Is there such a thing as female HUMINT? New research highlights understudied topic

Female Engagement TeamALTHOUGH INTELLIGENCE IS A traditionally male-dominated profession, the integration of women into the field has grown exponentially in our time. The area of human intelligence (HUMINT), i.e. the use of human handlers to extract secrets through the use of human agents, is among the areas of the profession that remain most resistant to the incorporation of women. Now new research from Germany is shedding light into the understudied topic of female approaches to HUMINT.

In an article published earlier this month in the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Stephan Lau and Farina Bauer ask a number of important questions about the effective inclusion of women in HUMINT. The article is entitled “What About Her? Increasing the Actionability of HUMINT in Paternalistic Cultures by Considering Female Intelligence”. Lau is a member of the Faculty of Intelligence at the Federal University of Administrative Sciences in Berlin. Bauer, who holds a Master’s degree from the University of the Armed Forces in Munich, is a female HUMINT practitioner with Germany’s Bundeswehr (Federal Defense).

The article contains insights from Bauer’s experience as a HUMINT operative. It also shares data from surveys and interviews with 40 military HUMINT operatives in the Bundeswehr, who have served in male-dominated collection environments, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. A central question the authors focus on is “whether there is a gender-sensitive perspective regarding women as targets as well as females as operators in these theaters”. In attempting to answer that question, Lau and Bauer elaborate on the concept of “female intelligence collection”, namely “a gender-sensitive perspective in intelligence collection planning that not only recognizes females as targets of collection but also considers females as operatives”. This concept was partly behind the creation of female engagement teams (FETs), which have been pioneered in Afghanistan by American and other Western Special Operations Forces units in order to engage with local women.

The authors conclude that, despite the growth of FETs in the past decade, female targets in paternalistic societies remain “both untapped (i.e., not yet a standardized part of mission planning) and harder for operators to access”. Moreover, they recommend that FETs should not be the centerpiece of female intelligence collection, because it isolates women in the broader HUMINT environment and fails to combine male and female collection capabilities. They argue that “[f]emale-only teams are not the right answer to reform a male-dominated profession”. Instead, they propose the “integration of female and male operators in the same units by creating and supporting mixed teams”. These teams, they argue, would “increase the actionability of intelligence collection entities, even beyond military intelligence”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 June 2022 | Permalink

6 Responses to Is there such a thing as female HUMINT? New research highlights understudied topic

  1. Pete says:

    Yes from reading, it appears that in some very traditional Muslim societies women, who are potential informants, live under cultural barriers, hence don’t feel comfortable talking to males. Many may prefer talking to females.

  2. Rick Garber says:

    The British have historically been at the fore of employing females in intelligence and special operations – from SOE in the Second World War through Northern Ireland – where pairs of male/female surveillants proved operationally superior to pairs of young, fit, short-haired males…

  3. Mike Ormsby says:

    Did the authors never hear of Mata Hari? Women have been engaged in Humint for hundred & thousands of years. US forces in the first Gulf War had women GI’s embedded with combat units which enabled them to speak & learn from Iraqi women. Which they did. So, what are the authors learning that is new?

  4. Unkown says:

    The opening statement seems like a very bold and unsubstantiated claim.
    From my understanding, most of the countries known for having superb HUMINT capacities, be it the US, the UK, Australia or even Russia, all have a long and well-recorded history of employing female operatives. Such statement might’ve been true back in the day, but now a days I’d say that one would need a substantial amount of factual evidence to utter this affirmation.

  5. Pete says:

    Hi Joseph

    This might be worth an article.

    “A Russian spy tried and failed to secure an internship at the international criminal court (ICC) using the false identity of a Brazilian citizen that he had built up over more than a decade, according to Dutch intelligence.

    Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, 36, accused of being an agent of Russia’s GRU military intelligence,…”

    Regards Pete

  6. intelNews says:

    Pete: Working on this for Monday. [JF]

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