Intelligence community dances around climate change

FILE; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Courtesy of Wired‘s Noah Schactman, here is National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar’s testimony about the first ever National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (pdf). I attended Fingar’s testimony on the Hill this morning and was struck less by the NIA’s findings — droughts and ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
594448_080625_fingar5.jpg
594448_080625_fingar5.jpg
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 27: Thomas Fingar, deputy director of National Intelligence for analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2007 in Washington, DC. Fingar testified on current and future worldwide threats to the national security of the United States, including the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Thomas Fingar

FILE; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Courtesy of Wired's Noah Schactman, here is National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar's testimony about the first ever National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (pdf).

I attended Fingar's testimony on the Hill this morning and was struck less by the NIA's findings -- droughts and crop failures might lead to instability in the third world and coastal flooding may threaten the U.S. defense infrastructure -- than the unique nature of the report itself. Fingar acknowledged this in his testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:

FILE; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Courtesy of Wired‘s Noah Schactman, here is National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar’s testimony about the first ever National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change (pdf).

I attended Fingar’s testimony on the Hill this morning and was struck less by the NIA’s findings — droughts and crop failures might lead to instability in the third world and coastal flooding may threaten the U.S. defense infrastructure — than the unique nature of the report itself. Fingar acknowledged this in his testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:

This study used a fundamentally different kind of analytical methodology from what is typical for an intelligence product such as a National Intelligence Estimate. We depended upon open sources and greatly leveraged outside expertise.”

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Rep. Anna Eshoo and her fellow Democrats at the hearing were excited about a greater future role for open-source intelligence gathering, and Fingar seemed receptive to the concept. But from his testimony, it didn’t seem as if the research conducted contained any new information that couldn’t be inferred by a layman reading the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the starting point on the NIA’s research. As such, the NIA doesn’t really seem to accomplish much beyond stressing the urgency of climate change by describing it as a security issue.

This makes it all the more odd that the actual text of the NIA was classified by the National Intelligence Council. Fingar suggested that releasing specifics about how certain countries would be specifically affected would complicate U.S. diplomatic efforts, though my guess is that the countries in greatest danger from global warming are already well aware of it. Rep. Ed Markey saw a White House agenda in the classification:

If people know specifically what these problems will be and where they will be and who they will affect then perhaps we will finally have the political will to solve the problem… The president doesn’t want America to know the real risks of global warming.

I’m mostly curious to know if the report actually contains information that isn’t already public knowledge. If nothing else, it would be nice to think that this partisan tug-of-war is being fought over a document that actually matters.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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