Monday, October 5, 2009

Senate to vote to strip funding for CIA center on Climate Security

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on an amendment to block any funding for the CIA's new "Center on Climate Change and National Security." The amendment to H.R. 3326, the Defense Appropriations bill, was offered by Senator Barasso (R-WY). It would prohibit any funding in fiscal year 2010 for the CIA's center.

The amendment was made in order under a unanimous consent agreement, and is scheduled to get a vote tomorrow (Tuesday 10/6). It is unclear at this time whether the amendment will be require 50 or 60 votes to be included in the legislation.

Technically, this is an appropriations bill, meaning that it only spends money, and does not make policy. However, amendments like this are a common way for Members of Congress to include their legislative priorities in appropriations bills.

Barasso has been a strong opponent of any climate action, most notable saying that a cap-and-trade bill will increase 'international organized crime'. Barasso claims that focusing on climate change at the CIA will distract them from protecting against terrorism. Senator Feinstein (D-CA), the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, opposes the amendment, saying that such a center is entirely within the rights and purviews of the CIA.

In 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) submitted a National Intelligence Assessment (NIA) on the national security implications of climate change. It is classified, but here is the testimony is unclassified. Short summary: climate change is a threat to national security because it can undermine the stability of already weak states.

Since the completion of the NIA in 2008, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), under the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has operated an office of ‘Climate Change and State Stability’ to look at other issues in this area. The CIA's new center would apparently work in conjuction with the DNI's office.

It seems to me, that if the Intelligence Community has ruled that climate change is a threat to national security, then they must study it and look at it. For Congress to defund this office (or others that are looking at climate change) would undermine the ability of the Intelligence Community to actively look for non-traditional threats. One of the key areas that the CIA's center will study will be the negotiating positions and how other nations are complying with any international agreement on climate change. This is important work, and is consistent with the CIA's mission for other major international negotiations.

This is a clear political amendment that is targeted at undermining the argument that climate change is a threat to national security. If a majority of the Senate votes to prohibit this center, it clearly shows that the Senate does not support the view (held by Senator Kerry and others) that climate change threatens national security. This is an important signal vote for the upcoming debate on cliamte change in the Senate. Anyone who cares about how that debate will go should watch this debate closely.

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