Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is simply the gathering of intelligence from human sources who have the desired knowledge required through interpersonal contact, often dubbed as ‘Covert Human Intelligence Sources’ (CHIS). This can be achieved through a variety of means.
As seen in last week’s article this includes de-briefing personnel post-mission, recruiting and handling agents, conducting reconnaissance operations, or simply interviewing and collaborating with locals as was seen in the Middle East. The Cold War was the golden era of HUMINT with spy rings, defectors, dead letter drops and other ‘classic’ methods of espionage being the cornerstone of intelligence for both sides, such as the Cambridge Spy Ring which infiltrated the British secret services.
Although technology today provides intelligence agencies and militaries with huge amounts of information which might make it seem that Human Sources are becoming obsolete, HUMINT is still an essential part of intelligence gathering. The advantage of technology and other sources of intelligence is that it brings the ability to be able to cross-reference and validate HUMINT reports. The most famous example in recent history is Morten Storm, who became a double agent for the MI5 and CIA to help take down various major jihadist extremist figureheads and impede terrorist progress. Clearly, there is a risk that #human sources may lie and deceive, but the advantage of HUMINT sources over other sources is that they can provide context in addition to their information, which brings a richer picture to the overall intelligence gathered.
COVID-19 has had a severe impact on HUMINT, as it often involves in-person meetings, sending out agents undercover to infiltrate groups and avoid questioning from police and security personnel to avoid suspicion. Lockdowns and limited travel have made it more challenging to conduct operations as agents are more likely to be identified, stopped, and questioned due to stricter rules regarding travel.