Intelligence Gathering Techniques: HUMINT & More

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What are the different methods for gathering intelligence? How were humint, sigint and other types of intelligence used by Edward Snowden? How have intelligence gathering techniques evolved?

Intelligence gathering techniques are the different methods for collecting information about people. Three common types of intelligence: HUMINT, SIGINT, and LOVEINT.

Learn more about the different intelligence gathering techniques and who uses them in Permanent Record: HUMINT (CIA); SIGINT (NSA); LOVEINT (personal use).

Intelligence Gathering Techniques

There are several different types of intelligence. Permanent Record refers to the three types: sigint, humint, and loveint.

Intelligence Gathering Method #1: SIGINT

NSA SIGINT is short for signals intelligence. This type of intelligence comes from intercepted communications such as phone, fax, and computers. Cyber intelligence specifically refers to intelligence gathered from the Internet. For the NSA, SIGINT is the focus.

Intelligence Gathering Method #2: HUMINT

HUMINT is short for human intelligence. This type of intelligence is collected by case officers (COs) who gather intelligence face-to-face, by talking to people. COs tend to be a particular brand of people—good liars, cynics, smokers, and drinkers. This is all HUMINT. CIA operatives focus on this technique.

Intelligence Gathering Method #3: LOVEINT

LOVEINT is short for love intelligence. This is an inside joke rather than a real intelligence type. LOVEINT refers to using surveillance for personal use, such as spying on your ex-girlfriend.

Evolution of Intel Gathering

Since the birth of the Internet, SIGINT has become more widely applicable than HUMINT. For example, before the Internet, if a spy wanted to get something off of someone’s computer, she had to find a way to physically access it. There was plenty of opportunity to get caught while downloading info or installing new hardware or software. After the Internet, if a spy wanted to access someone’s computer, all she had to do was send their target an email with malware. She didn’t have to try to bribe, turn, or coerce her target. Her target need never even know he was being spied on.

As a result, the roles of HUMINT and SIGINT in gathering intel changed. HUMINT would figure out who was worth hacking, and the SIGINT would take care of collecting the intelligence. SIGINT and HUMINT often work together. For example, the author once created an infected thumb drive that could hack UN delegates’ computers, and someone else had to do the actual plugging in of the thumb drive.

Snowden’s HUMINT Experience

Once, a CO brought Ed to an embassy party and Ed happened to sit next to a banker who handled Saudi accounts. The US suspected Saudi Arabia was financing terror, so Ed acted curious and listened (the usual HUMINT technique). Then Ed found a CO, Cal, and pointed out the banker. 

Cal worked on the banker but got nowhere, so Cal finally took the banker out drinking and convinced him to drive himself home. Cal called the cops and the banker was arrested for drinking and driving. Cal insinuated himself into the banker’s life—driving him places and helping him pay the fine—but when Cal finally talked to the banker about becoming an asset, the banker said no. The HUMINT operation had taken a month and gone nowhere. Ed understood why the intelligence community was moving from HUMINT to SIGINT in preferred method for intel gathering.

Intelligence Gathering Techniques: HUMINT & More

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Edward Snowden's "Permanent Record" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Permanent Record summary:

  • What Ed Snowden discovered that caused him to completely lose faith in the government
  • How Snowden led the bombshell reports of US mass surveillance
  • How Snowden is coping with his treatment as both patriot and traitor

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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