Human intelligence

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Concept.png Human intelligence Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png

Human intelligence (HUMINT) is intelligence gathered by means of interpersonal contact, as opposed to the more technical intelligence gathering disciplines such as signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT) and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT).

Richard Moore's first public speech as Chief of the SIS

NATO defines HUMINT as "a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources." HUMINT, as the name suggests, is mostly done by people rather than any technical means, and is commonly provided by covert agents and spies. For instance, Oleg Penkovsky was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was a source to the UK and the United States by informing them of the precise knowledge necessary to address rapidly developing military tensions with the Soviet Union. A typical HUMINT activity consists of interrogations and conversations with persons having access to information.

The manner in which HUMINT operations are conducted is dictated by both official protocol and the nature of the source of the information. Within the context of the US military, HUMINT activity may involve clandestine activities, however these operations are more closely associated with CIA projects.[1] Both counter-intelligence and HUMINT include clandestine HUMINT and clandestine HUMINT operational techniques.

Human Intelligence in a Digital Age

On 30 November 2021 at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Richard Moore, the head of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), made his first public speech since taking up his role in October 2020, and talked about the seismic changes he sees in the world, specifically in the espionage environment.

'C' discussed China, Russia and Iran, three of the ‘Big Four’ priorities for the intelligence world. He also explained what the UK is doing to address the fourth priority – the amorphous, shape shifting character of international terrorism.[2]


  1. Michael E. DeVine, "Covert Action and Clandestine Activities of the Intelligence Community: Selected Definitions in Brief" (2019) Congressional Research Service
  2. "Human Intelligence in a Digital Age - Speech by Richard Moore, Chief, Secret Intelligence Service"
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