By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

human intelligence


Intelligence has an important role in national defense, homeland security, and the protection of U.S. interests around the world. Intelligence is obtained from a variety of sources and activities; agencies collect and analyze information to detect threats before they occur.

In the U.S. and around the world, intelligence agencies are constantly conducting analyses. According to the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Intelligence Community focuses on “the missions of cyber intelligence, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, counterintelligence, and on the threats posed by state and non-state actors challenging U.S. national security and interests worldwide.”


Human Intelligence from Human Sources

Among the intelligence gathered by government agencies, there is human intelligence (HUMINT), which is gathered from human sources. ODNI recognizes human intelligence as the oldest way to collect information, and it is a vital part of the intelligence cycle.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the intelligence cycle has five steps:

  1. Planning direction
  2. Collection
  3. Processing
  4. Source analysis and production
  5. Dissemination

Human intelligence collection applies to step two. In general, human intelligence is collected from human sources during interviews, interrogations, and debriefings. HUMINT can also be collected through other intelligence activities such as covert action.

Disciplines within the intelligence collection community vary based on security threats, but the data collected through human intelligence is used to identify threats in advance of an attack. However, the raw data is also compared with other information gathered through other collection operations and multiple sources.


Other Intelligence Collection Disciplines in the Intelligence Community

In addition to human intelligence, there are other ways to collect intelligence. For example, open-source intelligence (OSINT) involves information gathered through publicly available sources. These sources may include information available to the public such as websites, social media sites, publicly accessible databases, journal articles, and photographs.

Intelligence gathering through open-source intelligence can be more beneficial than people realize. For example, there is a lot of information available on the internet and through social media accounts with public settings.

Intelligence analysts also obtain information through signals intelligence (SIGINT). This type of intelligence involves communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT).

It is concerned with the interception of transmitted signals. Information collected through this type of intelligence may involve transmissions from foreign governments.

For instance, signals can be intercepted with radar sensors and electronic equipment. These signal intercepts may help government personnel to gather information to protect the United States from mass destruction. The National Security Agency collects, processes, conducts analyses, and disseminates this type of intelligence.

Another form of technical intelligence involves geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). According to ODNI, geospatial intelligence involves imagery intelligence and geospatial information that uses imagery intelligence gathered on security-related activities around the glob. It can be an important tool in detecting threats from foreign nationals who have chemical weapons.

Measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT) measures the way things are and the manner that they perform as characteristics of an object or activity are detected, identified, and characterized, according to ODNI. Technical analysis is an important aspect of signatures intelligence and ODNI notes that quantitative and qualitative analysis may be used to analyze an object or activity.

Foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT) involves collecting information from foreign nationals who are testing or using aerospace, surface, or sub-surface systems, notes the Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. Foreign instrumentation signals intelligence can protect national security by monitoring our adversaries.

The technical revolution may lead to artificial intelligence (AI) playing a more significant role in intelligence in the future. Objects reproduced electronically through artificial intelligence technology can help provide a visual representation that may be useful in surveillance operations. The private sector may have official contacts within the Intelligence Community and collaboration in intel collection may occur.


Types of Clearances for National Security

In this field, an important requirement involves security clearances. Intelligence professionals have access to highly sensitive information, so security clearances are a necessary component of national security to protect the information gathered from human intelligence and other forms of intelligence. It is critically important to national security that critical information is handled properly and that vulnerable information is not given to anyone who should not have access to it.

Security clearances are common for people involved in intelligence. Security clearances are at different levels such as Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.

To obtain a security clearance, an applicant in the intelligence field undergoes an in-depth background check. The background check determines the suitability of the candidate to access classified material and examines that person's loyalty to the United States, character, integrity, dependability, and judgment.


APU’s Degree Programs in Intelligence Studies

The intelligence field continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing threats to our critical infrastructures and national security interests. Students interested in intelligence studies would benefit from learning how intelligence is used on a daily basis.

American Public University offers a bachelor of arts in intelligence studies and a master of arts in intelligence studies. In the bachelor degree program, students learn about national and foreign intelligence operations, critical analysis, and threat analysis. In the master's degree program, students learn about counterintelligence, international relations, homeland security, geospatial intelligence, counterterrorism, and other important concepts in the intelligence field. This type of knowledge helps to equip students with a foundational knowledgebase to pursue job opportunities in the intelligence field.

About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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