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Posted at 6:12 PM ET, 01/11/2011

CIA’s unit on climate change faces uncertain future

By Jeff Stein

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.

By Jeff Stein  | 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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Posted by: sdinc1 | January 11, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

"...rising oceans threaten the future of some 30 U.S. coastal military bases, the Pentagon's 2010 Quadrennial Review found."

The Pentagon has acknowledged anthropogenic climate change for years. Republicans usually hang on every word from the uniformed military, treating it as gospel. But in this case, they dismiss it as inconvenient.

Climate change is going to lead to global food shortages and deadly disputes over water, most notably between Pakistan and India. Wars are inevitable and it would be nice to see them coming.

What threats do the Republicans plan to work on instead? Predicting the date of their Rapture?

Posted by: Bud0 | January 12, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I have seen DOD documents that contain introductory statements such as “This report contains an assessment of the security implications that might accrue if global warming proceeds as the IPCC predicts”. I have never seen a DOD document that accepts the IPCC position as truth. If you have seen such a document, please provide a link to it.

The revelations of Climate Gate have had a significant deleterious impact on the trust that mainstream scientists have in the accuracy and precision of the IPCC temperature data base. The absence of a tropospheric hot spot demonstrates that the IPCC climate models do not accurately mimic the behavior of the Earth’s climate system. The lack of accumulating heat in either the atmosphere or the upper 2,000 feet of the ocean in the face of continuously increasing carbon dioxide concentrations shows that the models lack at least mechanism by which our climate system rejects heat to the cosmos.

In short, the hypothesis that carbon dioxide causes significant climate warming has failed; real science would heavily modify or reject the hypothesis.

Posted by: snorbertzangox | January 13, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Once again, Congress borders on the edge of being "worthy of contempt." My congresssman belives that climate change (hard to call it global warming with all the snow) is a religious issue. What an idiot (re-elected by people who are idiots like him).
Climate change is one of those long-range issues that will roil the world, starting off with places like Bangladesh and Florida and Louisiana, where a huge hill is 20 meters high. If you are an ostrich putting your head in the sand (as our right wing nuts in Congress seem to do) look at Australia -- you are apt to be drowned in water while trying to hide from reality.
For once, the CIA or whatever has it right. Watch the water rise. You can argue about why, but it is happening. What could be smarter than to look and see how that is going to affect us, and the stability of international life. People do not just voluntarily drown, they will fight to obtain higher ground. And those on the hills will fight back. Just might be nice to know about that before it happens.
It is not necessary to beat your breast and feel guilty about climate change. The mideaval warm period took place well before humans had the capacity to affect the climate. It does seem to come in 500 year cycles, and this is the decade or so for change.
Basic point: It is really stupid to deny the obvious around you. Matters not why, but it will cause change internationally. Might be a good idea to be on top of that rather than, once again, be caught by surprise.

Posted by: DCNative41 | January 14, 2011 2:44 AM | Report abuse

green spies at work doing quack/junk science,..

Posted by: Rockvillers | January 18, 2011 9:05 PM | Report abuse

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