Sources of Intelligence Information

Intelligence collection is an important component of intelligence analysis. The adage “Garbage in, garbage out” applies here: if the information you collect is not valid, your analysis based on it will be flawed or useless.

Intelligence is often identified based on the source that was used to collect it. For instance, you may have seen terms like SIGINT, MASINT, or HUMINT and wondered what those items need. These different types of intelligence (which are the six recognized by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or ODNI) are briefly reviewed below:

Human-Source Intelligence (HUMINT)

HUMINT is intelligence that is collected by people. When soldiers capture a Prisoner of War (POW) in Iraq and he is handed over to an interrogator fluent in Arabic who talks to him about what he knows, the resulting information is considered HUMINT.

HUMINT is also collected by civilians, such as by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Clandestine Officers whose job it is to develop relationships with individuals in academia, government, and other areas and provide that information to the US government.

HUMINT is one of the hardest disciplines to develop countermeasures for because humans are generally infallible. The techniques of elicitation practiced by these HUMINT collectors (what they are called in the US), have been developed over many years to play on natural human weakness.

Imagery Intelligence (IMINT)

IMINT is a form of intelligence based on images including foot photography, satellite imagery and other forms of images. The Air Force explains imagery intelligence analysis (what they call geospatial intelligence specialists as follows:

Geospatial Intelligence specialists discern what is normal and what could be a threat. These highly trained experts perform a wide array of intelligence activities that include exploitation, development and distribution of multi-sensor geospatial intelligence products to support the needs of any of our missions.

Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT)

MASINT is perhaps the least understood intelligence specialty. MASINT focuses on information collected through a variety of non-visible spectrums. For instance, if you use a Geiger counter to determine where radioactive isotopes are being stored in an area, you’re using MASINT.

Use of temperature, wind, radar, as well as analysis of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons are classified as MASINT.

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT)

Unlike HUMINT, IMINT, MASINT and SIGINT (described below), which are types of intelligence collection methodologies, OSINT describes information that is publicly available. As an example, you might collect open-source IMINT from Google Earth, or SIGINT from watching a foreign TV broadcast.

Up to 90% of all intelligence collected is actually open-source, and a valuable component of an all-source intelligence analyst (whose role is to synthesize information from the other disciplines) is the importance of being able to analyze open source information, synthesize it with classified information and produce effective intelligence.

Examples of resources that you may use for your intelligence analysis include:

  • Newspapers
  • Radio and TV broadcasts (including foreign broadcasts)
  • Google searching
  • Google Earth and other satellite imagery

And a variety of other resources.

Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)

SIGINT is information determined from radio and TV broadcasts, as well as information from encrypted radio and internet signals, as well as other sources of transmitted information. Subsets of SIGINT include COMINT (Communications Intelligence), such as listening to telephone calls or collecting metadata, or collecting other information from  cables, called ELINT (Electronic Intelligence.)

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