CIA Drops Climate Research Program Because Polar Bears Make Lousy Spies

Polar bears check out the USS Honolulu near the North Pole

In what may be yet another victory for the Republican War on Science, the CIA is shutting down a climate research project that shared classified data with scientists with the goal of studying links between climate change and national security. The move came shortly after President Obama devoted his commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to arguing that climate change presents serious threats to U.S. security, what with population shifts, coastal flooding, disruptions to agriculture, and the like. You know, a lot of arrogant stuff about science having effects in the real world.

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The program -- with the cute mythos-invoking acronym "Medea" for "Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis" -- did some pretty cool work that allowed scientists access to more detailed data than they might normally be able to get their hands on, as explained by Tim McDonnell at Mother Jones. Under Medea:

[The] CIA had allowed civilian scientists to access classified data -- such as ocean temperature and tidal readings gathered by Navy submarines and topography data collected by spy satellites -- in an effort to glean insights about how global warming could create security threats around the world. In theory, the program benefited both sides: Scientists could study environmental data that was much higher-resolution than they would normally have access to, and the CIA received research insights about climate-related threats.

A CIA statement to Mother Jones suggested that the program had simply run its course and done all the analysis that it needed, according to an unnamed CIA spokesspook:

"Under the Medea program to examine the implications of climate change, CIA participated in various projects ... These projects have been completed and CIA will employ these research results and engage external experts as it continues to evaluate the national security implications of climate change.

It's not entirely clear whether Medea was actually finished with all the climate data in the world, which seems unlikely, or if it was knocked off by Republican budget dickery. If nothing else, the CIA certainly could see that the current Congress is not big on funding anything related to climate, as budgets for the National Science Foundation and NASA have already been cleansed of funding for climate research.

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The CIA, like the Defense Department, has long recognized the national security implications of climate change, but funding for actually studying those connections have come and gone with political administrations. Medea got its start in the George H.W. Bush administration, back when it was still possible for Republicans to say climate change was real, and continued under the Clinton administration, but then it was killed under George W. Bush. President Obama brought Medea back in 2010, and the CIA regularly discusses climate in its annual Worldwide Threat Assessments; the Pentagon and CIA see climate as a "threat multiplier" that can exacerbate existing international tensions; for instance, the conflict in Syria is almost certainly made worse by drought and famine.

On the other hand, you have science-heads like Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who in 2010 offered this careful analysis of the relative importance of climate research in assessing global security: “[The CIA] should be focused on monitoring terrorists in caves, not polar bears on icebergs.” So suck it, science.

The CIA spokesenigma who briefed Mother Jones on the closure of Medea declined to respond to questions about whether scientists would continue to have access to high-quality classified data related to climate; perhaps as the Republican Luddite Jihad continues among Republicans, climate scientists will still be able to get the data, but will have to pick it up from shadowy operatives in DC parking garages. We'll keep an eye out on InfoWars for the latest on that.

[Mother Jones / Defense One / HuffPo / Mother Jones again/ Image: US Navy Photo By Chief Yeoman Alphonso Braggs]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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