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HUMINT: Military Source Operations

Updated on August 17, 2010

Tactical HUMINT

HUMINT has many facets to it such as interrogation and foreign liaison. The subject of this hub is tactical source operations. This refers to the low level intelligence collection of immediate value to the battle field commander. Tactical intel is geared toward company level elements but is often also beneficial up to the battalion commanders who are at the operational level of war fighting. Usually Tactical HUMINT is geared toward finding out who’s operating in the area, what they’re doing as well as when, where and how they’re doing it. At this level, there are a lot of details. Take for instance a vehicle used in a terrorist cell’s logistics operations; HUMINT collectors will want everything they can get on it, make, model, color, license plate, distinguishing characteristics (dents, scratches, bumper stickers). Other questions include the owner, operator (if someone else), and modifications such as hidden compartment or gun mounts. This is by no means an extensive list, but the point is that one can get pretty deep in the weeds and we haven’t even asked about where it’s traveling and by what route , how it’s getting there (traveling at night to avoid detection, or during the day to avoid suspicion, etc), what it’s carrying and why. The simplest way to explain it is for any noun that comes up, tactical HUMINT needs to figure out the basic interrogatives: who what when where why and how. This principle is applied throughout any HUMINT operation. Tactical intelligence operates much like law enforcements counter-gang units. It relies heavily on snitches, rats, informants and the rumor mill as well as the “grapevine” and gossip networks. Collectors feed bread crumbs to the mythical “little birdie” who sings a song in exchange as in, “A little birdie told me that you and the new intern are a little more than just friends.” At this level the collector will likely have a personal relationship with the people who his efforts directly affect.

read this for Characteristics of a Good HUMINT Collector

INTEL HUB  1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Groups  placement of the maximum number of  the analysts that space allowed   SIGINT, HUMINT, IMINT and all-source   in the same room to facilitate cross-  talk between each element enabled a  seamless flo
INTEL HUB 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Groups placement of the maximum number of the analysts that space allowed SIGINT, HUMINT, IMINT and all-source in the same room to facilitate cross- talk between each element enabled a seamless flo

Operational Intelligence

The next step up is the operational level.  The operational level uses information from the tactical level to establish trends and reports to battalion and regimental commanders.  Their focus is to provide guidance for the lower end of the “big picture.”  It is also at this level that we start to see things such as projections and predictive analysis.  With more information, the intel analysts can provide a better idea of what to expect.  For example there is an increase of booby traps being used by the Taliban in Helmand, but the Marines are stabilizing the situation, so the foreign fighters that aren’t killed can be expected to leave the area, taking their skill sets with them (i.e. snipers, bomb makers).  Taking that into account it’s possible that there may be an increase in sniper attacks or changes in bomb making tactics moving away from the area.  Analysts will look for indicators that point to their projections or an alternate future that they didn’t expect.  In this case, a sudden increase of incidents in IED attacks could indicate that a bomb maker was flushed out of Helmand and could be traveling across the Afghanistan to Baluchistan or Peshawer Pakistan (both Taliban hotbeds).  Then again the bomb maker could just stay in an area that borders Helmand, but may teach others how to build and employ IEDs against coalition forces.  An indicator of this would be local bomb tactics changing or increasing.  This would require cooperation between the tactical level as this phenomenon crosses areas of responsibility.  The operational level would track where it came from and where it was going or  spreading to. 

Strategic HUMINT

The highest level of military source operations is the strategic level it's where the general who'll conduct a campaign talks to the politician who must first approve it. With conventional forces, it can be routine operations with a strategic relevance such as the HUMINT contributions to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It can also include such sources of a military attaché and perhaps politicians or family members who don’t realize the significance of things they talk about. The sources at this level are often privy to sensitive or even closely guarded information by virtue of their role/position or connections to those directly involved. For example Germany’s PzH 2000 tank which was put into production in 1998 would have been demonstrated probably around 1995 and while it’s not classified, the early warning allows us to plan ahead. It’s actually a pretty impressive tank. A neat little trick that it can do is firing 5 rounds at different elevations so that they all impact at the same time. It’s called Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact and one tank can fire the equivalent of an entire static artillery battery and be moving before the rounds even impact the target denying the enemy any opportunity for a counter offensive battery. If we’d gone to war with Germany for any reason in 1999 before we officially knew about this capability, it would have been a game changer. I can’t say what happened with this and we didn’t go to war with Germany so it didn’t matter as much, but if we had, the early warning would have been a slight edge and we’d have gotten into politically focused intelligence. In the case of project Manhattan the fledgling nuclear weapons program, an insider actually smuggled information to the Soviets sparking the Cold War Era. The actions of one man acting alone essentially launched America into war with the USSR. The strategic level of warfare tends to blend with politics as the military is the muscle that backs up our countries decision makers, but more on that later.

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    • Lance Crowe profile imageAUTHOR

      Lance Crowe 

      8 years ago

      Hey Dark Horse,

      Glad you liked it, thanks for commenting ;-)

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      I am slow in intelligence -- military etc, but I understand it hehe, Good job,


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