The Revenge Of HUMINT

In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about the push in the US to get away from human intelligence (HUMINT) because it truly is messy, as well as being offensive to Jimmy Carter’s sense of morality. Instead, the US went all-in on technology, which became National Technical Means (NTM) and is now apparently referred to as NRO Overhead Systems (NOS).

Now, satellites and other technical means can get you a lot of data. You can count ships, planes, and tanks; you can see structures being built; and, you can watch for movements and activities. However, there are strong limitations to satellites and related, and they don’t give you context to go with what you see. Which is why you need other means, including HUMINT.

Today, we have an unprecedented amount of information at our fingertips. Open-source intel groups do some fantastic work. There are websites and apps that track almost every aircraft in the air around the world. There are others that track ships, trains, and about any form of transportation you can imagine. Commercial overhead imagery is better than what aircraft and satellite cameras got early on.

Then, you add in professional and social media, plus the World Wide Web, and you have a situation that if it is not information overload, it is not far from it. Instead of frantic efforts to find out about a unit and maybe get a hint of its commander, you go to the unit’s website and get pretty much it’s complete order of battle. From social media, you can find out about morale and how things are going (hint: lower enlisted everywhere in the world are prone to bitching about things, they just now do it online as well as in the chow line). You may even find a professional writing by the commander, as well as his own social media posts. Thank you internet and computer technology!

But, all of that technology has thrown you right back into the HUMINT trap. Is that Pvt. Ivanabitchconstantly a real private, or disinformation? Is the information being posted by a “reputable source” online accurate, precise, or highly biased? Motivation matters as it tends to skew what is being posted.

As a quick aside, information tends to be either accurate, precise, or biased/bogus. When I wrote press releases for a part of DoD, the releases were accurate: the information within was valid. They were not, however, precise as while those designing and building various things want friends and even enemies to have some idea about the system, they sure were not stupid enough to tell everything including full performance data. I will note that a lot of USSR/Russian releases go the biased/bogus route as anything done by them is bigger, better, and does more than anything we design. They tend to advertise a lot of Ronco products in my book.

Finally, you have to take into account social filtering. This is the need to avoid getting in social trouble for what you are posting. Because the Chinese monitor and censor so heavily, people are very careful either to not post anything that could get them in trouble, or they use language that the censors don’t (yet) recognize as saying something other than what it might appear.

In both Russian and the Ukraine, the government is monitoring and even mild criticism can and will draw an official response. In Russia, it is also easy to note that other members of the public are quite happy to deal with complaints or objections to the war by a variety of means ranging from loss of job to loss of teeth. So, again, you get people either not saying what they think, or saying it in a way that will evade the censors for a while. Or, by finding platforms dark or deep that aren’t being monitored or from which they can’t be traced.

This all applies double to what is going on in the Kremlin and other centers of leadership at all levels. I think the following is universal: politicians leak; the leaks are always biased to hurt another and advance the leaker; and, the only thing more vicious than a cornered rat is a cornered political apparatchik. In Russia, politics has been a blood sport for centuries. What we might think of as a minor setback can literally be a matter of life or death. The higher you go, the more likely those are the stakes. Don’t believe me? First, study Russian history, and then go ask those Gazprom and other leaders that all just committed suicide after killing their wives and children. When someone tells me that the Russians won’t do X because they aren’t that way, or because of their children, I know they are ignorant of Russia and Russian history.

Which is why when I hear reports and rumors of discussions in the Kremlin and elsewhere, I tend to use a lot of salt. Why is that information leaking? Why is this or that spokesperson, minister, etc. saying X in public? What are they saying off camera? Is all the discussion of nuclear war a bluff? A legalistic warning and stage setting within Russia? A push to see how far they can push before getting pushback? Other? On that, I’m in wait and see mode as I know that at some point someone with a political axe to grind is going to leak something about it. Something that may not be accurate or precise, but will still reveal what was going on.

In the meantime, we still have to filter everything else. Those who continue to process everything through our cultural blinders are going to continue to be horribly wrong. Those who can set those aside and consider things from the Russian (Ukrainian, etc.) point of view are going to get it mostly right. At least on a threats and intentions basis. On a tactical/strategic basis, those who bleat about Russia having 10,000 X have yet to grasp that while that may be true, if even a third of X is useable it may constitute a miracle. At least with conventional. While I have strong questions about nuclear on both sides, as well as the reliability of the rockets, I also am in no hurry to get the answers and especially don’t desire to find out the hard way.

So, welcome back to the HUMINT trap. All our vaunted technology has brought us full circle back to the messiness that Peanut couldn’t stand.

Some Previous Posts:

Vladimir And The Ukraine

Answers, Ramblings, And A Bit More On Vladimir And The Ukraine

Your Must Read For The Day On Russia

The Puzzles In Play, And The Missing Pieces

Quick Thoughts On Ukraine/Putin

The Thing Behind The Curtain

Missing Pieces And Surprise Pieces

Thursday Update

Not A Lot To Add


Monday Update

Burn Notice

Accuracy, Reliability, And More

Putin, Trump, And The Coming Storm

Three Futures For Russia

Quick Thoughts

Saturday Update

Mismatched Locomotives

War, Ag, Demographics, And The Worst Is Yet To Come

Past, Present, And A Hungry Future

Huge Grain Of Salt

The Moskva

Retribution Inbound

Uncertainty And Preparation

Honest Question

Monday Morning Quick Brief

War Of The Memes

A Little Free Ice Cream

Rumors Of War

Three Times Is…

If It’s Wednesday, This Must Be Moldova

Going Nuclear

How To Spy On The Russians

Here’s Hoping I’m Wrong

Pins And Needles Time

Mock Away

Intel Wars


If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, feel free to hit the tip jar in the upper right or the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo. Getting hit by lightning is not fun, and it is thanks to your help and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.