The importance of human intelligence


Human intelligence (HUMINT)is an ongoing debate, especially due to technological advancements in the modern United States, and the governments need to know the information held by the people. Human intelligence refers to the prowess enjoyed by human beings and is characterized by increased motivation and self-awareness. It entails a sharp mental quality that involves the ability to learn quickly, especially from experiences, and adapt to new situations and the environment. Human intelligence collection refers to the gathering of information in possession of humans. The information is mostly collected by the Central Intelligence agency and other security apparatus for use by the government. The United States uses the Federal Bureau of investigation to collect information from internal sources, while other organs collect external data. The information can be collected from any person, either military or civilian, and can be first hand, second hand, or anything unrelated to the specific task. Of late, however, the collection of human intelligence has proved challenging, especially due to the laws that safeguard individual privacy.

The importance of human intelligence has for long been recognized as the mainstay of the American society. The information acquired equips the government with important data regarding different geo, political, and sometimes economic and social issues. However, the future of human intelligence collection in the United States remains shaky due to the emerging ethical and legal issues raised by the use of technology. The future of human intelligence collection remains shaky in the United States due to an increase in its role and effectiveness, especially in the rise in its scrutiny. Technology has come as a blessing for the intelligence community but, at the same time, raised serious issues, especially when used to collect information. The major issues raised are whether the devices will become more invasive and unwelcome in the future. It is, therefore, important to study the future of human intelligence collection with the technology posing a serious threat to the process. In particular, the following general questions will be addressed.

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  1. What is the role of technology in human intelligence gathering?
  2. How has technology been useful in the process so far?
  3. What is the future of human intelligence collection considering the social and ethical issues raised by technology in the United States?

Literature review

Although human intelligence collection is a sensitive issue, it has attracted widespread debate on where it is heading in the future. The process of human intelligence collection had changed a lot from the 1960s when the people were actively concerned with its future. HUMINT, as it is commonly called in the United States, is frequently handled by the FBI while the CIA’s activities attract criticism from within. According to Lewis (2016), HUMINT has been used for the collection of intelligence information for an advantage over the enemy, but the US government has tried ending this process. Apart from the collection of intelligence, HUMINT seeks to achieve particular objectives, which sometimes lead to clandestine activities and attract some moral questions. Different commissions, including the Church Commission, has been established by the US government to examine the nature and future of the Intelligence Community and the same dine by Attorney General Erick Holder during the Obama administration. According to Holder, the collection of Human Intelligence, especially by perpetrating assaults against the people. It was agreed that the intelligence community should step away from using the ordinary intelligence gathering techniques since they were seen as invasive and adopt the technology.

The technology was meant to improve the process of collecting intelligence, but this has worked in the opposite direction. Technology seems more confusing than the use of conventional intelligence methods. Obama administration focused on weakening the intelligence community and consequently reduced the amount of information reaching the people. HUMINT was affected while investigators backed off for fear of persecution. Technology, however, took over and became the primary driving force behind information gathering. The new forms of intelligence gathering technology include drones, MASINT, OSINT, and electronic surveillance. These form the hope for the future since they are seen as cleaner and less costly when compared to the use of actual people on the ground. However, the technology cannot work alone but must be operated and the information verified by a human being hence including the role of people in the whole matrix.

Although technology is seen as the hope for intelligence gathering, it is still problematic, primarily when used locally or internationally. Cases of hacking have been on the rise where vital information is accessed by the very people targeted by the process. In other cases, the individuals entrusted with technology have, on different occasions, leaked the same to the Public. A recent example is where Edward Snowden leaked crucial national security information to the public, yet it was supposed to be confidential as per the contract. Such acts raise serious ethical issues since sensitive private information is released without the affected person’s consent and the government’s approval. The same technology used to collect and store data is misused spelling doom in the future for the intelligence community.

Recently, the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, has used technology to hunt down information that may be damaging to them. The director of CIA intimated that the agency had spied on the Senate intelligence committee and broke into their emails hence accessing crucial data. The activities show a clear departure from the traditional methods of human intelligence collection to more technological methods. The technology, however, poses a serious challenge since the information is undesirable; the agency is capable of dismantling it and hence denying the public the correct data. In this case, technology thwarted the importance of human intelligence by ensuring it prevails over the former. In the same manner, the intelligence community has actively employed the efforts of technology to invade ordinary people’s privacy and gather information that can be damaging in the long run.

Traditionally, the collection of human intelligence has involved eavesdropping or reconnaissance that provides crucial information about the target subject. Advancements in technology have, too, enhanced these processes but have proved not only invasive but futile. For instance, the United states the September 11 attack with the presence of electronic surveillance but little HUMINT. As the world moves towards technology, questions are raised over its effectiveness, especially when dealing with small cells of drug smugglers and terrorist groups. As much as people may want to prioritize technology in intelligence collection, it falls short of the threshold since these small organized groups conduct their operations in high secrecy, which technology cannot easily penetrate. In the past, technology has failed miserably in such areas and has no chances of success in the future. The future of intelligence, therefore, looks deem with the exclusion of HUMINT and prioritization of technology as it is currently evident.

