There’s a guide at to some of the standard war language used for big bucks by professional propagandists and for free by almost everyone else who has normalized it and not given it another thought. Manufacturing tools for mass murder is called “the defense industry,” those murdered are called “collateral damage,” the purpose is labeled “the national interest,” etc.

The trouble with talking like the Pentagon or CNN is not just that it helps to — in the words of George W. Bush — catapult the propaganda, but also that it makes war in general seem more acceptable and less horrific than it is.

I want to add a friendly amendment to efforts to reduce the use of Pentagon language. I think CIA language is a problem as well. I think it’s at least as present as war language in Hollywood productions, and in massive child-focused cultural efforts like the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Intelligence” is used to mean information acquired through spying, or stealing from, or torturing enemies — none of which actions is in the least intelligent, and all of which are typically packaged in the phrase “gathering.” One “gathers intelligence” like rosebuds. The “intelligence” is both random information of unspecified relationship to reality and information with which the general public cannot be trusted and which requires the general public to place its trust in unaccountable powers that know better than it does.

But “intelligence” is then also used to mean all of the activities of secret agencies that spy, lie, steal, torture, murder, foment coups d’etat, sabotage elections, bribe, blackmail, and “analyze” the “intelligence.” There are no spies, much less murderers, but rather “intelligence officers” working in an “intelligence network” on their “foreign intelligence” and “domestic intelligence” and even their “counterintelligence” (which does not typically mean, as it sounds, misinformation aimed at making you stupider, but rather anything done by an “intelligence officer” and blamed on the threat of enemy “intelligence officers”).

Talking like the CIA not only catapults the propaganda, but also normalizes lying, cheating, and stealing. It normalizes hostility and distrust toward other nations. It provides an excuse for your government to spy on you. It reinforces the idea that democracy is a bad and naive concept, that self-governance isn’t possible, that proper governance requires secrets that the riffraff simply have to trust in. Above all, it spreads fear, paranoia, and what might be called a pandemic of mild Havana Syndrome, which weakens the intellectual immune system against “operations” like Russiagate or reports of mass rapes by Hamas as justification for genocide.

Of course, governments should have information. They should hire intelligent, skilled people, including as diplomats, rather than campaign sugar daddies. They should hire people who read multiple languages. They should hire people who’ve studied the impacts of policies, rather than the impacts of sound bytes. The point, I assume you grasp, is not that they should be uninformed, but that they should stop watching people with cameras and blowing them up with missiles as a substitute for behaving intelligently and respectfully, and for godsake shouldn’t call the stuff they do the work of “intelligence operatives.” And we shouldn’t watch movies glorifying it.

So, here are some recommendations for using better language:

Intelligence (including human intelligence, signals intelligence, etc.):
Claimed basis for government assertions that a government refuses to make public.

Assessed with high confidence:
Asserted by a government that refuses to make its evidence public.

Assessed with moderate confidence:
Asserted by a government that refuses to make its evidence public and is worried people will learn the truth.

Assessed with low confidence:
Asserted by a government that refuses to make its evidence public, doesn’t really expect anyone to believe it, but wants you to act as though you believe it as a matter of duty.

Asserted by a government that refuses to make its evidence public and admits it’s nothing but hearsay, unless it’s lying even about that.

Intelligence Agency:
Governmental mafia.

Intelligence Officer / agent / analyst / operative / double agent / triple agent:
Governmental mafioso.

Intelligence Asset:
Governmental mafioso serving another government than their own.

Covert / clandestine:
Secret and criminal.


False front for government mafioso.

Spying — usually in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Spying that someone is a bit ashamed of.

Command center / nerve center / listening post:
Governmental mafia hideout.

Drone strike:
Murdering people with a missile from a robot plane.

Target / take out / neutralize / eliminate:

Enhanced interrogation:



I bet you can think of others. We hear them and say them without a thought. This is not very intelligent of us.

Original at World Beyond War