Human Intelligence

Currently, with the escalating wave of violence in various parts of the world, particularly terrorism attacks, the role of human intelligence is becoming increasingly important. It is an essential source of collecting intelligence information regarding various aspects of the security of a country, such as the intentions and the strength of attackers.

Since there are lots of constraints regarding the use of technology in collecting intelligence, human intelligence has become of necessity in accessing persons with pertinent information. Although there are many definitions of intelligence, the theory of multiple intelligences puts forth a broad definition of intelligence: “the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequences in a particular cultural setting or community” (Anderson, 1999, p.140).

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In this regard, human intelligence, or sometimes abbreviated as HUMINT, refers to the type of intelligence resulting from significant information gathered and provided by human sources through various means, such as interrogations and conversations. This paper discusses the various aspects of human intelligence.

Before HUMINT is conducted effectively, various considerations have to be made. Primarily, one needs to set precise requirements on the type of information that is to be gathered from the reliable human sources. This is important in drawing conclusive evidences from the data that has been collected by the HUMINT practitioners.

Next, proper considerations should be made such that the gathered sensitive information is properly assessed and changed into the most appropriate format for either immediate or future reference. Assessment assists in sorting out the gathered information according to its level of relevance. To achieve this, most organizations dealing with human intelligence have standardized systems that they employ in assessing the accuracy of the data collected by various informers and agents.

Another important consideration in information gathering appertains to the type of individuals who are going to act as sources of information. Since undertaking HUMINT is a risky endeavor, the sources of information must prove that they are ready to corporate for the success of the process. This calls for proper screening of the sources so as to ascertain that they are of value to the process (Pratt, 1999).

This can be achieved by using proper identification methods, checking the backgrounds of the sources, and verifying if their personal identification records match the basic criteria for undertaking HUMINT. The process of screening potential sources of information is intended to single out persons who are likely to provide the pertinent information that is needed.

And, if in any case they are not ready to give the information voluntarily, they can be persuaded to do so through other means. Consequently, the ones who are ready to give the information voluntarily can be debriefed according to the principles of human intelligence stipulated by the organization while the ‘tough’ ones may be questioned.

Although the respondents may be neutral, responsive, or aggressive, protecting them is also an essential consideration in sharing intelligence information. Sometimes, an organization may make a decision not to share information because doing this can compromise its sources.

That is why most non-trained sources want a guarantee of their privacy to be given before they can disseminate any information. Some of the most commonly sources in HUMINT include qualified diplomats, prisoners of war, refugees, relief agencies, military experts on a diplomatic mission, and personnel trained on intelligence data collection, such as the Special Reconnaissance (SR). However, people having training in intelligence are regarded as the best sources.

Since human intelligence is solely based on collecting of information from reliable individuals, various methods are usually used to achieve this. These are debriefing, interrogation, and, may be, elicitation.

Debriefing, as the systematic questioning of human sources not in the protection of the questioning forces, is usually carried out in all levels and in every operational environment (Department of the Army. 2006). Debriefing is more common than the interrogation method. In order to collect accurate information by debriefing, the intelligence collector should strive to ensure that the environment of the debriefing is as friendly as possible.

The approach techniques used for debriefing should take care of the “ABCs” of debriefing; that is, being accurate, brief, and clear. The use of this approach ensures that the human intelligence collector stays focused on the purpose as well as on the objectives of the exercise. In most cases, the information is usually collected face-to-face or by using the modern technologies such as video conferencing.

Contrary to debriefing, interrogation may be marked by hostile interactions between the human intelligence collectors and the human sources since most of them are usually in custody.

It is important to note that a source who tries to employ counter-interrogation techniques, for example, delaying or attempting to control the conversation may be someone who has been trained on intelligence, a terrorist, or someone who has been detained before (Department of the Army, 2006). Nonetheless, not considering whether the interrogation process can be hostile or friendly, the HUMINT collector should focus on the mission of the interview and avoid being sidetracked by irrelevant issues.

More over, since interrogation is a skilled technique, the HUMINT collector should be aware of his or her own style, strengths and weaknesses, and should also evaluate if he or she requires cultural advice. In cases where there may be language problems, appropriate arrangements should be made to recruit an interpreter with good linguistic skills, and if possible, one with training in intelligence information gathering.

In cases where the use of the traditional information collection techniques is not yielding any fruits, then the use of elicitation may be adopted. As much as is it is the least clear technique, it is a planned, methodical process that calls for careful preparation, since it is always used with a specific purpose in mind after the subject has been chosen based on the level of access to or the knowledge of the intended information.

Questioning is one of the important aspects of human intelligence; therefore, establishing and properly employing good questioning skills enables the agent or the informer to get accurate and pertinent information from the sources. In addition, it also ensures that the maximum amount of information in the least possible duration is obtained. This calls for proper knowledge of when and how to employ questioning in getting information.

In order to be successful, a HUMINT collector ought to present the questions in a logical progression so as not to leave out some important issues. During the questioning time, the HUMINT collector must keep in mind that his or her main objective is the gathering of accurate information; thus, non-pertinent discussions or debates should not be allowed (Sternberg, 1982). In some cases, the source of the information may not be of the same education level as the HUMINT collector.

This call for the adoption of systemic questioning method in which the collector lowers himself or herself to the level of the source without compromising on the information that he or she wants to obtain. In using the direct questioning method, the HUMINT collector should ask questions in this order: initial topic questions, follow-up questions, non-pertinent questions, repeat questions, control questions, and lastly, prepared questions.

There are various strengths and weaknesses associated with the use of human intelligence as a way of collecting information from sources. One of the obstacles of using HUMINT collectors is the intricacy of penetrating into areas that one is likely to receive a hostile reception when detected (Ramana, 2010).

In some instances, the intelligence information collectors have undergone cruel torture or even death. The worry of being double-crossed by an intelligence information collector is also another weakness of this technique. A HUMINT collector can be able to play both sides and lead to more harm than initially intended. However, besides the challenges associated with it, human intelligence is an indispensable aspect of gathering sensitive security information.

In most cases, human intelligence is likely to give more present and future oriented information, it is unfiltered, information gathered is subject to content control, and it provides an easier opportunity for the assessment of other sources of information. Therefore, in conclusion, the use of human intelligence in gathering information can prove to be of much benefit for the security of a nation since it tends to be more accurate than the other secondary sources.

Reference List

Anderson, M. (1999). The development of intelligence. Hove: Psychology Press Ltd.

Department of the Army. (2006). Human intelligence Collector Operations. Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army.

Pratt, R. (1999). Human Intelligence: can it be trusted? Knol. Retrieved from

Ramana, S. (2010, November). The Role Of Human Intelligence In Counter-Terrorism. Eurasia Review. Retrieved from

Sternberg, R. (1982). Handbook of human intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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