Dissemination of Terrorist Threat Information: Who Should Be Warned   [open pdf - 1MB]

"The U.S. Government has been criticized for not publicizing a telephoned threat that some believe was a warning of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. These critics believe that the U.S. Government did warn government employees to avoid the flight. Although the telephoned threat was a hoax, even if it had been valid, the Government would not have disseminated the information to the public. If the Government receives information on a threat to the public facility or conveyance, it disseminates the information only to the security organizations responsible for protecting the alleged target. The information is not routinely disseminated to the public or to other groups (such as government employees) for their personal use. After a review of the Pan Am 103 controversy and arguments for and against the Government's policy, this paper examines the policy from two ethical viewpoints: utilitarianism and autonomy. The paper also discusses an ethical dilemma that arises for U.S. Government employees who have access to the threat information. A government official must make a choice between obeying the current policy or personally disseminating the information to persons he or she knows. The resolution of this dilemma in favor of not obeying U.S. policy is a serious issue within the Government--one that should be receiving more attention."

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