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Technical Intelligence

Technical Intelligence

Technical intelligence, or TECHINT, is intelligence relating to the technical abilities of an enemy. It does not fall under just one of the four major branches of intelligence; rather, TECHINT includes elements of imagery, measurement and signatures, and signals intelligence (IMINT, MASINT, and SIGINT, respectively). It may also intersect with the fourth major branch, human intelligence (HUMINT), though some adherents of TECHINT insist that HUMINT plays no part in the gathering of technical intelligence. Closely related to TECHINT is scientific intelligence, or intelligence on the development of new weapons or techniques by an enemy.

Both sides in World War II conducted technical and scientific intelligence operations against one another. For example, the British followed a supply of heavy water, to be used by the Nazis in building an atomic bomb, for several years, and finally destroyed it in transit from Norway to Germany.

Technical and scientific intelligence operations proliferated during the Cold War, along with the many scientific advances that made possible improvements in weapons and surveillance technology. The most notable TECHINT operations were conducted by the Soviets against the United States, as when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, agents of the Soviet regime, passed nuclear secrets to Moscow.

Much of the reason for the lopsided character of Cold War TECHINT (with the exception of the early space race) was the fact that the United States had far more military and commercial technical expertise to offer than did the Soviet Union. An even greater disparity existed between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) at the end of the twentieth century, when PRC operatives sought to obtain information on U.S. weapons systems and satellites. Much of this material came not as a result of espionage operations, but through open sources.



Chalou, George C. Scientific and Technical Intelligence Gathering. New York: Garland Publishing, 1989.

Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1998.

Scientists and Engineers: Directorate for Scientific and Technical Intelligence, Directorate for Foreign Intelligence. Washington, D.C.: Defense Intelligence Agency, 1987.


Army Technical Intelligence Chronology. University of Idaho Library. <> (April 3, 2003).


Chinese Espionage against the United States
IMINT (Imagery intelligence)
Measurement and Signatures Intelligence (MASINT)
Satellite Technology Exports to the People's Republic of China (PRC)
SIGINT (Signals Intelligence)

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