the Intelligence Collection Disciplines
Various kinds of intelligence—military, political, economic,
social, environmental, health, and cultural—provide important
information for policy decisions. Many people view intelligence
as gathered through secret or covert means. While some intelligence
is indeed collected through clandestine operations and known
only at the highest levels of government, other intelligence
consists of information that is widely available. There are five
main ways of collecting intelligence that are often collectively
referred to as "intelligence collection disciplines" or
Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is the collection
of information from human sources. The collection may be done
openly, as when
FBI agents interview witnesses or suspects, or it may be done
through clandestine or covert means (espionage). Within the United
States, HUMINT collection is the FBI's responsibility. Beyond
U.S. borders, HUMINT is generally collected by the CIA,
but also by other U.S. components abroad. Although HUMINT is
an important collection discipline for the FBI, we also collect
intelligence through other methods, including SIGINT, MASINT,
Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) refers to electronic transmissions
that can be collected by ships, planes, ground sites, or satellites.
Communications Intelligence (COMINT) is a type of SIGINT and
refers to the interception of communications between two parties.
U.S. SIGINT satellites are designed and built by the National
Reconnaissance Office, although conducting U.S. signals intelligence
activities is primarily the responsibility of the National Security
Agency (NSA). The FBI collects SIGINT through authorized wiretaps
and other electronic intercepts of information.
Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) is sometimes also referred to as
photo intelligence (PHOTINT). One of the earliest forms of IMINT
took place during the Civil War, when soldiers were sent up in
balloons to gather intelligence about their surroundings. IMINT
was practiced to a greater extent in World Wars I and II when
both sides took photographs from airplanes. Today, the National
Reconnaissance Office designs, builds, and operates imagery satellites,
while the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is largely
responsible for processing and using the imagery.
Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT) is a relatively
little-known collection discipline that concerns weapons capabilities
and industrial activities. MASINT includes the advanced processing
and use of data gathered from overhead and airborne IMINT and
SIGINT collection systems. Telemetry Intelligence (TELINT) is
sometimes used to indicate data relayed by weapons during tests,
while electronic intelligence (ELINT) can indicate electronic
emissions picked up from modern weapons and tracking systems.
Both TELINT and ELINT can be types of SIGINT and contribute to
The Defense Intelligence Agency's Central MASINT Office (CMO),
is the principal user of MASINT data. Measurement and Signatures
Intelligence has become increasingly important due to growing
concern about the existence and spread of weapons of mass destruction.
MASINT can be used, for example, to help identify chemical weapons
or pinpoint the specific features of unknown weapons systems.
The FBI's extensive forensic work is a type of MASINT. The FBI
Laboratory's Chem-Bio Sciences Unit, for example, provides analysis
to detect traces of chemical, biological, or nuclear materials
to support the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of
Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) refers to
a broad array of information and sources that are generally available,
information obtained from the media (newspapers, radio, television,
etc.), professional and academic records (papers, conferences,
professional associations, etc.), and public data (government
reports, demographics, hearings, speeches, etc.).
Unlike the other INTs, open-source intelligence is not the responsibility
of any one agency, but instead is collected by the entire USIC.
One advantage of OSINT is its accessibility, although the sheer
amount of available information can make it difficult to know
what is of value. Determining the data's source and its reliability
can also be complicated. OSINT data therefore still requires
review and analysis to be of use to policymakers.
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