The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency or CIA is once again sharing reconnaissance data with climate scientists in an effort to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change.

The program was in place at the start of the last decade, but was shut down under the Bush administration over concerns that the CIA should not be wasting resources on the environment. According to federal officials, however, the "monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness."

About 60 scientists, from a mix of academia, industry and federal agencies, comprise the scientific side of the effort. All have secret clearances and obtain guidance from the National Academy of Sciences, an elite body that advises the federal government. The CIA runs the program and works with the group to schedule time with surveillance equipment, including highly classified satellites of the National Reconnaissance Office.

According to the NY Times article, Al Gore was the one who put pressure on the program being restarted after a Capitol Hill visit in 2008. The Obama administration has not said much publicly, but is reported to back the effort fully internally.

So far, the results of the collaboration have proved fruitful for scientists eager to study how warmer temperatures are impacting polar ice. “There are no other data available that show the melting and freezing processes,” said a report from the National Academy of Sciences in praise of the monitoring. “Their release will have a major impact on understanding effects of climate change.”

via NY Times