that plays the central role in developing and sustaining the system of intelligence in the country, having an extramarital affair is the same as betraying thousands of professionals, who have been following their leader for years. The main CIA rules forbid any extramarital relationships, since they can make the organization and its workers particularly vulnerable to dangerous manipulations (Ethics Alarms, 2012). Such an affair is the sign of dishonesty and poor trust, as well as the lack of self-control and subjective judgment in the organization’s leader (Ethics Alarms, 2012).

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No less serious are the organizational implications of the scandal. Historically, the CIA’s core values included service, integrity, and excellence (CIA, n.d.). The agency was believed to put the country and its people first and before self (CIA, n.d.). Now, it seems that personal interests have overshadowed the importance of ethical conduct and commitment to national security and defense. The scandal has revealed serious violations of the fundamental ethical principles, including privacy, security, and honesty. Most likely, it is the gaps in the ethical atmosphere within the agency that fostered the development of extramarital relationships and favored the disclosure of sensitive information in violation of all possible ethical and legal principles.

From the perspective of the rights ethics, the scandal can be fairly regarded as a serious breach of the fundamental ethical principles and rights. As mentioned previously, privacy, honesty, integrity, accountability, and ethics are just some of the many ethical principles that were violated by the actions of the ex-commander and his mistress. From the viewpoint of utilitarianism, the scandal will invariably have profound impacts on the future performance of the CIA and the U.S.’s international image. At the same time, the ethical scandal at the CIA suggests that the rules and principles of ethical conduct in government agencies are not always strong enough to keep individual workers and leaders from engaging in unethical behaviors.

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The ethical scandal indicates that not everything is well with the ethical atmosphere within the CIA. Ethics is a combination of numerous personal and organizational factors. The scandal involving Petraeus confirms that ethical misconduct is rarely a matter of individual characteristics; more often than not, it is explicit or implicit cooperation between several members of the same organization that reflects the attitudes, values, and principles growing from the organization’s ethical culture (Pekel, 2007). Still, leaders bear greater ethical responsibility than their followers, simply because they are expected to function as role models. Leaders and managers who fail to deliver a sound ethical message and institute systems to facilitate ethical conduct in the organization will have to share the responsibility with their followers, who willingly engage in and benefit from corporate misbehaviors (Pekel, 2007). An interesting observation is that, at present, the way Mrs. Broadwell has benefited from the scandal remains unclear. Also unclear are the goals she pursued while sending numerous harassing messages to a woman she did not even know. At the same time, it is difficult to imagine that the head of the CIA did not realize the damage his extramarital affair could cause to his position and the public image of the entire intelligence community. Apparently, Petraeus’s decision to resign was the easiest way to avoid ethical and legal responsibility for his actions. Today, the CIA is facing one of the biggest ethical challenges in its history. This is the time when the quality of the ethical culture within the CIA has to be restructured and improved.

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Just a few days ago, now the former commander of the CIA David Petraeus announced his decision to resign from the post. The decision set in motion a whole sequence of actions and decisions that eventually translated into a huge ethical scandal. Petraeus’s extramarital affair has violated the fundamental principles of ethical conduct at the CIA. It has also become a serious threat to the national defense and stability in the U.S. and beyond. The scandal will have far-reaching consequences for the U.S.’s international image. Apparently, this is the time when the quality of the ethical culture within the CIA needs to be reviewed.


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