Human intelligence (abbreviated HUMINT and pronounced as hyoo-mint) is intelligence gathered by means of human sources and interpersonal contact. It is distinct from more technical means of intelligence gathering such as signal interception. HUMINT can be conducted in a variety of ways, including via espionage, reconnaissance, interrogation, or witness interviews.
NATO defines HUMINT as "a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources." HUMINT contrasts with more technical intelligence gathering disciplines, such as signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT) and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT). A typical HUMINT activity consists of interrogations and conversations with persons having access to information.
As the name suggests, human intelligence is mostly collected by people and is commonly provided via espionage or some other form of covert surveillance. However, there are also overt methods of collection. For example, via interrogation of subjects or simply through interviews. Although associated to the military the term HUMINT can apply in a variety of civilian sectors, such as law enforcement.
The manner in which HUMINT operations are conducted is dictated by both official protocol and the nature of the source of the information. Within the context of the U.S. military, HUMINT activity may involve clandestine activities, however these operations are more closely associated with CIA projects. Both counterintelligence and HUMINT include clandestine HUMINT and clandestine HUMINT operational techniques.
The first steps for recruiting HUMINT sources is spotting and assessing a target.
Surveillance of targets (e.g., military or other establishments, open source or compromised reference documents) sometimes reveals people with potential access to information, but no clear means of approaching them. With this group, a secondary survey is in order. Headquarters may be able to suggest an approach, perhaps through a third country or through resources not known to the field station.
Notable HUMINT examples
Oleg Penkovsky was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who served as a source to the UK and the United States by informing them of the precise knowledge necessary to address rapidly developing military tensions with the Soviet Union.
- AAP-6 (2013) pg. 109
- Clark (2013) pg. 76
- DeVine (2019)
- Steele (2010) pg. 95
- Carroll (2006)
- "AAP-6 NATO GLOSSARY OF TERMS AND DEFINITIONS (ENGLISH AND FRENCH)" (PDF). 2013.
- DeVine, Michael E. (June 14, 2019). "Covert Action and Clandestine Activities of the Intelligence Community: Selected Definitions in Brief". Congressional Research Service.
- Thomas Patrick Carroll, Government 139 (Class Notes) Syllabus Section 1 — Human Intelligence: From Sleepers to Walk-ins (PDF), California State University Sacramento
- Steele, Robert David (2010). Human Intelligence: All Humans, All Minds, All the Time. Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. ISBN 978-1-58487-439-3.
- Clark, Robert M. (2013-09-13). Intelligence Collection. CQ Press. ISBN 978-1-4833-2437-1.