The CIA are ending a program that previously allowed Scientists to access climate change data the CIA had sourced via surveillance satellites and other top secret sources.
The agency are closing its Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis (MEDEA) program that allowed scientists to access classified data about climate change. The data included satellite observations, ocean temperatures, and tidal readings.
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The CIA began gathering climate data for global security purposes during the Cold War, when it tracked the effect of climate change on Soviet grain harvests. According to one document mentioning MEDEA on the CIA website, the program was created in the early 1990s, in part through the efforts of then-U.S. Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.), as part of an effort to share intelligence related to environmental problems. It included about 60 scientists with security clearances. The researchers found, among other things, that “found that historical imagery from our early satellite systems could provide a more accurate picture of climate change over time.”
In a 1996 speech, then-CIA director John Deutch said that MEDEA ”will give scientists an ongoing record of changes in the earth that will improve their understanding of environmental processes. More importantly, it will greatly enhance their ability to provide strategic warning of potentially catastrophic threats to the health and welfare of our citizens.”
In the early 2000s, MEDEA was shut down by President George W. Bush, who initially took the position, contrary to the great majority of climate scientists, that it was unclear whether human activity was driving global warming. (He eventually changed his view.) The program was revived in 2010 by Obama.
The New York Times reported in 2010 that the shared CIA data reportedly included a trove of images of Arctic sea ice, which enabled scientists to distinguish summer melts from longer-term climate trends.
University of Washington scientist Norbert Untersteiner, one of the scientists given access to the CIA’s climate data, told The New York Times that the intelligence data was “really useful.”
Though Republicans in Congress for long have criticized the use of intelligence resources to study climate change, the reasons for shuttling down MEDEA remain murky.
CIA spokesman Ryan Whaylen told National Journal that “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.”
The Guardian reported in February that CIA intelligence gathering efforts on climate change may also have had another purpose, one even more immediately related to national security. Rutgers University climate scientist Alan Robock told that newspaper that he had received a phone call in 2012 from two men who claimed to be CIA consultants, who wanted to know if it was possible to detect the use of weather-modification weaponry by other nations.