Does Rumour Equal Intelligence? (RumINT)

The word “rumour” is derived from the Latin rumorem or ‘noise’ and is information often passed on from person to person related to an object, event, or issue of public concern. 

In today’s age of rampant social media and instant communication, this fuels the speed of coverage and the power of rumours.

In the social sciences, a rumour is a form of a statement whose veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed and is a subset of propaganda.


Rumour Intelligence RumINT

So what exactly is Rumour Intelligence or “RumINT”?

Let’s start by defining what Rumour Intelligence actually is…

“RumINT, also known as Rumour Intelligence or Rumour Analysis, refers to the practice of gathering, analysing, and assessing rumours or unverified information for the purpose of extracting intelligence insights. It involves the systematic collection and evaluation of rumours, hearsay, or unofficial reports that may hold strategic or operational significance.”

Intelligence from rumour (“RumINT”) is therefore tricky. “RumINT” can be true or not true, but actually that applies to many other forms of intelligence.

What does RumINT actually involve?

RumINT focuses on assessing the credibility, reliability, and relevance of rumours to determine their potential impact on decision-making processes. 

The goal is to separate fact from fiction and identify actionable intelligence from the noise of unverified information.

How best to handle Rumour Intelligence?

IMSL’s view is that RumINT should be passively listened to, and logged, because just occasionally it turns out to be true and it turns out that it was just uncorroborated real intelligence.   

Some of the best bits of intelligence start out in life as a simple rumour.  Just because something isn’t yet corroborated through OSINT or otherwise, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile listening too and considering.

However, as the pandemic has underscored, rumours are also often discussed with regard to misinformation and disinformation (the former often seen as simply false and the latter seen as deliberately false, though usually from a government source given to the media or a foreign government).

Early work from Stern, Knapp and others demonstrated how information is changed through a chain of subjects from “mouth to ear” much like the children’s game of Chinese whispers with 3 prominent rumour themes:

  • Pipe dream rumours: reflect public desires and wished-for outcomes;
  • Fear rumours: reflect feared outcomes; 
  • Wedge-driving rumours: intend to undermine group loyalty or communities.

Knapp also found that negative rumours were more likely to be disseminated than positive rumours – misery always likes company, which provides a vehicle for fear and disruption.

RumINT: For Control & Influence

It is easy to see how some parts of the world use rumours as a weapon of control and influence. 

Generally, the more state control of media, the less OSINT corroboration and the more rumour mills spin.  

The fact that rumours are more prevalent in societies where there is more control of the media and therefore less intelligence makes them all the more interesting as analysts are hungry for any sort of intelligence.  Most rumours are about subjects that if true would destabilise a country or a market. 

As such you can see why authoritarian countries wish to control and discredit rumours.  Conversely the same factors mean that they are more likely to be spread. The more a rumour is discredited by the authorities, the more people are suspicious of that discrediting.

Sometimes people will dress up RumINT to make it look better than it is, and sometimes the motives are obvious.  War and political instability can be increased by spreading rumours, and that’s a tool for an opposition and a danger for own forces.

The challenges of Rumour Intelligence (RumINT)

The challenge for intelligence analysis is that you can look stupid or naive if you report on every bit of nonsense out there. And the flipside is also true – if you ignore a rumour that circulates for a while, because you think it’s nonsense, and it turns out, eventually, to be true, you can look foolish too.

Rumours, although uncorroborated, can cause instability. In that sense they should be ignored. But you might want to hedge your bets!  Rumours can be incredibly contagious and incredibly powerful. Never underestimate their effect, true or false.  If you are interested in further exploration, the book Narrative Landmines: Rumours, Islamist Extremism, and the Struggle for Strategic Influence (New Directions in International Studies) is well worth it. As the authors state, “Rumours, as narrative IEDs, are low-cost, low-tech communication weapons that can be used by anyone to disrupt the efforts of communication, civil affairs or outreach campaigns such as those undertaken by governments in crisis response situations or militaries in insurgencies”.  

Rumour Intelligence has been used throughout history

Today and throughout history, rumour has been used offensively and defensively as Kipling observes in Ballad of the King’s Jest:

“He hearked to rumour, and snatched at a breath
Of `this one knoweth’, and ‘that one saith’, —
Legends that ran from mouth to mouth
Of a grey-coat coming, and sack of the South.
These have I also heard — they pass
With each new spring and the winter grass.”

The more we understand about the context of rumours and the intelligence which can be gained from them, the more informed we make our decision makers and society as a whole.

Is your organisation looking for help with RumINT?

By analysing rumours and unverified information, RumINT can help your organisation identify emerging threats, understanding public sentiment, detecting disinformation campaigns, and providing early warnings for potential security risks. 

RumINT plays a vital role in intelligence analysis, complementing other forms of intelligence collection and contributing to a comprehensive understanding of the operating environment.If you would like to find out more, please do contact us.

Rumour Intelligence (RumINT) FAQs

RumINT intelligence, short for Rumor Intelligence, refers to the practice of gathering, analysing, and assessing rumours or unverified information to extract valuable insights. It involves evaluating the credibility and relevance of rumours to provide actionable intelligence for decision-making processes.

RumINT intelligence differs from other intelligence disciplines in that it specifically focuses on rumours and unverified information. While other intelligence disciplines may rely on established sources and verified data, RumINT intelligence aims to extract insights from unofficial reports, hearsay, and gossip, understanding their potential impact on strategic or operational contexts.

RumINT intelligence gathering faces several challenges. Some of the main ones include the difficulty in verifying the accuracy of rumours, the prevalence of disinformation campaigns, the subjective nature of rumour assessment, the need for extensive open-source research, and the potential for bias or manipulation of unverified information.

Technology plays a significant role in RumINT intelligence. Analysts leverage advanced tools and software for social media analysis, data mining, sentiment analysis, and information retrieval. These technologies help in sifting through vast amounts of unverified information, identifying patterns, and assessing the credibility and relevance of rumours.

RumINT intelligence has various practical applications. It can be used in national security to detect potential threats and vulnerabilities, assess public sentiment, identify emerging risks, and counter disinformation campaigns. Additionally, it can support corporate intelligence by monitoring industry rumours, competitive intelligence, and reputation management

Further Rumour Intelligence (RumINT) reading:

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