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Characteristics of a Good HUMINT Collector Part 3: Collection

Updated on November 14, 2010
Meeting with sources and discreetly educing information can be a challenging process.
Meeting with sources and discreetly educing information can be a challenging process.


Planning and direction covered a lot of ground work for deciding what needs to be done. Collection will be where the collector needs to actually make it happen, and it’s an art, not a science. It will involve a lot in terms of how to actually meet the source as well as how to go about getting the desired information and exploiting the source as much as possible. This is where having a solid questioning plan and a smooth style that is uniquely your own can make the day. This is true of both interrogations and source operations. Many don’t think to include a questioning plan in source ops because it’s a bit more of an off-the-cuff, shoot from the hip interaction, but it’s a good idea to know what you plan to walk away with, and how you plan to bring it up when you meet a repeat source. It may be easier to think of it as categories of information that you hope to exploit. To continue the football playbook scenario from the planning and direction phase, talking to the quarterback about football in general and guiding the conversation to what plays they run will provide a verbal description of the contents of a playbook. This is where someone managing a HUMINT operations has to decide who’s best to actually conduct the operation. A quiet, introverted male may not be the best choice because they might not have enough in common. A “drinking buddy” type of guy may be able to get into his life a little better and it will take a lot of conversation to get the whole playbook, and it’ll probably be drawn on the back of a napkin in a bar, but it’s assumed that this guy will know football well enough to carry on a conversation with the subject. An attractive female will probably not get on this quarterback’s nerves if she asks a lot of questions and plays dumb (Socratic irony). In fact, she’s more likely to end up at his residence and may be able to find out where he keeps his playbook and either steal it, take pictures with a camera phone, or tell her team where to find it when they send someone in to do so at a later time.

Many times experienced HUMINTers will try to teach by personal example which can be a good starting point, but not the best end point. By having cookie-cutter collectors, the team handicaps itself since anyone who meets them will meet an identical persona which won’t work for some people. Plus it’ll be painfully obvious when they are around since they all act the same and ask the same questions. Breaking the ice requires that you have something to talk about or at least be reasonably informed in just about anything that anyone could talk about, so reading the news everyday is a good starting point, knowing about issues that directly affect your source is a must. Being “easy to talk to” (a subjective phrase that will vary from one source to the next) is essential. There is a great deal of effort that goes into collecting. Half of it is making yourself someone that the source wants to talk to. Being approachable makes them comfortable talking to you, but what is it about you that makes them trust you enough to discuss pertinent information with you? Rapport building is making them comfortable with you while trusting you at the same time.

So in terms of collection, a good HUMINTer will be well informed and conversational in current events and a variety of other topics (watch discovery channel, read the news and try new things at least once). They will also be proficient at establishing rapport across the spectrum of people they may encounter. They should be able to think on their feet and work well as part of a team that may not always be within arms’ reach.

Characteristics of a Good HUMINT Collector Part 4: Processing

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