Humans behind intelligence

This article was born thanks to the interview released by Alessandro Vivaldi, an anthropologist who dedicates his know how to applied intelligence with a specific focus on HUMINT. This very interesting interview helps us to understand how the human factor can be a crucial even in today’s world. Actually, even more crucial then how we are lead to think.

In contemporary world, intelligence is not exclusively a path for the armed forces or the law enforcement but also deeply interconnected with the civilian world.



  • Personal background:


Alessandro, in Security Anthropology we tend to think that the personal experiences of a professional can influence the way they perceive reality and, therefore, operate in their daily duty. Could you summarize the most important steps of your life and career?

I am Alessandro Vivaldi and I’m know as an anthropologist with a specific interest in HUMINT and intelligence in general. As you said, personal stories do actually influence how professionals grow and adapt and, in some way, this is what happened with me during my life and career.

My father was a officer in our national army and this fact did influence me as a man in many ways. At age 20 I joined the army and served for almost 3 years as a J2 specialist first on regimental level and then on multinational brigade level. In some way, this event started to introduce me to the world of intelligence but the road was still very long. During my life, I had the opportunity to follow my father in various scenarios for his missions and this destiny changed me and my way of perceiving the world in many ways. Living with different communities around the world makes us more open to dialogue and understanding of diversity, something that I really consider to be crucial in today’s world but that very few understand.

My life lead me to graduate first in Rome, Tor Vergata University, where I had the luck of learning from Professor Romano Mastromattei, one of my mentors, and then in History of Religion at Sapienza University of Rome.

Today I am the cofounder of INTELLEGO and I work with my colleagues to offer intelligence based services at a corporate level for many different clients both in Italy and in other areas of the world.

  • The Human Factor:

 MR. Vivaldi, would you be able to explain how the human factor is important within security or intelligence based careers? In a world apparently dominated by technology and the net, do humans still hold a prestigious place within information gathering?


In the 4.0 world it may sound very strange to speak about interpersonal skills, human factors and HUMINT as key elements for the deep comprehension of the world

This is the most important point I want to clarify. Even if we tend to think at our society as something dominated by technological development, the human factor is always the center of all we do as a species. Especially speaking for the security sector, I would say that there is nothing as important (an underrated) as the human factor.

Let’s try to give a definition of what we intend as “human factor” both within the anthropological and intelligence environment. This is more of a “grey definition”, such complex dynamics cannot be easily outlined since they are made of a combination of several different elements bonded by a series of interconnections which are, themselves, very complicated. We could state that, in intelligence, the human factor is a combination of interpersonal (human based) dynamics which can influence the perception and narrative of reality itself.

Humans are indeed the most crucial links of the informative chains that define the world as we know it but, they are “weak links” since they are highly exposed and can be manipulated. The task of a HumInt specialist is to exploit the knowledge we have about human beings in many different sectors (social sciences, psychology and much more) in order to study the weaknesses of the human link. Establishing counter intelligence protocols is also part of HUMINT but it requires specific training and a very solid mindset. Human Intelligence is for few.



  • Applied intelligence today:

How can we apply intelligence in such a fluid world like ours? The contemporary balance linked to information makes us think that intelligence based careers may have a lot to offer. Do you agree with this idea?

Intelligence is a very wide universe and as you know, my main expertise is in HUMINT. There is a big misconception behind this particular field since it’s frequently perceived as espionage even if in most cases it has got very little to do with it.

Actually HUMINT, at least the kind I use, is based on several factors that allow us to understand our interlocutor. We study and train to become efficient in achieving useful information from our connections. This requires a particular set of natural and achieved skills which are not so common in a world often based on virtual events and relations.

Machines can be very useful in many ways but they cannot replace human beings in any way at all regarding information gathering and analysis. HUMINT can be applied to a variety of fields such as corporate security, risk management, cultural diplomacy and much more. I view a future where this knowledge will be applied to a variety of fields, completing the weaknesses of machines and artificial intelligence. In general we state that intelligence is about achieving and analyzing information in order to influence decision makers.

In contemporary societies, strategic decisions can change the outcome of conflicts, industrial development or policy making. Being able to think at information in a new perspective can be crucial for our survival.