11/17/2011 03:51 pm ET

Defense Science Board Report Stresses Need For Climate Change Study In Intelligence Community

How will the U.S. government tackle climate change? A recent report suggests that the intelligence community could benefit from the creation of an open and collaborative group to study and mitigate climate change.

The Defense Science Board (DSB), a civilian advisory committee to the Department of Defense, recently released "Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security," a report which identifies "the urgent need for clear roles and policies throughout the U.S. government addressing the consequences of climate change."

The report recognizes that there are a number of governmental and non-governmental organizations in the U.S. that already study climate change and offer advice for countering its effects. But the DSB concedes, "There is no central organization to assist agencies in understanding what resources are available or to coordinate their efforts."

The committee suggests the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) should create a central and transparent apparatus that relies on domestic and international co-operation to better understand the intersection of climate change and national security issues. The report says the DNI should:

Establish, within an appropriate agency of the Intelligence Community, an intelligence group to concentrate on the effects of climate change on political and economic developments and their implications for U.S. national security

The report's emphasis on intelligence collaboration and openness is important for several reasons. Primarily, the lack of a central organization to digest and disperse climate change information and intelligence could inhibit efficient response to climate-related security issues and natural disasters.

As The Washington Post noted earlier this year, the intelligence community is no stranger to accusations of inefficiency. Since 2001, intelligence and counterterrorism programs in the U.S. have grown to such convoluted proportions that their size and efficacy is difficult to determine.

Another important reason for the DSB's recommendation for a central climate change intelligence authority is the CIA. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy reports that the CIA has been addressing the issues since 2009 with its Center on Climate Change and National Security.

Yet the CIA's climate work remains classified. FAS' Secrecy News and even the DSB report itself both agree that such underground climate work may not be the best way to tackle climate change:

The CIA's unyielding approach to classification effectively negates the ability of its Center on Climate Change to interact with non-governmental organizations and researchers on an unclassified basis. Since, as the DSB noted, much of the relevant expertise on climate change lies "outside the government [in] universities, the private sector, and NGOs," the CIA's blanket secrecy policy is a potentially disabling condition.

Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard suggests budget concerns may be a factor in the CIA's climate secrecy. Referring to NOAA's Climate Service, she writes, "In the current political climate, agencies that did try to make a open, transparent effort on climate change have had their budget axed."

Whether out in the open or in a classified setting, climate change is not something the U.S. government may be able to ignore. A prominent climate change science skeptic testified to Congress this week that climate change is real. Richard Muller, a University of California, Berkley physicist, recently completed a study, funded in part by the Koch Foundation, that confirms previous findings on global temperature increases.