Much to the chagrin of a certain Wyoming Senator, the Central Intelligence Agency is poised to fight terrorism and spy on sea lions (Sen. John Barrasso once quipped the CIA should stick to the former occupation). The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests [The New York Times].
The program will have little impact on the CIA’s normal intelligence gathering, say those involved, and will only release data already in hand or data gathered during satellite down time. The images will even have their sharpness decreased in order to maintain some secrecy about the satellites’ true capabilities.
60 scientists, all with security clearances, will oversee the scientific aspects of the project, like analyzing detailed images of the polar ice caps. Of course, not everyone in Washington is on board with the collaboration, and as the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day reminded the public of the terrorist threat, the critics are likely to get louder. However, a report from the National Academy of Sciences, which advises the federal government, calls the satellite data essential, saying “there are no other data available that show the melting and freezing processes” [Popular Science]. The program actually began under former President Clinton, but was canceled by former President Bush. Clinton’s vice president Al Gore has been lobbying to restart the program since 2008.
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Image: NASA Earth Observatory