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Characteristics of a Good HUMan INTelligence Collector Part 1: Introduction

Updated on February 2, 2011

Meeting a source

There's a lot that goes into Human Intelligence collection beyond just drilling sources for information.
There's a lot that goes into Human Intelligence collection beyond just drilling sources for information.


There have been a lot of people looking up characteristics of a good HUMINT Collector or Tactical Source Operations. With such a specific search, using professional jargon, it’s assumed that if you’re reading this, you know what you’re talking about, so it’s written with the intelligence professional in mind.

Many Human Intelligence Collectors will describe the type of person who will be good at source operations as the guy who can pick up any chick in a bar. When you’re looking for a one-night-stand that may be the case as with a one-time source or a walk in. The thing is, you may never see them again and their value to you is limited to the information that they have on that particular occasion. So sure, a good HUMINTer can pick up a chick at a bar, a better one can take her from her boyfriend without him even realizing that it’s happening.

The thing is that as a collector you’ll be constantly spotting and assessing, looking for that perfect person that meets your needs with access to the information that you need and a willingness to cooperate with the process without risking too much to get it. The way I explain it, a superior HUMINTer will be able to have an affair with a married woman with such finesse that no one who sees them together will ever ask any questions and such skill that she never finds out he’s married himself.

So first we need to quantify “good.” There are a number of factors that can be used to assess the effectiveness of a HUMINT Collector. Some are good at breaking the ice with new people while others have a knack for spotting a good source. After that, some are better at discreetly guiding a conversation to pertinent issues and educing information rather than directly questioning a source on the street. This same person however, may be terrible at follow-up questions. Still others excel at detainee operations and interrogations. Others are excellent at report writing; after all, getting all the intel in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t convey the information that’s been requested to your consumers in a clear, concise, detailed and specific manner. Still others are better at some of the more implicit skills such as detecting deception or keeping track of who knows who and on what terms they interact. A skill that’s not taught is passive collection which often requires eavesdropping in a foreign language. There are a number of principles that can be assessed to determine how good a HUMINTer is. Characteristics of effective intelligence include being timely, accurate, and relevant among other things. The same is true of a HUMINT Collector. He will need good time management skills allowing him to meet deadlines without sacrificing attention to detain and quality products. Accuracy is vital as bad intelligence will get people killed. And relevance is a good second priority since there’s so much information available and only a finite amount of it is directly related to what your consumer needs. So for the sake of having a standard, let’s measure as “good” collector against the intelligence cycle. The stages of the cycle are Planning and Direction, Collection, Processing, Analysis and Production, and Dissemination.

Characteristics of an effective HUMINT Collector Part 2: Planning and Direction


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