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HUMINT, a syllabic abbreviation of the words HUMan INTelligence, refers to intelligence gathering by means of interpersonal contact, as opposed to the more technical intelligence gathering disciplines such as SIGINT, IMINT and MASINT. NATO defines HUMINT as "a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources."[1] Typical HUMINT activities consist of interrogations and conversations with persons having access to pertinent information.

Good intelligence management begins with the proper determination of what needs to be known. Unless precise requirements are set, data will be collected unsystematically and the decision maker ultimately left without pertinent information on which to act. Collected data must be evaluated and transformed into a usable form and sometimes stored for future use. Evaluation is essential, because many of the wide variety of sources are of doubtful reliability. A standardized system is used to rate the reliability of sources and the likely accuracy of the information they provide; information may be classified as true once it is confirmed by a number of sources.

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 U.S. Military, most HUMINT activity does not involve clandestine activities. Both CI and HUMINT do include clandestine HUMINT and clandestine HUMINT operational techniques.

Sources may be neutral, friendly, or hostile, and may or may not be witting of their involvement in the collection of information. "Witting" is a term of intelligence art that indicates that one is not only aware of a fact or piece of information, but also aware of its connection to intelligence activities. Examples of HUMINT sources include, but are not limited to, the following:

It is necessary to know the people from whom information is being obtained, and then to obtain it. HUMINT can provide several kinds of information. It can provide observations during travel or other events from travelers, refugees, escaped friendly POWs, etc. It can provide data on things about which the subject has specific knowledge, which can be another human subject, or, in the case of defectors and spies, sensitive information to which they had access. Finally, it can provide information on interpersonal relationships and networks of interest.

HUMINT is both a source of positive intelligence, but also of information of strong counterintelligence value. Interviews should balance any known information requirements of both intelligence collection guidance and of counterintelligence requirements.

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