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CIA Teams Up With Scientists To Monitor Climate 417

Posted by kdawson
from the with-my-little-eye dept.
MikeChino writes "The CIA has just joined up with climate researchers to re-launch a data-sharing initiative that will use spy satellites and other CIA asets to help scientists figure out what climate change is doing to cloud cover, forests, deserts, and more. The collaboration is an extension of the Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis program, which President Bush canceled in 2001, and it will use reconnaissance satellites to track ice floes moving through the Arctic basin, creating data that could be used for ice forecasts." Even though the program is "basically free" in terms of CIA involvement, the Times notes: "Controversy has often dogged the use of federal intelligence gear for environmental monitoring. In October, days after the CIA opened a small unit to assess the security implications of climate change, Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, 'not spying on sea lions.'"
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CIA Teams Up With Scientists To Monitor Climate

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  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @06:55PM (#30662138)

    Well, considering that anthropogenic climate change is probably a bigger threat in the long run than terrorism it's good that the CIA is helping.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:07PM (#30662288) Homepage

      Yeah, I have to say I'm surprised anyone would object to CIA involvement. I think it's very important we keep a watch on the climate. After all, the climate has been acting pretty suspicious lately, and has been looking, dare I say it, more swarthy. Plus, I heard that the climate was recently spotted in Yemen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a resident of Wyoming, Barrasso's stance doesn't surprise me one bit.
      Wyoming is heavily dependent on it's energy resources industry. Coal, natural gas, oil. We've got enough oil locked in the green river shale oil deposit to meet the nation's appetite for the next 194 years (at current usage), but getting to it is going to take a lot of time and research, and if public opinion shifts too far away from oil then no one will invest enough to make it a reality.

      • As a resident of Wyoming, Barrasso's stance doesn't surprise me one bit.
        Wyoming is heavily dependent on it's energy resources industry. Coal, natural gas, oil. We've got enough oil locked in the green river shale oil deposit to meet the nation's appetite for the next 194 years (at current usage), but getting to it is going to take a lot of time and research, and if public opinion shifts too far away from oil then no one will invest enough to make it a reality.

        The issue I take with that approach is that there seems there should be a point when a person or group of people should drop their self-interest and think about everyone, or in the AGW case, everything else.

        Before someone tries to troll me, i've already showered. I'd rather be a hippie than an irrational layman.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by khallow (566160)

          The issue I take with that approach is that there seems there should be a point when a person or group of people should drop their self-interest and think about everyone, or in the AGW case, everything else.

          You're making the unwarranted assumption that doing something to prevent AGW is more beneficial to everyone and everything than not doing so. That has not been established.

          • The issue I take with that approach is that there seems there should be a point when a person or group of people should drop their self-interest and think about everyone, or in the AGW case, everything else.

            You're making the unwarranted assumption that doing something to prevent AGW is more beneficial to everyone and everything than not doing so. That has not been established.

            The dangerous outcomes of AGW are well scientifically founded. The results are far more reaching and serious than a state missing some revenue from sourcing its fossil fuels.

            Let me guess... you don't believe those facts... That's your own doing. I bet you don't doubt anything else from scientific research that has made your life MORE convenient.

            There is a big difference between Truth(whats happening) and what you want. I have this talk with my daughter all the time. Sometimes it isn't how you want it.

        • by mosb1000 (710161)
          "there should be a point when a person or group of people should drop their self-interest and think about everyone"

          LOL

          Is this the first news article you've read about congress, or the US government?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rockoon (1252108)
      Please tell us about this warming threat.

      Remember that you implied some sort of danger, so you cannot possibly be talking about sea level rise: IPCC gives lowball of 19cm and highball of 59cm over 100 years, or between 0.19cm/year and 0.59cm/years. Might happen, but its not a threat to human life. Just walk away, folks.

      Maybe you are talking about drought? No, rainfall will increase if it gets significantly warmer.

      Heat stroke? OK maybe, but offset by less hypothermia.

      So tell us, what THREATS are ther
      • Maybe you are talking about drought? No, rainfall will increase if it gets significantly warmer.

