Republican deficit demagoguery and aversion to supporting the climate science enterprise may jeopardize the future of the CIA Center on Climate Change and National Security, a small unit launched in 2009 with a directive to advise the federal government on the national security implications of climate change.
The history of the intelligence community’s foray into environmental surveillance has been a rocky one. A major effort initiated in the 90s was subsequently shut down by the Bush administration, only to be resurrected under President Obama. The CIA Center on Climate Change and National Security has a directive both to provide the federal government with climate analysis and declassify as appropriate satellite data that may assist scientists in climate-related research.
Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), who unsuccessfully tried to block funding for the Center in 2009, has promised to renew his attempts to de-fund the program. Entirely sidestepping the nuances of the program, Barrasso declared that the CIA should focus its resources on stopping terrorists, not “spying on sea lions” (Climatewire 1/14/11, subs. required). This is the type of short-sighted discourse Barrasso brings to the Senate as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources, Environment and Public Works, and Foreign Relations committees. Billing himself as “the Doctor” with a cure for the “onslaught” of EPA regulations, the Senator also plans to introduce legislation that would block implementation of EPA climate rules.
The MEDEA program (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis), created in 1992 to advise the government on environmental surveillance, was subsequently shut down by the Bush Administration. Under the Obama administration, the intelligence community resurrected its environmental and global change monitoring capabilities with the CIA Center on Climate Change and National Security, and has declassified thousands of MEDEA images for use by scientists in climate-related research. MEDEA capabilities will be supported by the Center going forward.
Climate Science Watch attended a January 13 briefing at the Pew Project on National Security, Energy & Climate in Washington, DC on the Center. An analyst involved with the CIA program said that the Center will provide the U.S. government with national security insights in assessing the threats and opportunities of longer term climate change impacts.
A recent article, “Our man in the greenhouse: why the CIA is spying on a changing climate” quotes Dr. Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and a veteran of the MEDEA program, on what’s at stake:
If some future president calls up the secretary of state or the director of Central Intelligence, and says, ‘Gee, I have this draft treaty on my desk, should I sign it? Can we verify it?’ and one of them were to say to the president, ‘Gee, we never thought of that’—that’s not an acceptable answer.
The Cancun Agreements, the most recent product of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, set the groundwork for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of mitigation efforts agreed to in future global climate treaties. One function of the Center is to help shape how the intelligence community will monitor the terms of future climate agreements, in addition to providing analysis for U.S. climate negotiators.
The Center established a classified website with climate change analysis available to the U.S. government, and is seeking to directly support the Departments of Defense and State to aid adaptation strategy.
While the U.S. should be moving ahead with climate science research and monitoring capabilities that will support mitigation and adaptation efforts, we're dealing with a concerted effort to put the entire climate science and policy enterprise on the defense. While the rest of the world waits for us to lead, we're facing continual stumbling blocks that have little to do with strategic interest in proactive intelligence monitoring or concern for deficit spending and much more to do with political posturing. These endless smokescreens in both the Senate and the House contribute to the U.S.'s difficulty in getting our act together and stepping up to our responsibilities in the international community.