- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Obama administration has restarted a controversial intelligence program designed to monitor the purported effects of global warming. According to the New York Times, the program operated throughout the Clinton years but was suspended by the George W. Bush administration. It has been restarted recently with backing from senior Obama administration officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta. Little is known publicly about the program, called MEDEA (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis). However, the New York Times portrays it as innocuous.

In an article earlier this month, the Old Grey Lady’s readers were assured that the program “has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering,” as it will re-purpose existing “secret information” (mainly satellite photos of the Earth’s poles) or make use of underused resources. This information is supposed to help scientists monitor, for example, icebergs floating far away from human reach so they can gauge the impact of climate change. Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and also a member of MEDEA, was quoted as saying the program is “basically free.”

But of course, nothing is truly free. The CIA will have to spend at least some time monitoring the MEDEA program and assisting the scientists involved. This incurs, at a minimum, an opportunity cost. That time could be spent doing something else, such as tracking our terrorist enemies. And if the past few months have taught us anything, it is that the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), consisting of the CIA and 15 other government agencies, still has a difficult time fulfilling this core mission.

In fact, news of MEDEA’s rebirth comes at an especially inauspicious time. First, on Nov. 5, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 Americans and wounded dozens more in a jihadist shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. Federal authorities missed many warning signs before the attack, including Maj. Hasan’s e-mails back and forth with a known al Qaeda cleric named Anwar al-Awlaki.

Another intelligence failure culminated on Dec. 25, when would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutullab almost blew up a Detroit-bound airliner. Only a faulty detonator and vigilant passengers saved Northwest Airlines Flight 253. There had been, again, multiple intelligence warnings about Mr. Abdulmutullab, but the dots had never been connected. Incredibly, Anwar al-Awlaki once again played a role. Mr. Abdulmutullab reportedly has confessed to U.S. officials that the al Qaeda cleric “blessed” his operation.

Then, on Dec. 30, an al Qaeda double agent named Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi walked into a forward operating base used by the CIA in Afghanistan. The CIA thought al-Balawi was going to deliver intelligence that would lead the agency to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, and other senior terrorists. Instead, al-Balawi delivered a bomb. Eight people were killed by the explosion.

Just a few days after that bombing, the U.S. military published a scathing review of the intelligence efforts in Afghanistan. “[B]ecause the U.S. has focused the overwhelming majority of collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups,” the military authors wrote, the IC “still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate … and the people they are trying to protect and persuade.”

Simply put, our intelligence agencies are flying blind in many ways. Now is not the time for mission creep.

Proponents of the MEDEA program will tell you that the theory of anthropogenic global warming (or “climate change”) has important ramifications for the future security of our country. They claim, for example, that climate change will force mass migrations and intensify global competition for resources. Therefore, they say, we need to devote adequate resources to understanding this phenomenon now.

However, there is no way they could know this, and they easily could be wrong. In fact, their dire predictions are based almost entirely on highly complex computer models that often deviate from reality in their forecasts.

Moreover, there is a very real risk that programs like MEDEA may lead to the further politicization of intelligence. As the Times reported, former Vice President Al Gore first proposed restarting MEDEA in 2008. Mr. Gore is not known for his sober analysis; he is an evangelist with his own political agenda. E-mails leaked in November from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, a major center for global-warming research, underscore the degree to which this has become a political and even quasi-religious cause.

Yes, American intelligence agencies should be on constant lookout for new threats to American security, but that sprawling bureaucracy has enough problems keeping track of real, tangible threats emanating from rogue nation states and global terror networks. If the U.S. government wants to keep tabs on anthropogenic global warming, as perhaps it should, it is best to leave the science to the scientists.

The CIA and other agencies responsible for defending America have more pressing problems.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at theFoundation for Defense of Democracies and senior editor of the Long War Journal.

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