The Vital Role of Discreet Interviews and Human Intelligence in Data-Scarce Environments


Human intelligence, in the context of reputational due diligence and background checks, refers to the collection of information from human sources. This can include discreet interviews, conversations, and other forms of direct interaction with individuals who possess knowledge of interest.   

Pairing open-source intelligence (OSINT) with human intelligence (HUMINT) creates a finished intelligence product. In many instances, traditional OSINT investigations can uncover red flags reported in media, litigation, and regulatory enforcement records; however, these findings alone may not be enough to provide a complete picture of an event and will not provide the necessary context to help you understand the political, cultural, and industry-specific risks at play.  

By asking specific questions in discreet interviews that are informed by public records information and tailored to the industry and/or jurisdiction in question, it will not only identify relevant risks, but deliver the proper color and context to alleviate or validate concerns that on the surface appear to be showstoppers but may be more complicated or benign than initially thought.  

In high-stakes investments or environments where public records are scarce, HUMINT becomes invaluable. It allows for the collection of nuanced, context-rich information that is often not captured in formal records. However, not all HUMINT is created equally. We will unpack the three game-changing factors that determine the quality and success of a HUMINT investigation.  

3 Game-Changing Factors when Conducting Discreet Interviews 

1. Interview Approach & Data Integrity

The person conducting the interview is possibly the most important part of the investigation. The best practice is to utilize interviewees more closely linked with the region or industry to conduct discreet interviews. Using an interviewee on the ground is paramount to ensure the comfort and therefore openness of the sources interviewed, it de-risks the subject finding out about the inquires, and ensures the right threads are pulled and corroborated. 

To save costs, some firms use their own employees disconnected to the industry or region to attempt to obtain interviews. This heightens the risk of the target finding out about the investigations, poor source selection, and rumors or biases to be reported as fact. 

This discrepancy in data quality becomes even more present in regions where openly seeking information can raise suspicions, lead to resistance, or even endanger the safety of the source. 

Discreet inquiries rely on building trust, using indirect questioning techniques, and leveraging existing networks to access information without drawing undue attention. 

Some examples of interviewees Vcheck has used in the past include journalists, veterans of industry, industry analysts, legal professionals, and in certain international jurisdictions, regulatory sources and government officials.  

2. Quality of Sources

Selecting the correct sources is critical to the success and accuracy of the HUMINT project. The investigative team must strike a balance of finding sources who are well-placed and would therefore have insight into the information we seek but removed enough to limit the risk of the subject becoming aware of our investigation. 

For example, a former senior marketing employee commenting on the intricacies of a subject company’s finances or perhaps of a regulatory or legal issue, would raise some red flags. A marketing employee may have an understanding of how the company is perceived in the industry and market but they are unlikely to have had access to key information on regulatory or financial matters involving the company. This commentary would cause us to question the credibility of this source’s testimony.  

It is vital to obtain viewpoints from multiple sources with a wide array of backgrounds and take into consideration the level of access to information regarding the subject that different sources would have.

3. Number of Sources 

It is unlikely that one single source would hold the key to our investigation or that one single source can provide all the information the client is seeking. In addition, precisely because human sources are not infallible, we use interviews from a variety of sources with as diverse backgrounds as possible to paint a comprehensive picture of a subject’s profile. 

For example, if a former mid-level employee at a company makes a particularly unsavory claim against one of the company’s executives, based solely on this commentary, it’s difficult to determine if the employee may perhaps hold a grudge against the executive. However, if we then also obtain commentary from another former executive at the same company who testified to a pattern of persistently high turnover among the executive’s staff due to the executive’s actions contributing to a hostile work environment, then we would have more information to substantiate the mid-level employee’s claims. Or if a former colleague of the executive at a different company were to admit that the executive was difficult to work with at times and relayed similar concerns, then we would have more information to evidence the emergence of a pattern regarding this particular executive’s actions, personality, and reputation. It is therefore vital to obtain viewpoints from multiple sources with a wide array of backgrounds.  

Some diligence providers greatly limit the number of interviews conducted to save costs which dramatically cheapens the report and confidence in information gathered. 

The Power of Discreet Interviews – Examples:  

Example 1: 

A recent investigation into the shareholders of a newly established oil entity revealed important management issues. While public sources yielded minimal information about the company, human intelligence sources unveiled the true leaders of the company. Human intelligence uncovered the officially listed shareholders appeared to be mere figureheads, concealing the true owners: senior military officials. These influential figures had notable reputational concerns, including ties to arms smuggling and associations with a regime. Furthermore, discussions indicated that the company thrived due to corrupt practices, making corruption its primary operational driver. 

Example 2:  

In another recent human source investigation, Vcheck delved into the executives of a prominent organization. The findings revealed a troubling landscape of toxic workplace dynamics, inadequate management practices, and multiple HR-related concerns. One specific C-Suite member stood out in interviews. Although his public records appeared pristine, sources expressed serious apprehensions about his workplace bullying tendencies and the expression of racist and misogynistic views. These behaviors significantly contributed to a hostile work environment and would not have been uncovered through public records or normal M&A diligence as no suits or settlements had yet to occur


In high-stakes investments and especially in countries where public records are limited, discreet interviews and human intelligence emerge as indispensable tools for accessing information. They enable decision-makers to obtain critical insight before proceeding with transactions and navigate the complexities of data-scarce environments and uncover insights that would otherwise remain hidden.  

Vcheck has built a robust HUMINT network around the globe and across dozens of industries to ensure you can know more about who you are doing business with.  

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