When it comes to international asset tracing it may give rise to the term ‘a needle in a haystack.’ The challenge of cross-border investigations, HUMINT, limited resources, multiple jurisdictions and the comprehensive lengths a Subject may go to protect their interests, is not always an enviable one.

It is because of this that professional and experienced investigators require a combination of extensive investigative tools, giving each careful consideration, to build a clear picture of a Subject. In so doing a reliable and actionable result is reached, in a way that minimises Client time and cost.

In this insight, we examine one such tool. HUMINT or human source intelligence, the challenges that it presents, its effectiveness and, how we at Matrix Intelligence employ it successfully to complement our investigative strategies.

What is HUMINT?

NATO describes HUMINT as “a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources.”

As opposed to data collection, which can be automated, this is information and intelligence which is gathered by highly skilled and experienced individuals, rather than technical means. It is an excellent collection tool and it is very commonly utilised by government and private intelligence agencies around the world.

In the field of asset tracing and litigation, where the prime motivation is to hide physical evidence, often sophisticatedly, HUMINT is a powerful tool in gathering information from individuals close to the target Subject.


Whilst open-source intelligence (OSINT) is valuable in terms of collating publicly available information, as well as that which is notably harder to retrieve, through sources such as credit checks; bankruptcy checks; land registry and, deep web searches, you can reach a dead end.

In addition, determining who owns what from recorded data is often a timely and costly exercise. If the relevant information has not been written down or accurately recorded in emails; company structures, financial records, it can be difficult to trace assets and correctly determine true ownership. This is particularly problematic in jurisdictions which have few, or unreliable, online records.

In comparison, HUMINT is able through skilled and discreet methods, to extract information from well-placed individuals who possess detailed knowledge and therefore can provide a thorough picture of the subject.

Most investigators will therefore begin with OSINT as the precursor to any investigation, before moving on to HUMINT to achieve greater clarity when it comes to the Subject.

How is HUMINT carried out?

This is high-value intelligence built on discreet direct and indirect inquiries, as such, it requires to be undertaken by experts, skilled in the field. Not all agencies can deliver it.

At Matrix Intelligence, we have amassed considerable expertise in the provision of HUMINT and have developed a global network comprising tried and tested contacts from a variety of disciplines. Such networks take years to establish before they can be deemed effective.

As HUMINT uses people as the main medium to gather information, a tremendous amount can be obtained relatively quickly. However, it requires carefully developed skill and patience to establish which individuals to be approached, namely those believed to have detailed knowledge. Furthermore, a well-thought-out narrative must be presented to said individual to create an environment in which they feel safe to speak.

A conversation/engagement is then initiated to gather as much pertinent information as possible related to the Subject without making the person aware of the intent behind it. These inquiries can take place around targets familiar to the Subject including near to home address; office or where colleagues and staff socialise.

At Matrix Intelligence, we regularly conduct HUMINT investigations. Recent examples include:

  • A complex internal investigation for a FTSE100 company in Iraq.
  • An investigation on behalf of a corporate client that believed one of its major competitors was employing underhand tactics to damage their reputation.
  • An investigation of a company director who was on annual leave but was building his own portfolio of clients.

Challenges ?

Whilst the potential for gathering relevant information in an asset tracing case is huge, HUMINT does have its challenges.

The largest problem is that sources can lie, or embellish their account of an event to endear themselves to the person gathering the information. With HUMINT you are relying on the source to tell the truth, but with human nature being what it is, this is not always the case.

To counter this, it is essential that the reliability and trustworthiness of potential sources are assessed in advance and that where there is doubt over the veracity of a statement, corroboration from other sources (human or public records) is sought. Where doubt remains, this must be reported to the Client, so that they are not mislead.

Relying on people also means you may be dealing with geographical challenges in terms of their location and their dispersal. This can contribute to the expense and time involved in any particular investigation.

Surveillance and site visits (the other human factor)

In addition to gathering human intelligence through direct or indirect inquiries, surveillance and the conduct of discreet site visits are additional tools which can assist with corroborating information gained from HUMINT.

Surveillance is a specialist skill, close observation requiring high levels of expertise and knowledge, most frequently used by Police or Intelligence Agencies. It might take the form of static observation from a fixed position; say an office block across from the suspected asset, or mobile observation, involving a moving vehicle. Both of which can produce video or photographic evidence which can be used in litigation.

Discreet site visits to what is believed to be an asset, or where assets may be hidden, are valuable to confirm ownership and as general fact-finding as part of the investigative strategy.

At Matrix Intelligence we have a network of trusted sources, including expertly trained former police and government-trained operatives, who are skilled at conducting covert operations, within legal parameters, to efficiently and quickly deliver results for our Clients.

Asset tracing by its very nature requires expertise and professionalism throughout, as it presents considerable challenges.

A well thought-out investigative strategy, supported by on the ground experience, using a combination of benchmark intelligence-gathering methods such as HUMINT results in the most effective solution for clients.

At Matrix Intelligence, we are skilled in the sensitive collection of HUMINT to deliver high quality results to support complex investigations.

For more information on our asset tracing capabilities, contact us at: info@matrix-intelligence.com or online at www.matrix-intelligence.com