Source Assessment

The Counter-Intelligence Field Activity (CIFA) project employed a multi-modal method (on-line surveys and face-to-face interviews) with a diverse sample of source handlers to explore decision making in the process of source assessment. Research participants represented counterintelligence/counterterrorism and criminal investigative functions with a range of training and operational experience assessing/managing human sources. The information obtained in this research was unclassified in nature.

The findings of this study indicate that the professionals we surveyed balance risk with potential gains when working with human sources. They make decisions in source operations by considering the interaction of source attributes, operational requirements, safety/security issues and situational factors. They reported assessing the truth and value of information using a variety of tools and methods, but ultimately relied upon personal and team judgment when making decisions about how much risk the information was worth. Our findings indicate that the judgment relied upon in decision making is a product of training, experience and an appraisal of available information.

Regardless of the operational theater, source assessment involves risk to safety and security. The majority of respondents expressed the need for safety awareness while recognizing the inherent dangers of their duties. As the potential for contextual and environmental danger increased, the participants expressed greater willingness to experience higher risk to their personal safety in return for perceived higher potential intelligence gains.

The assessment of safety, risk or potential gain is aided by information resources and technological tools. The most useful information resource was information from other source handlers and open source internet resources. Technological tools referenced were not reported as being widely used by agents working in source assessment to help inform their decision making processes.