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I was drawn to the words, “Love interest” and “Love intelligence” appearing in Maureen Dowd’s article, “Creeping Crowd” which dealt with the N.S.A.’s domestic surveillance, in Sept 28 New York Times.


Dowd describes the ‘surveillance’ as indiscriminate Hoovering of Americans’ phone records, and says:

“Yet, news broke this past week that the N.S.A. inspector general admitted that there have been a dozen instances of staffers spying on love interests. The Wall Street Journal said this practice is known as “LOVEINT,” for love intelligence.

Though I’ve never heard of the words, ‘to spying on “love interests”’ and “love intelligence,” until today,Weblio English Dictionary carries the heading of “love interest” and defines it as:

1.One who is of interest as a potential partner in love

2.A romantic plot or subplot in a film or book

3 Any of the characters involved in such a plot

But, can any of the above definitions be an object of the NSA’s surveillance?

Are “love interests”’ and “love intelligence” neologies? How do they differ from plain "love affair” and “love gossip”?

Are there any special meanings, say political, or intelligence implications in “love interests”’ and “love intelligence”?

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It's funny that you chose to use the word "Hoovering". Your usage relates to Hoover vacuums (yours is a perfectly valid usage, although IMO maybe a little dated, or at least regional). The funny part is, there was a very (in)famous head of the FBI, J.Edgar Hoover - who did exactly this kind of 'extra-legal' surveillance. – hunter2 Oct 4 '13 at 9:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

"LOVEINT" or "love intelligence" is a jocular or sarcastic pun on "SIGINT" or "signals intelligence", which is a standard term in intelligence agency jargon.


"Love interests" is a standard general term for people we are currently, or have been, or might wish to be, romantically involved with.

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+1 And HUMINT, FININT, and a bunch more – StoneyB Sep 30 '13 at 2:41
@StoneyB While I agree about the SigINT analogy and don't deny that it was based on -INT, but I read the Maureen Dowd article that was linked to the question and that's not what she thinks (or says at least). I don't deny the connection; I did read the article though, and that subtlety would be lost on the every day American. Not saying the US doesn't use sigINT, just that the general populace doesn't call it that. Just making clear that I didn't miss that. – Giambattista Sep 30 '13 at 3:00
@StoneyB I'm just going to take this opportunity to mention that sometimes Maureen Dowd is completely out to lunch. I remember when there was a correction in her column because she confused Penn State with Penn during the Sandusky molestation scandal, which for someone of Dowd's background in east coast commentary should be like confusing MIT with ITT. – Merk Sep 30 '13 at 3:16

OK This is a bit of a turn of phrase. There was some concern that the NSA was spying on their significant others, which at the time was unfounded.

Later, it was revealed that dozens of agents had done just that. So the Wall Street Journal coined the term "LOVEINT" as a play on love interest and love intelligence.

You've got the definition of love interest right. Love Intelligence refers to a national intelligence agency gathering information on their own, personal love interests.

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In espionage, four ways to recruit potential spies are through "MICE." That is (money, ideology, COMPROMISE, and ego).

"Compromise" refers to who your potential targets are sleeping with. That is, one way of recruiting spies is by threatening to "out" their love affairs, particularly if embarrassing or illicit. To find people with such vulnerabilities is an art in itself.

Of course, intelligence agents who are adept at spying on OTHER people's lovers are sometimes quite good at spying on their own. That's what the article may have been referring to.

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