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‘The More Things Change’: HUMINT in the Cyber Age


From targeting to recruitment, clandestine handling to intelligence collection and processing, no aspect of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) operations remains unaffected by the profound impact of technological development, particularly in cyberspace. Rapid innovation in this domain has both enabled and encumbered the gathering of intelligence via human sources, and in some respects even altered the established human agent acquisition cycle itself. Although perhaps some aspects of twenty-first century HUMINT techniques would be unfamiliar to John Le Carre’s Cold Warrior, George Smiley, he would surely maintain that personal interaction remains the heart of HUMINT, and no amount of cyber-interaction can replace the close bond between an intelligence officer and his or her agent. In the cyber era, HUMINT will become even more complex, and case officers, their managers, and their political masters will need to understand the significant role of technology in their operations, the creative and persistent counterintelligence threats, and how intelligence collection is evolving faster than ever before.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-53675-4_12
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  1. 1.

    ‘Gray literature’ is information, usually printed, that is not secret or otherwise classified but may be restricted by the author or recipient in some way. Conference proceedings and scientific papers are examples of this.

  2. 2.

    This is not a break with previous counterintelligence practice in such situations, but the real-time ease of checking the story as relayed gives the advantage to the counterintelligence service.

  3. 3.

    There are nearly unique exceptions to this rule, such as the handling of FBI Agent Robert Hanssen. Hanssen never met his Soviet/Russian handlers in person, but as a professional intelligence officer, he could dictate the terms and his information was beyond reproach.

  4. 4.

    The focus here is the particular added challenge for intelligence officers who deal in the clandestine collection of secrets such as the plans and intentions of adversarial governments.

  5. 5.

    The highest level of classification that Manning revealed was ‘Secret’. CIA operational cables carry additional access code words and handling controls beyond ‘Secret’ that Manning’s disclosures did not include.

  6. 6.

    CIA source identities are sacrosanct and they are exempt from FOIA requests. See


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Correspondence to David V. Gioe .

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Gioe, D.V. (2017). ‘The More Things Change’: HUMINT in the Cyber Age. In: Dover, R., Dylan, H., Goodman, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Security, Risk and Intelligence. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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