WASHINGTON -- The budgets of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense have landed themselves in the crosshairs of Republican budget slicers, but not for reasons you might expect: The GOP isn’t happy with the money the two national security agencies are spending on climate-change research.
“The Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, two of the most
important agencies in our national security apparatus, currently spend part of their
budget studying climate change,” the Republican budget proposal reads, under its section on “Eliminating Waste.”
At first glance, climate change doesn’t seem like it would naturally fall under the mandates of the CIA and Defense Department, but it's actually not far removed. A study published in March underscored a theory many had already embraced: that environmental impacts may serve as catalysts for regional instabilities. The study says a devastating drought likely fueled discontent and contributed to shortages and urban overcrowding that sparked the Syrian revolution.
“The joint chiefs of staff have testified repeatedly that climate change is a serious national security threat, and it accelerates problems of unrest and instability around the world,” said Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who added that he hadn’t seen the specific part of the budget proposal. “If we weren’t researching it, it would be a dereliction of our responsibility.”
The intelligence community’s delve into climate change research isn’t new -- it was orchestrated largely by former vice president Al Gore during the Clinton Administration, with a new push to examine environmental impacts on national securities issues such as revolutions, radicalism and state stability. Operationally, it has changed over the years -- for example, Google Earth imagery wasn’t around to canvass for international environmental factors -- but its premise has remained largely the same.
Those initiatives have seen their ups and downs since then, largely subject to the political party controlling the budget. The Bush Administration cut off funding for the Clinton-era project in its early years in the White House, and the Obama Administration bolstered the operations during its tenure. But that doesn't mean the research is a political effort.
Simply by virtue of being in the executive branch, the intelligence community tends to lean toward the White House’s policy stances, but the agency’s climate change efforts don’t delve into the science of climate change, at least according to its charter. Rather, the environmental arm of the spies focuses on impact -- for example, what environmental changes like drought or severe weather could do to state stability.
The CIA declined to comment. The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The two agencies are not the only ones looking into the political impact of climate change. The State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, spearheaded by former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), will focus on the role climate change is having in global affairs. "Anyone who looks at conflicts around the world understands the role changing climate is playing," Perriello told HuffPost last year as he embarked on the study.