The most important difference between overt and clandestine HUMINT operations is legality: most countries consider intelligence collection by foreign agents a crime, therefore, if an agent attempts a clandestine collection or recruitment, and is caught attempting to gather information he or she is not entitled to, deportation, imprisonment, or worse may ensue. On the other hand, overt HUMINT collection is absolutely legal: this collection is based mostly on open source intelligence (OSINT) and can be described as the capacity of gathering, classifying, elaborating, categorizing and making sense of the massive amounts of data that is, theoretically, available to all. Two other important differences between overt and clandestine HUMINT collection operations are official protocol and the nature of the information required. Official protocol can dictate whether a collection operation needs to be clandestine or not: for example, let’s say that Italy, a country friendly to the U.S. is going to hold talks with Libyan officials over a deal to sell military hardware to the latter: official protocol may order our collectors to only use clande...
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... linguistic and physical differences between our personnel and theirs sources (i.e. Iran, North Korea, China, etc.). This is why I believe that overt HUMINT collection is where our focus should be: the legality and relative ease of acquiring open source intelligence can give us a vast array of indicators that can be converted into complete information with significant intelligence value. It is the result of overt collection that constitutes the context that should lead to consideration for clandestine operations. One of the IC’s biggest challenges is eliminating our government’s Cold War mentality: I worry that the U.S. still spends way too much on ineffective clandestine programs when it would be better served by investing those funds in more analysts and analysis instruments to improve the noesis of vast amounts information obtainable through overt collection.
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