        You are under the impression that warming affects the various parts of the globe in the same way and this is distinctly not the case.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rockoon (1252108)
          I didnt imply any such thing, and the fact that changes at location X will be different than at location Y does not support the notion of a "threat" on par or greater than terrorism. The movie The Day After Tomorrow was fiction, folks. People wont be running for their lives away from gradual warming.
          • does not support the notion of a "threat" on par or greater than terrorism.

            Funny you mention terrorism as more people have died from Fireworks accidents than terror attacks. 9/11 was about 6 months worth of drowning accidents in the US.

            The movie The Day After Tomorrow was fiction, folks.

            Indeed. You won't find many climate scientists that weren't completely pissed off about that dreadful movie.

            People wont be running for their lives away from gradual warming.

            Recipe for frog soup. Of course if you're l

            • by Rockoon (1252108)

              Funny you mention terrorism as more people have died from Fireworks accidents than terror attacks.

              I mentioned terrorism because the person I originally replied to compared global warming with terrorism, and implied that Global Warming its a greater threat to life (and thats presumably specifically American lives)

              • and implied that Global Warming its a greater threat to life

                Well that is because it probably is. Terrorism is such a tiny nigh insignificant threat to the average westerner that a single extra hurricane due t AGW would be responsible for more loss of life. Just one.

      • by vadim_t (324782)

        So tell us, what THREATS are there that are comparable to terrorists?

        Well, Katrina seems to have caused quite a bit more material damage in New Orleans than what happened on 9/11, and killed quite a few people too.

        From a look at the wikipedia page, it seems levee construction was started about 40 years ago, and still not fully done at the time of the disaster, and technical problems were known for at least 20 years or so. So I wouldn't put that much faith into everybody just building a higher wall.

        Also, eve

        • by Rockoon (1252108)
          Weather is not Climate, and a warmer world means less Katrina's due to increased wind shear. [sciencedaily.com]
          • To quote from your link:

            However, the study does identify other regions, such as the western tropical Pacific, where global warming does cause the environment to become more favorable for hurricanes.

            So yes, less hurricanes hitting the US, but more hurricanes likely aimed at the Phillipines, China, Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia. Not exactly lowly populated areas.

      • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:46PM (#30662746) Homepage

        Remember that you implied some sort of danger, so you cannot possibly be talking about sea level rise: IPCC gives lowball of 19cm and highball of 59cm over 100 years, or between 0.19cm/year and 0.59cm/years. Might happen, but its not a threat to human life. Just walk away, folks.

        The next IPCC report will almost certainly have a higher forecast, as the research that's come out since then has shown those numbers to be significant underestimates. Expect a median forecast of about 1m in the next report. And the rate speeds up over time; the equilibrium rise for a 2C warming, historically, appears to be 6-9 meters.

        Maybe you are talking about drought? No, rainfall will increase if it gets significantly warmer.

        Both flooding *and* drought are forecast to increase (on average) in a warming world. Which you're likely to get depends on where you are; some regions will get both. Yes, you're absolutely right that warmer SSTs = more precipitation. But warmer surface temperatures also mean faster evaporation (dessication of soil, plants, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, etc). It also means less snow pack, meaning river flows will vary more dramatically between seasons (ice keeps many important rivers from drying out during the summer).

        Heat stroke? OK maybe, but offset by less hypothermia.

        Heat stroke, hypothermia, drought, and sea level rise -- that's all you've got? How about greater range for malaria and dengue-fever carrying mosquitoes? The spread of pine bark beetles? The loss of almost all of the world's coral? The loss of keystone species of calcium carbonate-shelled microorganisms? The complete loss of habitat for arctic sea ice-dependent species? Increased risk of extinction for 20-30% of species studied? More rapid intensification of hurricanes (i.e., less warning)? Increased risk of wildfire? Increased growth of ragweed? Increased spread in seaborne pathogens like V. parahaemolyticus? Increasing risk of drought and flood causing more crop failures (and the consequences of that)? Radical changes in ecosystems, including thousands of species of plants and animals already found by studies to be migrating poleward? Seriously, I could spend all day on this.

