The gold standard for terminological precision — another quintessentially intel quirk — is set by Style Manual & Writer’s Guide for Intelligence Publications. This was compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence, though in a sense, per its preface, it has many fathers: “The works of Barzun, Bernstein, Copperud, Follett, Folwer, the Morrises, Strunk and White, Gregg, and other recognized arbiters of English usage.”
What’s happened, here, to the CIA’s trademark protection of sources and methods? For all we know, Barzun is now in grave danger; Copperud can fend for himself. Ancestry aside, much of Style Manual’s pedantry is innovative and telling. The second footnote, to cite one example, is beautifully hegemonic: “Note that, even in proper names, we always use the American spelling for English words spelled differently in the British Commonwealth.” The Labour Party? I think you mean the Labor Party. On this side of the Atlantic, we speak the President’s English; that much we earned in the Revolution.
Nothing is left to chance. The spy writer is advised, “In paraphrasing communist statements, put [Socialist or socialist] in quotation marks. The same applies to imperialism and imperialist (and to anti-imperialism and anti-imperialist), which are terms communists use in describing their opponents.” Not in this century, granted, but the point is well taken. There is no such thing as imperialism, only “imperialism.” There was also no Korean War or Vietnam War, though there was a Vietnam war and a Korean war. The distinction is required because these wars were “‘undeclared.’” I don’t add my own political or interpretive bias here: undeclared carries quotation marks in the original.
Most informative is Style Manual’s “Word Watchers List,” which deals with “possibly troublesome words, word types, and word problems.” Here its authors show off a heady command of language, the talent by which the security services get reality to behave itself. They are so bold as to gainsay the United States Constitution — “The Preamble […] is out of bounds grammatically when it speaks of a more perfect Union” — and they are so delicate as to advise that regime “has a disparaging connotation and should not be use when referring to democratically elected governments or, generally, to governments friendly to the United States.” Best yet: “The DI [Directorate of Intelligence] is not in the business of deciding whether something is good or bad.” More than nitpicking, this is worldview maintenance — the point where use of language becomes use of weapons.
Torture becomes “enhanced interrogation.” Word choice is world choice, the spies know.