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Importance of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) in the Post-9/11 Security Enviornment

Updated on January 5, 2015

Human Intelligence

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Overview

During the height of the Cold War, the United States Intelligence Community (IC) was primarily concerned with defeating one all-encompassing threat, the Soviet Union, and as a result the United States developed a robust Human Intelligence (HUMINT) capability to defend itself against the aggressive communist nation.[1] Although, as the Cold War came to a close, the CIA and Department of Defense greatly reduced its clandestine operations or HUMINT collection capabilities as budget cuts, changes in organizational leadership, Congressional oversight and the advancement of Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) took effect.[2] By the 1980s and 1990s, the Intelligence Community moved away from HUMINT collection and placed a newfound reliance on TECHINT, causing Human Intelligence collection to decrease and fall to the wayside, significantly degrading America’s HUMINT capability.[3]

The Post Cold War era has brought about new and emerging challenges for the U.S. Intelligence Community such as international terrorism, human and narcotics trafficking and the proliferation or “spread of weapons of mass destruction.”[4] As the U.S. moved into the Post Cold War era, witnessing a multitude of transnational threats, the U.S. intelligence community was struggling to adapt to the new security environment. The previous decades of HUMINT degradation, government imposed sanctions on the CIA, and shift toward Technical Intelligence left the Intelligence Community in the lurch leading up the to events of 9/11 and failed to analyze Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Thus, “despite the technological prowess…” of the “signal and imagery collection capabilities of the United States, there is no substitute for human penetration, and the latter has been woefully neglected over the past decade.”[5] This paper will closely examine the need for Human Intelligence collection in the post 9/11 security environment by analyzing the significant intelligence failures involving 9/11 and Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Further research will aim to prove how the years of Congressional overextension significantly degraded the CIAs HUMINT capability and overreliance on Technical Intelligence contributed to these intelligence failures. Identifying the significance of Human Intelligence in the post 9/11 environment will aim to renew confidence in the effectiveness of the HUMINT enterprise and its reliability for being a premier intelligence asset in combating transnational threats.


[1] Fischbach, Jono. 1997. With a Little Bit of Heart and Soul Analyzing the Role of HUMINT in the Post Cold War Era. Federation of American Scientists (January 6).

[2] Strategic Survey. 2010. Human Intelligence and 11 September (02 February); 31.

[3] Lewis, Rand, C. 2004. Espionage and the War on Terrorism: Investigating U.S. Efforts. Brown Journal of World Affairs 11, no. 1 (Summer/Fall); 178.

[4] Jono Fischbach, 1997.

[5] Kalugin, Oleg. 2004. Terrorism and Human Intelligence: The Soviet Experience. Brown Journal of World Affairs 11, no. 1(Summer/Fall); 183.

Collection Platforms & HUMINT Hierarchy

The U.S. Intelligence Community uses a variety of intelligence collection platforms to gather and collect sensitive data on the U.S.’ adversarial nations.[1] The most modern technical collection capabilities are known as “signal intelligence (SIGINT), image intelligence (IMINT), measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT)” and open source intelligence (OSINT).[2] Signal Intelligence involves the collection and interception of signal transmissions and is also referred to as communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and foreign instrumentation of signals intelligence (FISINT).[3] Imagery intelligence uses electronic devices to capture images, photography, “radar sensors, infrared sensors, lasers, and electro-optics.”[4] Measurement and signature intelligence analyzes “metric, angle, spatial, wavelength, and hydrogramatic sensors.”[5] Open source intelligence is the collection of publicly available data found in newspapers, the Internet, media and scholarly journals.[6] The most historic intelligence discipline is known as human intelligence (HUMINT), which is derived from the collection of data by human sources or contacts through overt and covert means; covert is also referred to as spying, espionage or through clandestine operations.[7] U.S. HUMINT operations are primarily carried out under the supervision of the National Clandestine Service, which is controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) through the Defense HUMINT service (DHS).[8]


[1] Rand Lewis, 175.

[2] Ibid, 175-176.

[3] Federation of American Scientists. Intelligence Collection on Activities and Disciplines.

[4] Central Intelligence Agency. 2013. The Work of a Nation.

[5] Federation of American Scientists. 2000. Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT).

[6] Central Intelligence Agency. 2013. Intelligence: Open Source Intelligence.

[7] Lowenthal, Mark, M. 2012. Intelligence From Secrets to Policy. 5th Edition. Sage Publications. Los Angeles, 102.

[8] Ibid, 102.

