Last year, Thomas Fingar, then the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, warned that climate change is among the gravest threats to U.S. national security (see here).  This year, John Warner, the former (GOP) chair of the Senate Armed Services committee has been repeating the same warning to anyone who would listen (see here).

But some Senate conservatives are deaf to the facts, as E&E News (subs. req’d) reports.

The Senate may vote tomorrow on whether to block funds for a new Central Intelligence Agency program to assess the national security implications of climate change.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is offering an amendment to the fiscal 2010 defense spending bill that would bar funding for the Center on Climate Change and National Security launched last month.

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The center will examine the national security impact of changes such as desertification, rising sea levels and greater competition for natural resources.

Here is Barrasso’s justification, which is intentionally mocking and unintentionally self-mocking [from E&E News (subs. req’d)]:

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“We have threats from around the world. The most immediate of these threats is the prevention of future terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. I do not believe that creating a Center on Climate Change is going to prevent one terrorist attack,” Barrasso said yesterday.

“Will someone sitting in a dark room watching satellite video of northern Afghanistan now be sitting in a dark room watching polar ice caps?” he said.

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First off, is Barrasso really saying that the entire mission of the Central intelligence Agency is preventing terrorist attacks? Although he sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, he apparently has no conception of what the CIA does.  He strikes me as one of those guys who in the 1990s probably wanted to block the CIA from looking into terrorism, since that was not going to prevent one communist attack on us.

Second, although he sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee, he apparently missed all the hearings about climate impacts and how they pose a major national security threat to us — and yes, will help create conditions that foster terrorism.  In fact, an unusually savvy new intelligence forecast reported last year should have served as a wake-up call for the largely clueless Establishment:


He [Fingar] said U.S. intelligence agencies accepted the consensual scientific view of global warming, including the conclusion that it is too late to avert significant disruption over the next two decades. The conclusions are in line with an intelligence assessment produced this summer that characterized global warming as a serious security threat for the coming decades.

Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world.

So by all means, let’s ban the CIA from pursuing this issue, even in the most modest way:

The CIA, in announcing the center Sept. 25, called it a “small unit” led by senior specialists from the agency’s Directorate of Intelligence and the Directorate of Science and Technology.

Its mission does not include climate science. Instead, the agency said it would review the national security impact of changes such as desertification, rising sea levels and greater competition for natural resources. The information it provides will help policymakers craft, implement and verify international environmental agreements, it said.

Its work will also include reviewing and declassifying images and data that could help scientists in their climate research, the CIA said. “This effort draws on imagery and other information that is collected in any event, assisting the U.S. scientific community without a large commitment of resources,” the agency summary of the new unit says.

Fortunately, not everyone in the Senate has a flatlining EEG.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, urged colleagues to oppose Barrasso’s amendment and called the new CIA center “entirely appropriate.” She said it can bolster the agency’s valuable role in declassifying imagery that is important to climate change scientists, among other benefits.

Feinstein said it would play a valuable role in ensuring the integrity of an international climate agreement. “It will help the administration design verification regimes for any climate change treaties so policymakers can negotiate from a position of strength. This is, in fact, a traditional role for the intelligence community on a wide range of foreign policy issues,” she said on the floor yesterday.

Feinstein also called the CIA’s work in analyzing the security risks of climate change important, stating that the intelligence community is well-positioned for this and that the CIA’s contacts in the academic and think tank worlds will pay “big dividends.”


Let me end with more from last year’s Fingar story:

An intelligence forecast being prepared for the next president on future global risks envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades, as the world is reshaped by globalization, battered by climate change, and destabilized by regional upheavals over shortages of food, water and energy.

The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority — military power — will “be the least significant” asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because “nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force.”

And yet the federal government spends more than $500 billion a year on military security, and maybe one percent of that on climate or energy security. Fingar is a remarkably broad thinking guy, which may well be why he was our top intelligence analyst. He has the kind of reality-based alarmism that inevitably comes from the genuine understanding of the facts of global warming:

The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest.

Always glad to see somebody serious understands what is coming (see “NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe“).

Let’s hope some sanity prevails in the Senate.  We cannot afford to embrace the conservative policy of unilaterally disarming in the face of this gravest of threats.

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