For almost 70 years, responsibility for conducting human intelligence (HUMINT) has fallen mainly to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Virtually since the agency’s creation in 1947, CIA HUMINT has included the recruitment of foreign nationals to conduct espionage, the use of travelers to gather intelligence, as well as the debriefing of defectors and other individuals with access to information of value. The primary focus of such HUMINT operations was strategic – the collection of information relevant to national policymakers – although subsequent to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the CIA has devoted considerable energy to supporting efforts to capture or kill terrorist leaders and their followers, and disrupt terrorist activities.
But the CIA has not been operating alone in the sphere of human intelligence. Throughout the Cold War and beyond, the Department of Defense and the military services have also conducted HUMINT operations. They have periodically established and disestablished organizations to recruit spies and debrief individuals of interest, especially in order to gather information about foreign weapons systems, doctrine, and other matters of interest to military officials.
The Army was the service whose HUMINT effort – particularly its clandestine collection program – was for decades the most consistent and extensive.