Source

Background

Since the height of the Cold War, the U.S. HUMINT community has undergone substantial changes that have impacted the effectiveness and direction of policy regarding U.S. HUMINT collection.[1] According to Dr. Lewis (2004), the Director of of the Martin Peace Institute and the Martin School of International Affairs,

Most of these [changes] have been associated with the changing of leadership of the CIA, the public perceptions of intelligence abuse, and more recently, major changes in global relationships tied to the end of the Cold War and the growing issue of international terrorism and regional conflict.[2]

These changes and the advancement of technical collection techniques contributed to the shift away from HUMINT collection. During the late 1960s and the pinnacle of the Cold War, covert HUMINT collection played an integral role in penetrating the advancement of the Soviet Union and “averaged fifty-two percent of the annual CIA budget.”[3] By 1972, the new CIA Director, Colby, progressively moved away from covert operations to a more technologically advanced collection method known as TECHINT and decreased the budget for clandestine operations.[4] Between the 1970s and 1990s, the CIA experienced negative backlashes from its involvement in clandestine operations in Chile, “Laos, the Phoenix Program, and the Army “spying” on U.S. citizens.”[5] To address these issues, the Senate launched a yearlong investigation known as the Church Committee, which was designated to evaluate the CIA’s alleged abuses in covert affairs and intelligence collection.[6] The negative perceptions produced by the Church Committee report left lasting implications for the CIA and its HUMINT capability. After the release of Church Committee findings, the DCIA, Admiral Stansfield Turner, continued the dramatic shift away from Human Intelligence that was originally initiated by the previous Director of the CIA.[7] The CIA’s organizational leadership, from Colby to Turner, and the CIA’s lack of support throughout the 1970s and 1980s led to a significant decrease in HUMINT operations and to the rise of technical intelligence as the more acceptable collection platform moving into the late 1990s.[8] Due to the CIA’s alleged covert actions and the “Congressional vendetta” exuded by the U.S. government, the CIA’s premier HUMINT capability was severely degraded and left on the periphery.[9]



[1] Rand Lewis, 176.

[2] Ibid, 176.

[3] Ibid, 176.

[4] Ibid, 177.

[5] Ibid, 177.

[6] Federation of American Scientists. 1996. The Evolution of the U.S. Intelligence Community-An Historical Overview.

[7] Rand Lewis, 178.

[8] Ibid, 178.

[9] Wobensmith, John, C. 2007. Reinvigorating Intelligence. International Security Affairs 12(Spring).

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HUMINT & 9/11

The September 11th terrorist attacks was a shock heard around the world and immediately became an eye opening experience for the U.S. Intelligence Community. Many critics argue that the catastrophic attacks against U.S. soil were an intelligence failure on the part of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation because the “Central Intelligence Agency’s lack of human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities.” [1] Wobensmith, a Senior Fellow in Intelligence Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, (2007) argued that for three decades the U.S. government substantially degraded the American HUMINT enterprise and it took the 9/11 terrorist attacks for the government to “realize the extent of the damage done.”[2] According to a report published by the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (2002),

[The] CIA did not sufficiently penetrate the al-Qa'ida organization before September llth. Because of the perceived reduction in the threat environment in the early to mid 1990s, and the concomitant reduction in resources for basic human intelligence collection, there were fewer operations officers, fewer stations, fewer agents, and fewer intelligence reports produced. This likely gave CIA fewer opportunities for accessing agents useful in the counterterrorism campaign and eroded overall capabilities. Several management decisions also likely degraded CIA's CT capabilities by, for example, redirecting funds earmarked for core field collection and analysis to headquarters; paying insufficient attention to CIA's unilateral CT capability; relying too much on liaison for CT; and neglecting sufficient investment of foreign language training and exploitation. The dramatic increase in resources for intelligence since 9-11 improves the outlook for CIA's CT capabilities, but only if CIA management acknowledges and deals with the systemic problems outlined in this report.[3]

In the years leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, sufficient intelligence resources were not allocated to the CIA’s HUMINT enterprise, therefore, the CIA did not successfully infiltrate the Al Qaeda terrorist organization prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.[4] Establishing valuable, and well-placed human sources in critical locations worldwide is a meticulous and calculated process that takes years and requires sufficient support and resources.[5] The 9/11 intelligence failure cannot solely be blamed on the CIA. Three decades of HUMINT degradation and the shift toward technical collection leading up to the September 11th attacks was due to a culmination of events led by Congress and the oversight committees.[6] The congressional oversight bodies damaged the culture of the CIA and extensively limited the organizations ability to conduct covert operations. The committees asserted complete control over the CIA’s HUMINT capability by condemning and scrubbing the organization’s human sources, restricting the CIA from “assisting an any coup which may harm a foreign leader,” scrutinized their budget, impeded the agency from participating in any controversial activities, and mandated that the agency use expensive technology in an effort to “keep their hands clean.”[7] The lack of support for the CIA’s HUMINT capability contributed to the horrific, undetected attacks that took place in 2001.

