The House version of the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Bill

calls for the intelligence community to begin a new focus on climate research, prompting concern from Republicans in Congress

that such an effort might divert the use of classified satellites and analysts

from the more important task of pursuing terrorists.

The issue has led some Republican members of Congress and their staffs

to charge that the Democrats’ rationale for including the language in the House version of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 2082) has more to do with political motives than a sincere effort to improve national security.

“This bill should be about securing America,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s human intelligence and terrorism subcommittee, during floor debate over the authorization bill. ” Instead, it is being used to secure a political agenda on these items. This bill requires intelligence agencies to use intelligence satellites to monitor environmental issues. Many of my colleagues have been in the field. You know that imagery is so important and so high in demand. This is the wrong direction for their mission accomplishment.”

Despite those concerns, the nation’s top intelligence official has already indicated that he believes

the intelligence community has an appropriate role to play climate research.

The House passed its version of the bill

May 11. The bill calls on the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a formal National Intelligence Estimate on the effect of climate change on national security.

“The Committee does not anticipate that producing an Estimate will require the diversion of any collection assets away from other key priorities,” according to a report accompanying the bill. “Also, the scientific data needed for the Estimate is mostly open source material that is already in the possession of the U.S. government.”

In comments included with the report, Republican members of the intelligence committee

said that climate research is a task better handled by civil organizations and academia.

“The task of the intelligence community is to steal foreign secrets,” the Republicans wrote. “Global climate change simply does not require clandestinely acquired, classified information or analysis. The United States is spending more than $6.5 billion in [2007] on global climate change. This is not the time to force our intelligence professionals to waste scarce intelligence resources on trendy topics such as global warming for the purposes of ‘political correctness.’”

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said during floor debate

May 11 that the Democrats may have underestimated the work that would be required to

develop a National Intelligence Estimate on the topic of climate change

, and that intelligence satellites could be diverted from their current core missions.

“Don’t say it is not going to take resources,” Hoekstra said. “This is a massive undertaking.”

However, Republicans are not entirely united on the issue.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) co-sponsored House legislation that called for the National Intelligence Estimate on climate change

in a stand-alone bill. In an April 20 news release, Bartlett said that a National Intelligence Estimate on climate change is essential for future military planning.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has not yet written its version of the bill.

The issue of climate research and national security was highlighted in an April report from CNA Corp., an Alexandria, Va.,

non-profit research and analysis firm, that was written by a panel of 11 retired three- and four-star admirals and generals. Democrats cited the report and the gravitas of the retired military officials

during floor debate over H.R. 2082

as justification for involving the intelligence community in

climate research.

The report states that climate change is an important national security issue because it can cause conditions such as

droughts that

can foster unrest that leads to regional conflicts or stimulates the growth of terrorist organizations.

“We can debate the causes of climate change, or accept the fact it is occurring and do something about the impact,” said Lawrence Farrell, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who served as deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for plans and programs and co-authored the CNA report, during a May 14 panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s

intelligence community management subcommittee, sent a copy of the CNA report to Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, on April 18, and urged him to conduct the National Intelligence Estimate on climate change.

McConnell responded in a May 9 letter that he believed it appropriate for the intelligence community to prepare an assessment of the geopolitical and security implications that could result from climate change, but said that intelligence analysts are not equipped to characterize what or where the effects of climate change may take place.

Before the intelligence community can assess the impact of climate change on its operations, “competent scientific authorities would have to engage our analysts on their assessments and predictions of the precise physical consequences of climate change,” McConnell wrote.

Some Republican congressional aides opposed to the concept of the intelligence community putting a significant focus on climate change said that the national security community already contributes its share to climate research through data collected by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program constellation, as well as the planned follow-on that is under joint development with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said that those who want the intelligence community to take on a new focus with climate research may misunderstand the capabilities of intelligence assets. While pushing for a National Intelligence Estimate on climate change may help score political points with voters and donors, intelligence satellites and analysts likely have little to contribute to the climate change arena that cannot be handled by unclassified assets and research, he said.

Asking for the intelligence community to focus in this area is relatively easy for lawmakers because it does not require additional cash, Lewis said. However, it would distract intelligence satellites and analysts from monitoring terrorism and nuclear proliferation, he said. Lewis suggested that

a better solution would be

to add funding to civil agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.