When morality demands spying

Investigating the ethics of espionage

As Russia and Ukraine are engaged in conflict, espionage has hit the headlines once again, with documents leaked from the Pentagon highlighting the US has been spying on Russia. All the while, numerous questions emerge; is spying ethical? If so, are both Russia and Ukraine justified in spying? And could spying help bring a swift end to conflict. In this article, Cécile Fabre argues that there is a moral case for spying, but it’s not as clear-cut as one may think.


Espionage is a handmaiden of war. Indeed, coverage of the war in Ukraine has highlighted the work of intelligence agencies from both sides – be it their successes or failures. The coverage is about facts: US intelligence services broadly correctly predicted the timing of the invasion but failed to take the measure of Ukraine’s ability and willingness to resist; Russia’s intelligence services made serious mistak

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