The September 11th terrorist attacks reinvigorated the need for HUMINT assets in the fight against terrorism. Policymakers are realizing that U.S. espionage efforts in strategic locations can help determine the enemy’s disposition, capabilities and attack plans as well as gather data on the political and cultural affairs or military assets abroad.[8] Covert operations such as “subversion, sabotage, operational deception, disinformation, and massive sophisticated propaganda efforts to confuse and manipulate the targeted contingents” should be at the forefront in response to international terrorism and extremism.[9] Support for HUMINT penetration and placement in combating the terrorist threat would have been prudent in the wake of 9/11. The U.S. Intelligence Community has become increasingly aware of the importance of HUMINT collection and penetration and its ability to fulfill the intelligence gaps that technical intelligence cannot provide.[10]


[1] Rand Lewis, 175.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Federation of American Scientists. 2002. Counterterrorism Intelligence Capabilities and Performance Prior to 9-11. Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security

[4] Ibid, 2002.

[5] Oleg Kalugin, 183.

[6] Knott, Stephen, F. 2005. Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA. George Mason University.

[7] Ibid, 2005.

[8] Oleg Kalugin, 184.

[9] Ibid, 184.

[10] Jono Fischbach, 1997.

HUMINT & Saddam Hussein's WMDs

Critics suggest that the U.S. Intelligence Community provided inaccurate intelligence on Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, which led the Bush Administration to perceive an overestimated threat.[1] The Bush Administration heavily relied on the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) involving Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) for its decision to invade Iraq. According to the NIE (2002), the intelligence analysts relied on three sources of information, “historical information,” “negative inference,” and “national technical means” to collect data on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program.[2] The historical information was comprised of the status of Iraq’s nuclear capability surrounding the events of the Gulf War, the chemical weapons that were used against the Kurd population, and that Saddam Hussein had intentions of acquiring such a capability.[3] The NIE’s information on negative inference consisted of conclusions that were made based on Iraq’s lack of cooperation and the ongoing inconsistencies in their reports regarding its WMD program. Baghdad continued to leave out significant details such as the 6,000 missing CW bombs, which led the U.S. to question the integrity and nature of Iraq’s WMD capabilities.[4] Lastly, the analysts used technical means to gather information on Iraq’s WMD, which was comprised of satellite imagery of built up infrastructure surrounding their suspected nuclear and chemical facilities.[5] Unfortunately, the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq hinged on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD and the actual invasion did not yield the intended results. The NIE consisted of a plethora of information, but had “almost no recent human intelligence (HUMINT) to draw on.”[6] According to Lewis (2004), during the 1990s and early 2000s, the United States had little to no human assets throughout Iraq to corroborate Saddam Hussein’s intentions and capabilities.[7] The lack of HUMINT penetration throughout Iraq highlights the need and importance for HUMINT to remain a key intelligence asset. It is imperative that Human Intelligence keeps a legitimate presence in the locations that aide hostile activity or terrorist organizations.[8] Similar to the 9/11 intelligence failure, the decision to invade Iraq was made with an overreliance on technical collection methods and without adequate support for HUMINT collection. According to a report by the Collection Concepts Development Center, the CIA did not have any human contacts in place after 1998 that could verify Iraq’s WMD program.[9] The CCDC study asked why there was not a successful HUMINT strategy in place to cover Iraq’s WMD, the National Collection Intelligence Board admitted that the HUMINT capability was limited due to ongoing budget constraints.[10] Once again the United States underestimated the importance of HUMINT collection and well placed sources to corroborate the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD.


[1] Carroll, Thomas. 2003. The Intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 5, no. 11 (November).

[2] Ibid, 2003.

[3] Ibid, 2003.

[4] Ibid, 2003.

[5] Ibid, 2003.

[6] Ibid, 2003.

[7] Rand Lewis, 180.

[8] Ibid, 180.

[9] Collection Concepts Development Center. Intelligence Community Collection Activities Against Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Declassified Report, 260.

[10] Ibid, 260.

Analysis

HUMINT collection remains a valuable and unique intelligence collection platform that can yield results on the specific political and military intentions of states and non-state actors.[1] The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century study (1994) stated “HUMINT’s contribution is particularly strong” in respect to areas concerning “terrorism, narcotics, proliferation, and international economics” and concluded that “HUMINT is unsurpassed as a source of critical intelligence to the national policymaker.”[2] The two most prominent intelligence failures experienced a gross lack of support for Human intelligence to include human reporting, placement and covert actions. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the alleged WMDs in Iraq, U.S. policymakers underestimated the reliability and significance of HUMINT operations, which led to the U.S. intelligence community’s diminished capacity to penetrate Al Qaeda and provide an accurate intelligence picture to former President Bush. The diminished capacity was largely due to Congress and the intelligence leaders tightening the reigns on covert actions and the shift toward a more technological approach to intelligence collection. These factors ultimately set the HUMINT community up for failure as the 21st century security challenges emerged. The years of HUMINT degradation and overreliance on TECHINT have made policymakers and the U.S. intelligence community realize the significance of human penetration, but unfortunately it took the 9/11 attacks and the failed attempt to recover Iraq’s WMD for HUMINT to gain credibility. If the United States would have allowed the CIAs HUMINT capability to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. could have had access to more credible human sources and intelligence that would have played an integral role in deciphering key intelligence requirements for the events that took place in 2001 and 2003. After these intelligence failures took place, U.S. policymakers were willing to emphasize a renewed need for HUMINT and rebuild the collection discipline in response to international terrorism.


