intelligence

Intelligence is the ability to use your brain in a particular way — to learn things and then use the knowledge for some practical purpose. It’s also a euphemism for information gathered by spies.

So if the president of a large country says “the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” what he means is, “Everybody spies.”

Which is true. Every country on the planet employs spies. But “intelligence” sounds nicer than spying, doesn’t it? We’re not spying on you. We’re collecting “intelligence.” We’re learning.

There’s a reason people who employ spies talk this way. It’s because they want you to picture a lot of studious people doing boring, complicated research so you don’t have to — a public service, really. They don’t want you to think about people using dishonest means to find out things they’re not supposed to know. Which is what spies do.