An intelligence led approach to anti-doping part II


    intelligence led approach to anti-doping

    Human intelligence (HUMINT) has the potential to provide invaluable support to anti-doping. First, this article will consider the role and challenges to the use of human-source intelligence in an intelligence-led approach to anti-doping. Second, the scope for a more aggressive human-source intelligence approach.


    Under Article 5.8 of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code. National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) are obliged to “Obtain, assess and process anti-doping intelligence from all available sources”. Including human sources. People involved with sport, both directly and indirectly, are in an ideal position to provide access to sport-specific issues. Furthermore, the tight-knit networks characteristic of the sport. Human intelligence is more context-specific than other intelligence sources. It, therefore, promotes an understanding of the range of, and relationships between, individuals, substances and methods in doping.

    Consequently, insider knowledge is crucial to gain access to steroid marketplaces. Because these are notoriously difficult for NADOs to keep up-to-date with. Equally, many doping methods (as opposed to substances) lack a trafficking and distribution system. Instead relies on using regular, legal medical equipment. This includes blood doping, gene doping and hyperbolic oxygen chambers. As a result, human sources, are often best placed to provide information on doping methods.

    Whistleblowing hotlines

    Whistleblowing platforms have become an integral component of the intelligence-led approach to anti-doping. NADOs have invested heavily in establishing hotlines and websites to encourage whistleblowers in the sporting community. For instance, UK Anti-Doping’s “Speak Out!” campaign was launched in 2010 in collaboration with Crimestoppers. This represents a form of crowdsourced intelligence or a public request for information which is then collected and collated. The National Intelligence Model used by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) recognises “community information” as a useful source of intelligence. Allowing HUMINT from whistleblowing to be effectively incorporated into UKAD’s intelligence framework.

    There is some evidence of a propensity among athletes to blow the whistle on suspected doping. The case brought against Lance Armstrong by the US Anti-Doping Agency rested significantly on 24 witness statements. Mainly from his former teammates, support personnel and other professional cyclists. However, it came over a decade too late and resulted in a reactive and punitive response. Rather than the proactive and preventive approach intelligence-led anti-doping should provide.

    Studies conducted on the psychology of whistleblowing on doping have found that the decision is not a binary one. Instead, it includes a number of options, including confronting the doper personally; raising the suspicion with someone not connected with the anti-doping authorities; reporting the user to an anti-doping authority, or doing nothing. Consequently, just as in a national security context.The motivations of whistleblowers must be explored to improve campaigns to promote whistleblowing. If it is to be a valuable component of the intelligence-led approach to anti-doping.

    Whistleblowing on doping in sport

    Comprehensive educational campaigns which raise awareness of whistleblowing platforms are crucial to support HUMINT-led anti-doping. However, despite the launch of the aforementioned “Speak Out!” initiative in 2010, campaigns promoting it have only gathered momentum since 2016, especially at a student and amateur level. The proven correlation between the intensity of educational initiatives and the use of whistleblowing hotlines. Demonstrates the need for consistent promotion of the availability of mechanisms to report suspicions of doping in sport.

    Furthermore, despite an awareness among athletes of the expectation to report suspected doping, there is an overwhelming reluctance towards it. Loyalty to teammates often prevails as athletes are more likely to confront the suspected doper themselves. There is a case for NADOs to place stronger obligations on athletes to report suspected doping. Equally, whistleblowing must be de-stigmatised and safeguards introduced to protect whistleblowers from the retribution of teammates and coaches. Consistent and more effective education strategies must empower and equip athletes to blow the whistle.

    These strategies should rest on an understanding of the complex relationships involved in high-performance sport. They should learn from the best (and worst!) practice of campaigns. Such as the Government’s Prevent strategy which encourages the reporting of criminal or dangerous behaviour. Including that of close friends and family. The lack of commitment to these educational campaigns. Coupled with the reluctance among athletes to blow the whistle on doping represents a major limitation. Whistleblowing can make an effective, HUMINT component of a proactive, intelligence-led approach to anti-doping.

    A more aggressive human-source intelligence approach?

    Arguably, there is scope for a more aggressive human-source intelligence approach in anti-doping. This includes the penetration of suspected sports teams. Furthermore, training and medical facilities to actively and covertly elicit information relevant to the intelligence requirement. NADOs could learn from investigative journalism, where successes include uncovering steroid marketplaces. However, the well-established problems of transparency and accountability pose a significant challenge to this approach. Without political will, NADOs are unlikely to demonstrate necessity and proportionality to justify a warrant. Nevertheless, this is an area in which effective collaboration with law enforcement is essential. For example, to achieve an effective intelligence-led anti-doping regime.

    Increasing the powers of sports governing bodies will also enhance the contribution of human-source intelligence. Athletes can be compelled to enter into contracts that confer investigatory powers on their governing body. The Australian Football League adopted this approach. It has powers superior to those of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, which include “access to players and officials for interviews, mobile phone records of players and officials, emails, team servers, laptops and team files including financial records”. This is an attractive strategy, given the sport-specific expertise of sports federations and the fact their budgets often exceed that of NADOs.


    Furthermore, infringement upon privacy is a recognised and accepted element of participating in elite sport. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Whereabouts system requires athletes to provide advance details of their location for a 60-minute window every day of the year for out-of-competition testing. This demonstrates the capacity for sports federations and NADOs pursue a more aggressive approach to human-intelligence despite the infringement upon privacy. This will allow human intelligence to make a more effective contribution to intelligence-led anti-doping and protect and promote the right of athletes to participate in clean sport.


    In conclusion, anti-doping is not realising the full potential of the support human intelligence can provide to the intelligence-led anti-doping approach. The majority of human-source intelligence strategy surrounds whistleblowing hotlines. However, lack of proper commitment to initiatives that equip and empower athletes to blow the whistle on suspected doping has meant these hotlines are unable to provide a sufficient or effective contribution to intelligence-led anti-doping.

    As a result, in order for anti-doping to make full use of human intelligence, they must pursue a more aggressive approach which includes actively and covertly eliciting information relevant to the intelligence requirement. Whilst this approach will incur questions on accountability, transparency and the right to privacy, these are worthwhile discussions to develop and encourage creative solutions. Consequently, despite current inadequacies, there remains a positive outlook for human intelligence in anti-doping with plenty of capacity for it to provide a useful and valuable contribution to the fight to protect the rights of athletes to participate in clean sport.

    Rachel Brown
    Rachel Brown
    Focusing on the field of counterintelligence. Rachel Studied Law at Queen’s University Belfast and a MA in Intelligence and Security from Brunel University London. Rachel researched the use intelligence methodology in anti-doping. Email: [email protected] LinkedIn:

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