CIA’s unit on climate change faces uncertain future
The future of the CIA’s unit on climate change and U.S. national security is “in jeopardy” because of pressure for intelligence budget cuts and resistance from conservative lawmakers, a new report says.
The CIA’s Center on Climate Change and National Security opened its doors a year ago over the objections of conservatives who attempted to block its funding, Northwestern University's National Security Reporting Project recounted Monday.
“Now, with calls for belt tightening coming from every corner, leadership in Congress has made it clear that the intelligence budget, which soared to $80.1 billion last year, will have to be cut,” wrote student reporters Charles Mead and Annie Snider. “And after sweeping victories by conservatives in the midterm elections, many political insiders think the community’s climate change work will be in jeopardy.”
The new Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, “will review it for its effectiveness and contribution to national security,” his spokesman told SpyTalk.
Likewise, a spokeswoman for a senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, indicated the center could go on the chopping block.
"Congress is going to have to explore all options when it comes to cutting spending and reducing the deficit," said Bronwyn Lance-Chester, the senator's communications director. Chambliss voted against the center's funding in 2009.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who still chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, supports the unit as much now, an aide said, as she did in 2009, when its funding was under assault.
“The Center on Climate Change and National Security that the CIA recently established,” Feinstein said in October 2009, "is fully consistent with the intelligence community's mission of protecting the United States.”
Republicans have been chipping away at U.S. intelligence involvement in climate change research since the 1990s.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who sponsored the amendment to kill the unit’s funding for fiscal year 2010 -- it failed, 38-60, with two not voting -- thinks the spy agency has no time for studying long-term threats like rising oceans.
"Spying on sea lions," he called it.
"We have threats from around the world. The most immediate of these threats is the prevention of future terrorist attacks on the United States' soil. I do not believe that creating a center on climate change is going to prevent one terrorist attack," Barrasso said.
But rising oceans threaten the future of some 30 U.S. coastal military bases, the Pentagon's 2010 Quadrennial Review found.
“Back in the 1990s, the CIA opened an environmental center, swapped satellite imagery with Russia and cleared U.S. scientists to access classified information,” Medill reported. “But when the Bush administration took power, the center was absorbed by another office and work related to the climate was broadly neglected.”
At the same time, reports by senior retired military officers and the National Intelligence Council, respectively, were linking climate change to national security.
In 2009, President Obama’s CIA director, Leon J. Panetta, opened the new center’s doors.
But the true mobilization of U.S. intelligence to prepare the nation for dramatic climate change is far off, says Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former senior CIA official who led the Department of Energy’s intelligence unit from 2005 to 2008. The intelligence agencies have a hard time understanding a project that doesn't involve stealing secrets.
“I consider what the U.S. government is doing on climate change to be lip service,” Mowatt-Larssen, now at Harvard, told the Medill reporters. “It’s not serious.”
The Medill National Security Reporting Project is a three-year project, launched in 2010, of Northwestern University. The Post recently published one of the project's stories on a freelance basis.
| January 11, 2011; 6:12 PM ET
Categories: Congress, Financial/business, Intelligence, Politics | Tags: CIA, Leon J. Panetta, Rep. Mike Rogers, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. John Barrasso, Sen. Saxby Chambliss
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