CIA Tackles Climate Change and Its Risk to National Security

Last Updated Sep 29, 2009 7:06 PM EDT

The Central Intelligence Agency -- the country's first line of defense -- will add rising sea levels, desertification and population shifts caused by climate change as one more potential threat to national security.

The CIA announced recently it will open the Center on Climate Change and National Security, a small unit led by senior specialists from its directorates of intelligence, and science and technology.

The agency has no plans to tackle the science behind climate change. Instead it will look at the national security impact from "phenomena such as desertification." In short, it will use its intelligence data to examine the effect environmental factors can have on the political, economic and social stability in other countries and the potential security risk to the U.S.

"Decision makers need information and analysis on the effects climate change can have on security, " CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a statement. " The CIA is well positioned to deliver that intelligence."

Climate change as a national security issue is nothing new.

BNET Energy recently wrote about Partnership for a Secure America, a bipartisan group of former Congressmen and U.S. foreign policy leaders pushing climate change as a national security issue. The group launched an ad campaign earlier this month calling for the U.S. to lead the charge to combat climate change by crafting a bipartisan plan to help avoid humanitarian disasters and political instability that could threaten the security of the nation and its allies.

The CIA, of course, is a government agency, so the implications here are a bit different. The intelligence agency is in the business of collecting and providing information and analysis to the president and other decisionmakers. The purpose in all of this is to protect the country and its interests, whatever those may be.

That being said, this is not a new role for the CIA, according to its press release. It already helps policymakers as they negotiate, implement and verify international agreements on environmental issues, according to the agency.

CIA staff at the center are taking a more active role, however. The center will review and declassify images and other data that could be useful to scientists in their own climate-related research. It also will be aggressive in outreach to academics and think tanks working the issue.

Which means scientists may receive a lot more data -- hopefully useful -- in their study of climate change.