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Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Collection

People frequently make mistakes when they react emotively and without managing their own human nature. These mistakes are exacerbated, and the implications reverberate more profoundly; the higher up the power structure those who make the errors are.
  • 27th June 2023

Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Collection and the Simple Truth to Recruiting an Asset.

In 1975, the Senate and Congress of the United States of America launched a series of investigations by the Church and Pike Committees. This was intended to investigate what had been reported by media outlets as a series of alleged abuses by various Federal Intelligence gathering entities and agencies. These investigations touched on valid and legitimate abuses by groups within these agencies. The emotional media-hyped reaction to the subsequent report had specific disastrous impacts that ultimately contributed to the terrible events that occurred on that September morning 27 years later, and led the world to twenty years of war, and the ongoing war on terrorism.

Whilst the report that emanated from the investigations outlined abuses in the torture of people, the use of narcotics, and the interception of mail and telecommunications, the response by the Carter Government gutted the operational arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It decimated the corporate ethos and memory, significantly disrupted organisational structures, and caused promising personnel to retire, resign, or become disavowed. It also hindered recruitment by defunding and stigmatising the role of the Intelligence Officer, and most damning of all, it sowed the seeds of distrust that became cancer at the very essence of what Human Intelligence (HUMINT) gathering is.

You see, the source of gaining the insight and perspective of another human being hinges upon the critical capacity of trust. If you genuinely want insight into an event, or the actions of another, what those events or actions mean and their impact. It would be best if you gained the trust of those who have that understanding.

Once you have managed to gain that trust, you have set the foundation that will allow you to progress that trust relationship to leverage insight, information, and, eventually, action. These jewels have value beyond the corporeal and put your organisation into the priceless position of being proactive, ahead of the curve, or even shaping events.

Other forms of intelligence collection, ranging from signals and communications intercepts, electronic signals analysis, open source, or even satellite-based or CCTV imagery, are crucial to creating a clear intelligence picture. All are linked by the understanding of the humans being observed. The collection of information from human sources best gains this understanding. Allow me to illustrate with this analogy. A CCTV control room may have access to excellent footage and provide a clear image of a street.

Unless intelligence has been added to the mix, it only operates to the potential of a post-incident or event investigative tool. If you combine the understanding of the various role-players, who is who in the street, and their motivations and intents. All questions whose answers can be found by collecting Human Intelligence. Then your collection platform can start acting as a method to prevent criminal actions by dispatching resources quickly and disrupting their plans. Satellite imagery may allow you to infer why a massive convoy has stopped short of a key objective, but human insight will tell you why and when or if it starts moving again. In essence, the most straightforward manner of understanding human intent, is to gain human insight.

So the acronym MICE; often describes the traditional elements of recruiting a human source. It is based on the perception that humans are motivated to any action by either reward or fear. The reward component is either provided by meeting some monetary or profit gain, the M in our acronym. Or by the prise of idealism, the source who shares because they believe it is the correct thing, the I in our acronym. The C falls squarely in the fear element; it is based on compromising the source in some manner, blackmail or extortion. The E speaks to either a reward or a fear element; it is based on the ego of your source. They wish to inflate their sense of importance and be the person with crucial information to trade, or they fear not being at the centre of events.

However, the reality of effective source recruiting is to understand that a good agent or source will, at some point in the relationship between themselves and their handler, go through all of these motivational elements either singularly or in some combination. The response to meet the motivation must be varied to encompass this change in dynamic. Many intelligence agencies have created a well-deserved reputation with their ability to compromise a source, which remains a highly effective method. That approach to a source relationship can only be sustained for a while.

At some point, the corrosive nature will overcome the fear of the compromise. Humans do not want to live with the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging above them; that string will break sooner or later. So it would be best if you changed it up, along with compromise must be some reward to neutralise that corrosive acid. You will need to build up the ego of someone you have outwitted. It would be best to balance the carrot and stick, or your source will break. The critical element to effective source management is to understand that this relationship must be based on trust. Your source must learn to trust you, even if they fear you, especially if they do.

So then, if we can agree that Human Intelligence is your most effective type of intelligence, and we accept that this intelligence is gained by getting someone who may be entirely ethically or morally opposed to you, to invest profound trust in you. How does one acquire that trust?

In many respects, this is a multi-million-dollar question. It is one with a somewhat simple and underwhelming answer, despite all that the fiction of books, films or the news media may portray. There is no secret ‘spycraft technique’ that gets someone to trust you, no practical way to disguise your body language to ensure your source believes you. There is only your ability to connect with and understand the person genuinely.

It is both that simple and that complex. You will likely have little or nothing in common; you may question their motives or ethics. However, you need to be able to, despite all these things, look and see another human being, be honest and as open as you can be with them, and above all, be yourself.

With this vulnerability, allowing others to connect with us at this basic human level, great walls of trust can begin to be built, which ultimately could put the keys of the intelligence castle in your hands.

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