Steven Aftergood: In the Bible the Spies Who Brought Back Bad Intelligence Were Punished

Roundup: Media's Take

Steven Aftergood, in Secrecy News, the newsletter of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy (Volume 2004, Issue No. 17 February 11, 2004):

It is often noted that espionage is an ancient enterprise with roots at least as old as the Bible.

But what is rarely if ever recalled is that intelligence oversight and accountability are *also* part of the Biblical record, and that the Deity imposed a severe penalty upon those who distorted intelligence and inflated threats.

A Washington Times op-ed writer today attempted to defend the CIA by citing the first half of the Biblical precedent.

"Some Americans find in the CIA a convenient scapegoat, failing to recognize that throughout history espionage has been used to protect peoples from their enemies. Ancient Israel had spies:
'Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan [to see] whether the cities they dwell in are camps or strongholds.'
(Numbers 13:17-19)," wrote Ernest W. Lefever of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in the Washington Times, Feb. 11, p. A18.

What Dr. Lefever failed to mention is that the spies sent by Moses came back with a hyped National Intelligence Estimate, with unhappy results.

"The land, through which we have gone, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants... and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Numbers 13: 32-33).
Only Joshua and Caleb dissented from this majority view.

Because they wittingly or unwittingly exaggerated the capabilities of the Canaanites, God sentenced the spies to death, displaying no judicial deference to the intelligence agencies.

"The men who brought an unfavorable report about the land died by a plague before the Lord," we are told.

"But Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh alone remained alive, of those men who went to spy out the land." (Numbers
14: 36-37).

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