        It's not that a warmer climate is somehow a "worse" climate; it's a climate that neither life on this planet nor the way we've laid out our non-mobile infrastructure is adapted to.

        Humans will adapt, esp. us in the first world who have the resources for it. But this will come at the cost of economic growth; we'll be spending our resources to break even (for a random example, to get water to the increasingly-dry and already water-unsustainable desert southwest). Humans in poorer regions will have a harder time of it, and non-human species will suffer the most. We're basically recreating the PETM [wikipedia.org].

      • by joocemann (1273720) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:51PM (#30662818)

        I have an alternative question.... how serious is the threat of terrorism?

        The chances of you dying from heart disease is way higher. The chances of you dying from eating a peanut is higher.

        But, I can throw around numbers and give ignorant analysis too.

        AGW will produce a 4 degree net increase (no source cited) --- but will yield a 15 degree local increase in the middle east. This will drive the terrists from their homes and they will have no choice but to end up on the freedomland. God bless it. And then since they will be here, the terrism goes up 100 fold! OH NOES!

        Also, the warm temperatures inspire Obama to relax enough to let it slip that he's a muslim... and then, not only that, but that he's a terrist! Then the hussein obama nukes us all!
        OH NOES!

        Go eat some peanuts.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rockoon (1252108)

          I have an alternative question.... how serious is the threat of terrorism?

          Eventually a radical group will get their hands on a nuke (either from a supporting nuclear power, or made in a basement somewhere), so you tell me.

    • by ArcherB (796902) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @10:24PM (#30664480) Journal

      Well, considering that anthropogenic climate change is probably a bigger threat in the long run than terrorism it's good that the CIA is helping.

      I know. Maybe the CIA can help spin... explain how anthropogenic global warming is causing the worldwide Arctic blasts right now that are causing the coldest winter in decades worldwide, I'm glad the CIA is getting involved to help push the political agenda along. Nothing says "increase government power" like a worldwide spy agency. I wonder if we can get the KGB's assistance.

      Funny how in the summer, it's anthropogenic global warming, but in the winter, it becomes anthropogenic climate change.

      Seriously, as long as the data is honestly looked it at and made public and not "influenced" by any political factors, I'm all for it. Otherwise, I don't like the idea of my tax dollars going to twist the facts in order to push political agenda.

  • I don't know but those sea lions might be planning a jihad attack. [bbc.co.uk]
  • by magsol (1406749) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @06:58PM (#30662184) Journal

    "...Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, 'not spying on sea lions.'"

    I sincerely doubt the CIA is going to put terrorism intelligence-gathering on the back burner in order to free up resources for this initiative. I also wouldn't be surprised if this Senator was one of the many who called for heads of the CRU scientists; and now he's quashing an attempt to make this research more transparent (not that there was really anything over which to call for the heads of the CRU scientists, unless you were part of a conspiracy circle).

    • by mobby_6kl (668092)

      >I sincerely doubt the CIA is going to put terrorism intelligence-gathering on the back burner in order to free up resources for this initiative.

      No, of course not. They'll just have some of the more prominent heret^Wunbelie^Wdeniers assassinated, set up a nuclear reactor in the arctic to melt a few glaciers, and then shoot down the weather satellites and replace them with their own birds. Once this is done, they'll go back to their usual routine of getting blown up by double agents, setting up death squa

    • I sincerely doubt the CIA is going to put terrorism intelligence-gathering on the back burner in order to free up resources for this initiative.).

      Since the 'spy' satellites are of course not in a geosynchronous orbit, they are often left unused for huge portions of their orbits as they move across uninteresting* parts of the surface.

      *to the intelligence community

  • ...just don't know when to shut their mouths. I'm pretty sure when the CIA needs their satellites they'll use their satellites. In the meantime, lets maximize our investment and use these things in their downtime for something useful.

  • What, so now freaking sea lions have more privacy rights than we do?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bragador (1036480)

      I wanted to mod you insightful instead of your current "Funny" status that you currently have.

      Instead of having these guys spread the fear of terrorism and spy on us, they actually get to help science.

      I can't believe people are angry over this.

