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A number of defense experts view climate change as a “threat multiplier” that can exacerbate such crises as terrorism and infectious disease, and a number of US intelligence agencies collect classified data on factors that affect climate.
Such data is often of much higher quality than what civilian scientists can gather, and the CIA had a program called Medea (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) that offered access to this information to a select group of climate scientists who had the appropriate security clearances.
However, national security experts recently learned that the CIA is stopping this program. Some argue that the CIA already analyzes a large volume of data and is more action-oriented. Others point to the value of access to such things as topography data collected by spy satellites and ocean tidal and temperature readings provided by Navy submarines.
This announcement comes in the wake of Obama’s designation of climate change as “an immediate risk to our national security.” For instance, some experts argue that low levels of rainfall have made the Syrian crisis much more volatile than it might otherwise have been. Changes in climate that disrupt food production have the potential to greatly increase the level of conflict throughout the world.
The program had drawn heavy fire from some members of Congress who dispute the significance of climate change. A CIA spokesperson said that the agency will continue to employ the research results from the Medea program and engage external experts as it evaluates the national security implications of climate change.
Medea originated during the George H. W. Bush administration in 1992, although it was shut down during George W. Bush’s term. Obama relaunched the program in 2010, so that civilian scientists could track environmental changes with potential implications for national security.