Human or Technical Intelligence - Importance in combating terrorism.

Human or Technical Intelligence - Importance in combating terrorism.


The one word that instils grave fear in the minds of people across the globe irrespective of colour class creed and which has even managed to crumble nations is terrorism. There is hardly any day when we don’t hear of some terrorist activity taking place somewhere, harming innocent people. The entire world is plagued with terrorism and the problem at large is faced by both developed and developing nations. Terrorism results in immense human tragedy with innocent humans getting killed while governments incur massive financial costs in confronting this menace which has only raised its ugly head higher. The objectives or ideologies of different terror groups may be divergent, however their modus operandi and the resultant impact of their acts is similar as they engage in violent acts and carnage to put across their message. In the war against terrorism, the governments of different countries employ various defensive and preventive techniques in order to curb this enormous security threat. The two pillars of the so called combat against terrorism are human intelligence (HUMINT) and technical intelligence (TECHINT).

War on Terror

Terrorism is a mindset and ideology based phenomenon, which makes it extremely challenging to be confronted and combated unlike fighting a crime in the society. Different terror groups operate in highly clandestine, dynamic and constantly evolving landscape in pursuit of their objectives. A well developed intelligence network is an indispensible part of a country’s arsenal in its fight against terror. Therefore, intelligence capacities and capabilities are the mainstay of a country’s ability to deal with terror.

HUMINT: The human connection

Use of human intelligence dates back centuries and it is the oldest and the cheapest method of deriving intelligence. Under HUMINT information is provided by a human source or contact. Developed informant networks and infiltration of terrorist movements through espionage are examples of means of gathering intelligence via HUMINT. Any information which is derived out of this form of gathering intelligence will rely solely on the training and experience of the human operative. An operative who is not trained will have varied perception of the target which he or she has been told to monitor. As a result, this form of intelligence gathering requires the operative to be trained rigorously on a specific type of target monitoring.

TECHINT: The technological edge

TECHINT involves employment of advanced technological apparatus instead of dealing with human source of information in order to gauge terrorist activities in a highly covert manner. The group of highly sophisticated techniques used are (i) electronic intelligence (ELINT), (ii) communication intelligence (COMINT), (iii) photographic or imaging intelligence (PHOTOINT), (iv) signal intelligence (SIGINT) (v) telemetry intelligence (TELINT), (vi) Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) and the most recent (vii) computers and internet intelligence (HACKINT). Colossal amount of information can be fished out from across the world using TECHINT using decrypting techniques, traffic analysis, computer exploitation techniques, cable and phone tapping, remotely piloted aircrafts etc, satellite pictures etc.


Both HUMINT and TECHINT are crucial disciplines of intelligence system of any nation. However with unprecedented advancement of technology, TECHINT has superseded HUMINT in terms of usage and is now more widely used method of collecting intelligence. There are certain drawbacks of HUMINT, which has resulted in decrease in reliance over this discipline of intelligence. HUMINT involves identification, screening and recruitment of agents which is a time consuming process. Also a human is considered to be more vulnerable and impressionable which may lead to compromise and a resultant fabrication of information. Besides, there is a huge risk to life involved because of high susceptibility of the informant or agent to the counterintelligence units.

There are many aspects in which TECHINT has a clear advantage over HUMINT. TECHINT is solely reliant on advanced technological equipments with minimum human interference which makes it easier and less risky to derive information. A high degree of covertness can be maintained while carrying out a TECHINT operation without any risk of getting misleading or fabricated information. Also, the process of information collection is less time consuming while a high level of accuracy can be maintained. Nevertheless, technology also has its own limitations, as it is extremely expensive to develop and can be countered using certain measures by the terrorists. For eg, an underground hiding of terrorists cannot be easily gauged and detected by satellite pictures or remotely piloted aircrafts.

Considering the above viewpoints it is critical that a synergy be maintained between HUMINT and TECHINT. The intelligence derived from any of the techniques should be substantiated or complemented by the other technique. The intelligence community should not disregard HUMINT as its capability of providing first hand information cannot possibly be substituted by any other means and cannot become outdated. Relying solely on a single form of intelligence might result in intelligence failure, the cost of which is generally paid by the innocent citizens. An example of a debacle caused by relying only one form of intelligence is the Pearl Harbour bombing, in which the US did not have any HUMINT contribution. Hence to conclude, both HUMINT and TECHINT have their own importance and place in the intelligence system and both should be used utilised complementarily in order to foil the attempts of terrorist groups in creating a menace around the globe.
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