At the heart of most colonial states lay a contradiction. On the one hand, colonial state institutions defined themselves in opposition to indigenous networks of power associated with the pre-colonial period, whether based on ethnicity, tribal kinship or religious affiliation. On the other hand, few colonial states had sufficient bureaucratic substance to operate separately of indigenous society. This paper suggests that a more catholic vision of the parameters and purpose of state intelligence gathering may aid our understanding of how colonial states endured. These intelligence activities were multifaceted. They were designed, on the one hand, to provide sufficient information about local social organization to enable government to function. On the other hand, intelligence gatherers were also intelligence disseminators. Those same agencies of the colonial state that amassed information about indigenous populations also sought to control the movement of knowledge within local society in order to mould popular opinion, or, at the very least, shape the views of influential elites. Only then could local authorities set about influencing these differing forums of opinion to European advantage. In this sense, the paper argues, colonial states were ‘intelligence states’.