The CIA is restarting a mission squashed during the Bush administration’s early days: sharing satellite imagery of the Arctic ice cap with climate researchers. From 1992 to 2001, scientists involved with the Medea program (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis), spearheaded by former Vice President Al Gore, tried to see if any classified intelligence could be used for environmental analysis. Gore successfully convinced CIA head Robert Gates to begin the program. Now that Gates is back in a prominent political role as Secretary of Defense and Gore has successfully won Congress’ approval, the program is back in action. Still, the images have been slightly blurred to hide the actual capacities of the reconnaissance satellites. About 60 scientists have access to the imagery, and all have security clearances.
While there has been some opposition to using intelligence and defense resources for scientific and environmental purposes from the right, with Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), saying that the CIA should be “combating terrorists, not spying on sea lions,” Medea seems to be an efficient use of government resources. (Note: sea lions are rarely spotted in the Arctic). Terrorists aren’t hiding in the melting ice cap, so the imagery itself isn’t necessarily sensitive. Satellites fly over the North Pole on a daily basis, so someone might as well look at the photos already being taken to see if they can be put to good use. And, if climate change is regarded as a national security threat, as the Pentagon and CIA are likely to do, the government might as well attempt to get the ball rolling with scientists understanding how global warming is affecting the Arctic. In fact, in October, the CIA set up the new Center for the Study of Climate Change, so the efforts of scientists and intelligence analysts seem to be dovetailing nicely.