[1] Rand Lewis, 179.

[2] Jono Fischbach, 1997

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Conclusion

The American HUMINT enterprise went through a myriad of changes since the onset of the Cold War to today. The Cold War witnessed a robust HUMINT capability that significantly aided in the defeat of the Soviet Union and the spread of its communist ideology. Once the Cold War ended, the CIA and Department of Defense significantly cut back on covert operations due to budget constraints, changes in organizational leadership, congressional oversight, and a shift toward technological collection methods, leaving HUMINT collection behind in the process. As the new security environment was plagued with international terrorism, other transnational threats and regional conflicts, the U.S. Intelligence Community struggled to remain ahead of these challenges. The previous decades of HUMINT degradation, government imposed sanctions on the CIA, and shift toward Technical Intelligence, caused the Intelligence Community to underestimate the importance of HUMINT collection in defeating international terrorism as the events of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq approached. Analyzing the intelligence failures that took place in the 21st century, brought to light the importance of having an effective HUMINT capability in the fight against international terrorism and in regional conflicts. Neglecting the U.S. HUMINT capability has made senior policymakers aware of the need for HUMINT in the post 9/11 environment and has renewed confidence in Human intelligence as a premier collection asset.

References

Carroll, Thomas. 2003. The Intelligence on Iraq’s WMD. Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 5, no. 11 (November). http://www.meforum.org/meib/articles/0311_iraq1.htm. (Accessed July 3, 2013).

Central Intelligence Agency. 2013. Intelligence: Open Source Intelligence. https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2010- featured-story-archive/open-source-intelligence.html. (Accessed July 5, 2013).

Central Intelligence Agency. 2013. The Work of a Nation. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/additional-publications/the- work-of-a-nation/work-of-the-cia.html. (Accessed July 4, 2013).

Collection Concepts Development Center. Intelligence Community Collection Activities Against Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Declassified Report. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB129/part8- collection.pdf. (Accessed July 2, 2013).

Federation of American Scientists. Intelligence Collection on Activities and Disciplines. http://www.fas.org/irp/nsa/ioss/threat96/part02.htm. (Accessed July 6, 2013).

Federation of American Scientists. 1996. The Evolution of the U.S. Intelligence Community-An Historical Overview. http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/int022.html. (Accessed July 1, 2013).

Federation of American Scientists. 2000. Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT). http://www.fas.org/irp/program/masint.htm. (Accessed July 6, 2013).

Federation of American Scientists. 2002. Counterterrorism Intelligence Capabilities and Performance Prior to 9-11. Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2002_rpt/hpsci_ths0702.html. (Accessed July 2, 2013).

Fischbach, Jono. 1997. With a Little Bit of Heart and Soul Analyzing the Role of HUMINT in the Post Cold War Era. Federation of American Scientists (January 6). https://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/snyder/humint.htm. (Accessed July 1, 2013).

Kalugin, Oleg. 2004. Terrorism and Human Intelligence: The Soviet Experience. Brown Journal of World Affairs 11, no. 1(Summer/Fall); 183-188. http://www.watsoninstitute.org/bjwa/archive/11.1/Espionage/Kalugin.pdf. (Accessed July 2, 2013).

Knott, Stephen, F. 2005. Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA. George Mason University. http://hnn.us/articles/380.html. (Accessed July 3, 2013).

Lewis, Rand, C. 2004. Espionage and the War on Terrorism: Investigating U.S. Efforts. Brown Journal of World Affairs 11, no. 1 (Summer/Fall); 175-182. http://www.watsoninstitute.org/bjwa/archive/11.1/Espionage/Lewis.pdf. (Accessed July 1, 2013).

Lowenthal, Mark, M. 2012. Intelligence From Secrets to Policy. 5th Edition. Sage Publications. Los Angeles.

Strategic Survey. 2010. Human Intelligence and 11 September (02 February); 28-38. http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/0459723 0412331340047. (Accessed July 3, 2013).

Wobensmith, John, C. 2007. Reinvigorating Intelligence. International Security Affairs 12(Spring). http://www.securityaffairs.org/issues/2007/12/wobensmith&smith.php. (Accessed July 1, 2013).


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