    • What, so now freaking sea lions have more privacy rights than we do?

      CIA is not allowed to operate their imaging stuff over the US.

      Of course if the NSA already is sniffing your traffic, that probably isn't relevant. :)

    • by PPH (736903)

      Not just privacy. You try to chow down on endangered salmon the way they do with impunity and see how fast the game department Tasers your ass.

  • Straw Man (Score:2, Insightful)

    An unreasonable assertion with a lack of any pertinent information. Seems to me the Wyoming Republican expects you all to fall for his straw-man argument.

  • imaging issues (Score:2, Insightful)

    I can only assume -- or hope, that the data has been sanitized before release so that the image quality has been significantly degraded to not reveal the full capabilities of said satellites. The capabilities of those satellites are a closely-guarded national secret, and for good reason.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      The CIA is always protective of their secrecy, and they're being cooperative, so will obviously degrade the image quality, since you don't even need commercially available quality (0.5 meter) to measure ice flows. Plus exporting anything higher resolution (finer resolution technically) than that out of the country is illegal anyway.

      I would assume also that any images that show a feature that might indicate *when* the image was taken, such as an identifiable ship, would be held back as well. These guys do

    • by ksheff (2406)
      It would be trivial to run the image data through a program that would average an NxN block of pixels to reduce it to the resolution available from commercial/public sector sources. But what's the point? The satellites that are a part of NASA's Earth Observing System were built for the purpose of monitoring the planet. Not to mention that the light wavelengths that are sufficient for collecting intelligence data may or may not be that useful for generating land cover/sea surface classification maps. Als
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:04PM (#30662262) Journal

    Of course they would admit they aren't spying on sea lions. They are in fact spying on Penguins! I saw the Documentaries titled "Madagascar" and I know for a fact that Penguins are very elusive and deceptive creatures. We need to keep an eye on them at all costs, lest we fall into their trap for world domination.

    I'm glad they are keeping it undercover as a climate operation. The less we really know, the less the penguins know.

    • I saw the Documentaries titled "Madagascar" and I know for a fact that Penguins are very elusive and deceptive creatures. We need to keep an eye on them at all costs, lest we fall into their trap for world domination.

      We've actually started crowd-sourcing that operation to Nickelodean [nick.com]. It's a clever Government/Private Industry initiative.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:07PM (#30662292) Homepage Journal

    ... should add "Em" to the beginning of his last name. Either he's genuinely too stupid to understand how climate change is a national security issue, or he's grandstanding. I'm having a hard time deciding which. ("Both" is also a possible answer, of course.) I'm sure he was one of those who, during the Bush administration, thought anything the CIA did was just fine and dandy, since "Thou shalt not question the Executive Branch in Time of War(r)(tm)" was pretty much the Republican Eleventh Commandment until January 2009. How quickly things change.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      The biggest mistake we make about climate change is to think of it as a short term issue. Its not. You can't look at the climate over a year or a decade and make statements about global climate change.

      So yeah it is a security issue, but on the scale of the next 50 or 100 years. I don't think it is appropriate for the CIA to work on issues over that time scale.

      Having said that, the CIA apparently has remote sensing assets which can contribute to the long term picture of global climate. Using data from those

      • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:27PM (#30662520) Homepage

        There's also the issue that things just keep speeding up over time. For example, the Copenhagen's (failed) *goal* was to limit average global temperature rise to "only" 2 degrees celsius. Well, that'd mean "only" about 1 meter of sea level rise over the next hundred years. But the equilibrium sea level rise for a 2C temperature rise, historically, is 6-9 meters. It takes several hundred years for the planet to reach its sea level equilibrium, but we're talking about (among countless other things) 1/4 of the land mass of Florida going underwater. 1m is mostly just the everglades.

        • [...] but we're talking about (among countless other things) 1/4 of the land mass of Florida going underwater.

          You say that like it's a bad thing...

      • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:28PM (#30662536) Homepage Journal

        Countries worldwide are lining up to fight water wars; some current civil wars, such as Darfur, can be traced directly to scarcity of water. Canada is making territorial claims to the Northwest Passage which a number of other countries dispute -- nobody cared before the ice started melting, but now it's a different story. This is the reality right now, not in 50 or 100 years; how is keeping track of it not part of the CIA's job?

