The CIA Funding Geoengineering Studies–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

One of the reasons I’ve taken up the blogging cudgels again is that I’m in Taipei, Taiwan for a while and have free access to the internet after escaping The Great Firewall of China. Here’s a quote from a story published in the Taipei Times today:

“Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has called on secretive government agencies to be open about their interest in radical work that explores how to alter the world’s climate.

Robock uses computer models to study how stratospheric aerosols can cool the planet in the way massive volcanic eruptions do.

He is worried about who would control such climate-altering technologies should they prove effective, he told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences published a two-volume report on different approaches to tackling climate change. One focused on means to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the other on ways to change clouds or the Earth’s surface to make them reflect more sunlight out to space.”

Now, I suppose the CIA might say (and even believe) that understanding the consequences of other people’s attempts to change the client is a national security interest. They might even say (and even believe) that preparing for such actions by hostile actors is important. Okay, granted.

But what scares Alan Robock and makes me more than a little nervous is the possibility that the CIA might look at geoengineering as a tool they can employ against those they consider enemies.

Contemplating geoengineering as a potential weapon to destabilize the climate of enemies real or perceived is scary, if probably premature.

Legacy of Ashes

Most criticism of the intelligence community focuses on their failures to predict important developments in the world, such as 9/11. However, arguably more important is the failure of their active attempts to shape the world.

The CIA, which has organized plots to interfere with governments from Iran to Nicaragua, has often approached destabilization a bit casually, with apparently little thought given to the effects of such programs on either the current population or knock-on effects that are the consequence of such efforts.

Writers like Stephen King have produced lots of fiction about ambitious government programs that went awry, such as King’s The Stand. But we really don’t need to look to fiction.

The Bay of Pigs went wrong in the 60s. Even before that, a CIA attempt to assassinate the Syrian leadership not only failed, it got the station chief arrested and interrogated. The CIA thought the best strategy in Iraq to counter increasing Soviet influence was to support the Baath Party. Arming the rebels to fight the Russians in Afghanistan probably seemed like a good idea at the time–but the consequences later were disastrous.

I’m not against intelligence gathering. Nations need to know what other nations are doing in secret. (However, active attempts to change the course of events usually end in tears.)

I’m not against studying geoengineering. We may find it necessary to modify some of the major processes shaping our climate–if not in response to the current warming period, perhaps we will need it for future climate change in other directions.

But the two don’t mix. Intelligence agencies are by nature focused on current problems. Their solutions last much longer. And changing the climate could be a very long term effect that lasts close to forever.

8 responses to “The CIA Funding Geoengineering Studies–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

  1. Robock sounds like a kook who lucked into an academic gig.
    The sort of idiocratic claims made in the article are similar to the old SF/ Art Bell story lines about USSR weather control back in the cold war days.
    I imagine what this is, if it exists at all, is like the CIA keeping tabs on the UFOology movement: Just a morbid interest in how stupid people believe and and act.

  2. Hiya Hunter! Sure hope you’re right… the CIA have done some… well… kooky things in the past, though.

    • Good article. Much of the early data on weather modification came from the military. Just looking at what has been declassified should be scary enough.

  3. Pavel Sudoplatov was a 40 year veteran of the KGB. In the book Special Tasks he was asked “What went wrong?” The question was clearly directed to the USSR as a whole. His response was that agencies that gather intelligence and agencies that act on intelligence should be kept completely separate.

  4. ” attempts to change the client is a national security interest.” “client?” Freudian slip?

  5. My problem with geoengineering is that people are selling solutions before they are sure what the problem is. Many ways that would cool the average temperature would exacerbate extreme temperatures where the real harm comes. The example that comes to mind is clear cutting forests. That will have an average cooling effect. But most of the cooling comes in winter and at night.

  6. You forgot my favorite CIA study which pertains to the current debate. I think that it was in 1977 that they predicted that the USSR would become a net importer of energy by the end of the century. You don’t think that there was a hidden agenda there do you?

    • Marty,
      The 1977 CIA study was spot on with the then current consensus on how oil would be gone soon. The larger point I see in reflecting on that failed prediction is that the CIA is not actually good at it.

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