Button Menu

Burton L. Gerber

Burton L. Gerber delivering an Ubben LectureMarch 22, 2001, Greencastle, Ind. - It may seem like an oxymoron, but a man who spent virtually four decades in the Central Intelligence Agency says spies have a moral imperative to be ethical. Burton L. Gerber spoke on "The Ethical Aspects of Intelligence Work: The Cold War and Beyond" in a Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture on the DePauw University campus today.

Gerber spent 39 years in the CIA as a case officer and chief of station. Audio Link[Download Audio: "Dilemma" 241KB] "As a case officer.. a guy who goes out and recruits other spies abroad, I was lying and cheating and stealing," Gerber explained to the audience gathered in Meharry Hall of historic East College. "All of you were taught as youngsters not to lie, or cheat or steal. But yet we expect the people who are going to be the case officers for our intelligence agency to do those things." The retired CIA veteran said, "the question in the business of spying is, for what ends are you doing it? You are lying, cheating and stealing but it's your job and it's for the good of the country."

That said, Gerber said he has not always agreed with CIA assignments, which are dictated by presidents and their cabinets. For instance, the veteran spy said he opposed CIA efforts to assassinate Cuba's Fidel Castro. "Some people would say killing one person could save 1,000 other lives, but I would say that I'm more interested in saving my soul."

Gerber was also very interested in the welfare of those who were spying for him. "Spying is, by definition, risky. You're putting people's lives on the line, you're asking them to do dangerous things. And you should be troubled by that," he said. Audio Link[Download Audio: "More on Sacrifice" 132KB] Gerber supervised Aldrich Ames when Ames began spying for the KGB. The information Ames passed along to the Russians led to the deaths of at least ten spies, something that still haunts Gerber. Ames was arrested in 1994.

What does it take to recruit someone in a foreign country to spy on behalf of the United States? Gerber says money and sex are low on the list, that most spies are motivated by ideology. He cites resentment/revenge, a sense of fulfillment and a need for adventure as reasons people are willing to share secrets with foreign governments.

The world of espionage is much different in the post-Cold War era, according to Gerber. Audio Link[Download Audio: "Untraditional Opponents" 252KB] "In the past, there was a unifying aspect to American foreign policy and, therefore, American intelligence policy: the Soviet Union. Everything dealt from that. Nowadays, we have untraditional opponents, often they are not states but groups," he said. Terrorism, in particular, is a moving target that today's spies must hone in on.

Gerber also sees an issue emerging with something we all use and need and likely take for granted: water. He says it's Audio Link[Download Audio: "Water" 208KB] "a scarce commodity in many countries and is going to affect foreign policy in a number of countries: in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in Latin America."