      • by metlin (258108)

        So yeah it is a security issue, but on the scale of the next 50 or 100 years. I don't think it is appropriate for the CIA to work on issues over that time scale.

        Why, of course. Long term thinking? Who needs that? I mean, it's not like long term thinking like agriculture helped anyone, right?

        And who needs enough data to look for patterns and all that good stuff? That involves brain cells. I forget that we're in a country where we think with our guts.

  • by Jawn98685 (687784) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:12PM (#30662350)
    ...in three, two, one..
    "Oh my god! The CIA is in cahoots with Al Gore to advance their socialist, commie, enviro-facist agenda!"
  • by soup_laser (616676) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:13PM (#30662368)
    tracking climatic effects should show industrial behavior. Tracking industrial behavior of foreign countries sounds like the business of the CIA to me.
    • I agree. Climate change, in general, has many socio-political effects...right up the CIA's alley. I'm not sure if this is still the case, but at one time they employed more economists than field agents.
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:18PM (#30662428)
    In some sense the climate change issue involves intelligence and security concerns because the purported effects of climate change could become the impetus for future wars, terrorism, and social instability. Should the CIA pour significant resources into this? Perhaps not, but some minimal level of observation and planning is probably a wise investment of agency resources against future potential problems. Nobody, least of all the CIA, likes to be caught flat footed when a crisis suddenly hits; especially if the crisis could have been managed with better early intelligence analysis, response planning, and warnings.
    • by jpmorgan (517966)

      What? No it shouldn't. What does the CIA have to offer climatology?

      The articles talk about satellite data, but satellite data is collected by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), not the CIA.

  • . . . how will we know if they have armed themselves with frickin' lasers?

    Intelligence has it that sharks are selling them.

    • No, no, no! You're falling into a trap. The sharks provided the documentation that the sea lions were getting frickin' lasers so we'd go take them out and then the sharks would end up with all the fish!

      Don't believe the shark propaganda!

  • Important to note (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @07:20PM (#30662452)

    That they aren't going to take a single new additional picture. This just allows the scientists to look at pictures after they have already been taken. This is getting an additional bang for our buck. We have already paid for these pictures, getting another use from them is a great thing.

  • not free (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ncohafmuta (577957)

    Even though the program is "basically free" in terms of CIA involvement

    nothing's free. man hours aren't free. somebody has to task those satellites. this isn't SkyNet.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      As far as I can tell, they're just going to share with scientists imagery that they're already taking, not offer to take photos on request.

  • One Phrase (Score:2, Insightful)

    One phrase comes to mind and that is "plausible deniability."

    CIA Dude: Hey, we're not intentionally spying on your country from our satellites. We're tracking migratory patterns of pigeons and their nests in and around your capitol buildings. Completely innocent, I assure you.
  • "The CIA ... on Ice"
  • Our great leaders (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @12:05AM (#30665420) Homepage Journal

    Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, 'not spying on sea lions.'"

    This guy was elected as a United States Senator.

    We are so fucked.

    I guess he doesn't realize that the all branches of the United States Military, well-known liberals that they are, have been taking the effects of global warming into their planning since at least 2001. So have many multinational corporations that are involved in the collection and distribution of natural resources. They are all working from the assumption that global warming is real and will have a measurable effect on their respective missions going forward. And brother, the Department of Defense has some heavy scientific talent working for them. They're not going to put their long-term success in the hands of some mechanical engineer from Hillsdale College who believes fossils were put there by God 6000 years ago to fool us all.

    Companies like Exxon and Archer Daniels Midland don't like to advertise the fact, but global climate change is part of their modeling, even as they hire people to gin up "research" to deny it. Fortunately for them, it's not very expensive to hire people to do denier research, drawing from the pool of people who can't rate jobs in real institutions. These corporations are doing their best to protect their short-term bottom line, so they don't want any environmental regulations in place, but their long-term bets are on global warming happening. They're not stupid enough to ignore the real scientists.

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