Nusbacher Associates

This week I’ve been revisiting some colleagues and thus revisiting some thoughts about source evaluation.

Money – Ideology – Compulsion – Ego. The classic quadripolar model of a HUMINT source’s motivations.

Occasionally the shop talk centers around which sort of source one prefers: The Money men with dollars in their eyes; the Ideologues striving for their version of a perfect future; the downtrodden Compulsion source, possibly a plaything for karma; or the Egotism types, whose over-inflated balloon of self-importance blocks the handler’s view of the facts?

None of the above!

In fact, I don’t agree with the MICE framework – I think a quadripolar model is overly complex and the suppositions underlying it are incorrect. Even the tripolar model from days of yore – the KGB’s idealogy, ego/extortion, money motivation triangle – falls into the same difficulties. (I’ll explain the problematic suppositions of each model at the end here.)

Instead, I use three simple A or B judgements to make a cost/benefit analysis; the goal is to have a balanced equation, or as I’ve taught it to my colleagues, 1+2=3. So how does this work?

The analysis relies first on a classification – one draws a line from A to B. Ideology goes at A and everything else goes at B. For example, coming from the MICE model, one puts Ideologues at point A while placing Money and Coercion at point B. This simple judgement indicates whether a source relationship can remain stable over time (A tends toward stability, B tends away from it.). This is part 1.

Next, the relies on an evaluation of intensity of Self. This was called Ego in the MICE model, but it’s a term I avoid since Ego has a specific meaning in psychology, and because Self encompasses Id and Superego together. The IEEM triangle puts Ego and Extortion at the same pole, which conflates self with self-preservation – a view that tells you more about the KGB’s perspective than it tells you about your source, so in my opinion that model is best avoided. Like the motivation, the Self is rated for functionality (again one can use the same line from A / Least to B / Most) to indicate the issues the source’s Self may pose for the operative in extracting their information. Functionality, rather than intensity, of Self is the important distinction this model makes that previous models do not. This is part 2.

The third part is another judgement call about what information the source offers. There isn’t a simple way to evaluate that but, for instructional purposes only, let’s use a scale of A / Iffy to B / Excellent.

Now you may say, “You should have a pretty good idea about 3 before you think about 1 and 2 anyway… Ultimately, either you need the source’s information and you must adjust to deal with their baggage, or else they’re simply not worth your trouble.”

However, do consider part 3 in its proper turn. In a field situation where there is not a lot of time to think before acting, and where consulting with colleagues or superiors may not be possible before a fairly new or junior operative’s decision is required, 1+2=3 comes in handy a) because operatives are humans and thus have a tendency to get excited about Part 3 first without really considering how Parts 1 and 2 play into it; and b) because operatives are human and thus tend to discount Part 3 if Parts 1 and 2 seem, on the surface, likely to become an annoyance. “We’re all just people,” and even the most experienced and professional HUMINTer may catch themselves doing this.

To summarize, Parts 1 and 2 are the cost, Part 3 is the benefit. This makes an easy mnemonic for evaluating whether a source’s information is worth our effort: Does 1+2=3 ?

So how did 1+2=3 come about? What issues did I find with using MICE and the triangle / IEEM up at the sharp end?

The MICE model implies that, by understanding but somehow not judging a source’s motivation, thus rapport and respect (R&R) can occur in the relationship between agent and source. However, we have to judge a source at some point. In my experience, that judgement happens at the point of determining motivation. So you may as well embrace it and value the judgement.

Moreover, the MICE model’s R&R might ameliorate the situation, but one can scrape along without R&R if needs be. Often there is no opportunity for, or no advantage to be gained by investing in, a source’s working relationship with the HUMINT operative. The IEEM triangular model accounts for this, but imposes a negative aspect instead of a neutral view.

In sum: Personalities are going to conflict, simply because we are humans interacting with other humans.

It’s how an operative deals with this fundamental question that makes all the difference. A simple but effective way that’s easy for new operatives to remember is the 1+2=3 rule-of-thumb, which helps the operative in quickly and consciously analyzing their (necessarily) subjective evaluation of a source’s three essential qualities (motivation, sense of self, and information) without the non-judgement behind MICE model and the assumption of a relationship behind R&R, and without the negatively self-preserving assumptions of the old Russian model.

Think about it, leave me your feedback, and have a good weekend!


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