The US Central Intelligence Agency isn't just interested in gathering intelligence on foreign powers and enemies. As it turns out, Langley is also investigating the feasibility of altering the environment to fight the effects of climate change. The CIA is currently funding, in part, a $630,000 study on geoengineering, the science of using experimental techniques to modify Earth's climate, as Mother Jones reports. The 21-month-long study was commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit group of scientific advisors to the government, and a final report on its findings is due to be published in the fall of 2014.
"a careful, clear scientific foundation."
The study calls for information on two geoengineering techniques in particular, "solar radiation management (SRM)," which refers to launching material into Earth's atmosphere to try and block the Sun's infrared radiation, limiting global temperature rise; and "carbon dioxide removal (CDR)," which refers to exactly what it sounds like, taking carbon dioxide emissions out of the climate, which scientists have proposed doing through a variety of means, from structures that eat air pollution to capturing carbon emissions as they come out of smokestacks. "This study is intended to provide a careful, clear scientific foundation that informs ethical, legal, and political discussions surrounding geoengineering," reads the description of the study on the National Academies website.
What specific knowledge or applications the CIA is hoping to get out of the study remain unknown for now, but the agency has allegedly played with the environment before in the past, reportedly dosing a French village with LSD in the 1950s, via airborne spray and through food products. Separately, the US military has attempted to modify local weather for combat advantages and security, trying to create rain clouds during the Vietnam War that would turn a trail into mud, and experimenting with silver iodide's effects on hurricanes.
And as Mother Jones explains, not only is the new study the first on geoengineering from the US intelligence community, but it comes after the CIA closed its climate research center last year following complaints of Republicans in the US House of Representatives, who said the agency should not be looking at climate change as part of its work. Still, the fact that the agency is sponsoring this study, and still lists on its website a job positing for an "environmental safety officer," suggests that environmental impacts are still very much on the minds of those in America's spy community.
Update: National Academy of Sciences spokesperson Lauren Rugani has written to answer a few of our questions on the study and provide more clarity on the CIA's role and objectives. For starters, Rugani says that study is not designed to test any geoengineering methods or experiment with any findings whatsoever, but rather "assess the current state of knowledge about several geoengineering techniques," and use the findings to inform "future discussions" about their use.
As for the CIA's involvement, it "begins and ends with its financial contributions." Rugani explained. "It should be noted, and in fact highlighted, that CIA is only funding a portion of this study, with the rest provided by NOAA, NASA, and the National Academy of Sciences itself." Rugani added that the study sponsors, including the CIA, only address the committee in charge of the study once, at the beginning, and "do not correspond with the committee or provide any further input into the study. They receive a final, independently peer-reviewed report with the study's findings at the end of the project," Rugani said.
When it comes to how the CIA may want to use the results, Rugani referred us to the agency, but offered, "one of the objectives of the study is to discuss the possible national security concerns that might arise should geoengineering techniques be deployed (expected or unexpectedly), either by a private entity or another country."