The latest target of the CIA? No, it’s not Bin Laden’s latest radical chrony or a secret North Korean missile site …

It’s polar ice sheets.

A project known as MEDEA (Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) was recently revived on Capitol Hill and now has the full backing of the new CIA head Leon Panetta.

The program started up during the Clinton years but was shut down during by the Bush administration for fear (my guess) that it would have given credence to climate change as a significant threat to national security.

MEDEA makes available to a shortlist of the nation’s top environmental scientists access to classified “sensors” (aka intelligence satellites) for use as they pass over the polar regions of the Earth.

The high-resolution satellite imagery provided by these sensors gives scientists an unprecedented ability to understand and predict major changes on the surface of the Earth, in particular the melting of sea ice.

This intelligence will help two major, quite conflicting causes — (1) the desire to better understand and predict the impacts of climate change and (2) the ability to gain early access to the new oil and gas reserves locked beneath the polar caps.

The failure in thwarting the latest in a series of attempted terrorist attacks (14 attempts in 2009 according to an interview with Terry Gross, NPR) will make the CIA evermore prone to criticism for its pro-academia decision, prompting comments such as Sen. John Barrasso’s of Wyoming, who said we should be spying on terrorists “not spying on sea lions.”

But with the official statement from the Pentagon last month that climate change is now deemed a threat to national security, it is unlikely that MEDEA will be shelved any time soon.

CIA to spy on the environment
CIA revives MEDEA, a partnership between the nation’s top spies and environmental scientists.