The CIA, Climate Change, and Congress

Like James’s post, I am interested in the interplay between the Legislature and science. One of the more obscure and bizarre parts of the federal bureaucracy closed its doors last week. The Central Intelligence Agency shuttered its Center on Climate Chance and National Security, which began in 2009 to monitor “the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.” Republican lawmakers had been harshly critical from the start, criticizing the Center as an unnecessary aside from the CIA’s primary mission. The Center’s importance was especially doubtful because it only compiled and analyzed studies from other agencies, rather than conducting independent research.

Even so, the threats climate change pose to national security are actually (and perhaps surprisingly) real. The National Academies of Science recently released a report identifying potential trouble spots. For instance, the study predicted conflict could ensue over dwindling water in the Nile River Valley, fronted by 300 million people in Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The Defense Department has likewise begun retrofitting its equipment to cope with future fuel shortages.

The CIA’s Center was an easy target for legislators trimming the federal budget, but it emphasizes the surprising potential for scientific shifts to steer foreign policy. The Center on Climate Change was easily construed as unnecessary and redundant because it only analyzed studies rather than conducting independent research. Yet at least in this area, there are apparently ample scientific studies but scant policy analysis on the consequences for foreign policy. Lawmakers might be better served by encouraging further analysis of existing research, rather than prizing independent research above all else. So too from our perspective, there is ample scientific research on my paper topic, but there had been surprisingly little legal analysis.


1 thought on “The CIA, Climate Change, and Congress

  1. When the CIA is mentioned along with climate change, it makes me think of Spy v. Spy. How can spies effect climate change. This post reminds us that the CIA is an information gathering agency. I can now get the image of a small, triangular faced cartoon (holding a giant magnifying glass to the sun) out of my head.

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