Human intelligence collection using technology is subject to misinterpretation or remodeled to reach a predestined destination. As identified, technology is not self-sufficient but relies heavily on the human interpretation that brings back the human figure on the table. Some of the technological intelligence collection mechanisms include signals intelligence (SIGINT), image intelligence (IMINT), and communications intelligence (COMINT). In some cases, the intelligence officers follow the phone signal or contacts to establish the people who mostly communicate with the targeted individual. The officers thus may interpret some messages to construe that the communication intended to harm than good. Similarly, scrutinizing the electronic devices for information may take a lot of time, and hence as the United States intelligence community moves from HUMINT to technology-driven intelligence, it will be an uphill task.

Technology is an actively protected industry, and the organizations providing services in this industry are actively securing the consumers. In some cases, the government must seek permission before invading the personal space, which has narrowed the impacts of using technology in intelligence collection. These laws are set to become stricter as people try to avoid excessive surveillance by government agencies. The future of human intelligence collection using technology is thus set to shrink unless the agencies do so by force. In such a case, they will be violating the social and ethical standards and most likely miss the information. Organizations targeted by the intelligence community are also increasingly becoming aware of the government efforts and hence avoiding technology in their dealings.

Research Design and Methods:

The research design refers to the plan that will be followed while answering the research question, while a research method is a strategy that will be applied in implementing the said plan. The two are closely related, although they are different in meanings since a good design assists in utilizing the method well and answering the research questions. The research will apply a casual research design, and the main research methods will involve case studies and document analysis. Dealing with intelligence information is tricky and may consume a long period since the community operates in high secrecy. The activities conducted are out of the public domain, and hence getting people for interviews and questionnaires will be very difficult. The research thus involves a casual analysis of the documents in the public domain to capture to information presented by either the general public or the intelligent community.

The dependent value, in this case, is the future of human intelligence gathering, while the independent variable will be technological changes. Human intelligence collection will be dependent since it is the one being tested on how it will be in the future, while the major factoring influencing it is technology as advanced by the intelligent community. The two are easy to identify and measure since the changes in the same have been recorded over time. For instance, it is possible to see the state of human intelligence collection today and asses its impacts based on the available documents. The impacts of technology are assessed by looking at the history of its usage some years back and hence come up with the magnitude of change. The operationalization and measurement will, however, be challenging since it will depend on the generosity of the documents.

Data for the research will be information collected from sample documents and case studies. The sampling process will involve identifying all the documents that contain information on human intelligence as published by the intelligence community. Civilians with knowledge on HUMINT also write these documents and hence offer a diverse perspective on the topic, which is more reliable than the one provided by the government agencies. The research will, however, narrow on about 13 scholarly sources with information on the topic. The chosen sources will include reliable information from reliable sources and unbiased form of writing to remain objective in the research. The study population will be contained in these documents and will provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

The research will not involve experiments since it will consume a short period of less than a month. Furthermore, it is difficult to access a pool of intelligence officials for information since their work is secretive and need not to publicly speak about their operations. The documents, however, will contain some of the studies conducted and hence offer some reliable data. These sources will primarily be secondary and products of previous research, while others will be mainly written by individuals who engaged directly in HUMINT collection. The collected data will be analyzed through a narrative analysis technique where all the information presented is scrutinized. At the end of the scrutiny, it will be possible to create a connection between the dependent and independent variables.


The main limitation of this study is the lack of quantitative data and reliance on qualitative data. Quantitative data is usually useful since it offers first-hand research, which enhances its reliability and validity. Reliance on qualitative methodologies will lead to data that cannot be easily verifiable since it is based on individual cases opinion. In most cases, the data will be self-reported, which attracts the element of bias since, in most cases, intelligence officers give information that they want and not the real one. Most of the information will be acquired from sources related to the intelligence officers who are likely to present data from their perspective. The materials are likely to suffer from social likability bias, where the authors provide certain information to be desirable. Although the articles used to be purely academic, it will be challenging to establish the authenticity of the information contained. In such a case, biased information provided to conform to a particular line of thinking may be used as part of the study.


The study seeks to understand the future of human intelligence collection, especially with the increased use of technology. For long, technology has been seen as the solution to all social problems, but things are different in HUMINT. The research will employ case studies and other documents as the key qualitative methods of data collection using a casual design. The available data based on literature reviews shows that the future of HUMINT is shaky due to the advent of technology, which hinders instead of facilitating the process. Casual design will be useful due to time constraints and lack of personnel ready to offer intelligence information due to fear of reprisal. The use of qualitative data will form the main limitation and expose the research to biases from the secondary sources.


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