To say the Central Intelligence Agency has had an uneven record over its 65 years would be kind. It found early "success" in plotting to overthrow the legitimate governments of Iran and Guatemala (even if it did fail to foresee the Soviet Union going nuclear in 1949). Then, it had a troubled adolescence. The Bay of Pigs. Vietnam. Laos. Spying on Americans. As the Agency matured, it managed to miss all signs of the oncoming Iranian revolution -- the natural endpoint of its glorious 1953 coup that brought the Shah to power -- and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (It did, however, manage to arm America's future enemies there, sowing the seeds of 9/11.) Then there was the Reagan era Iran-Contra affair, the failure to notice the fall of the Berlin Wall until it was on CNN, the WMD "intelligence" of the Iraqi leaker codenamed "Curveball," the Iraq debacle that followed, and...
Well, you get the picture. Recently, however, things seemed to be looking up. The most popular general in a generation or two, a soldier-scholar-superman who could do no wrong, became its director. Just before that, the Agency helped take out America's public enemy number one in a daring night raid about which Hollywood is soon to release a celebratory movie.
But just as things were looking up, the rock star general was caught with his pants down, resigning in disgrace after an extramarital affair became public. That titillating development overshadowed another more serious one: a cry for help about a looming threat from the Agency and its brethren in the American intelligence community (IC). In late October, the National Research Council was to issue a report commissioned by the CIA and the IC. Superstorm Sandy intervened and so it was only recently released, aptly titled "Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis." And what a dire picture it painted: security analysts should, it explained "expect climate surprises in the coming decade... and for them to become progressively more serious and more frequent thereafter, most likely at an accelerating rate... It is prudent to expect that over the course of a decade some climate events... will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of the affected societies or global systems to manage and that have global security implications serious enough to compel international response."
Think failed states, water wars, forced mass migrations, famine, drought, and epidemics that will spill across borders, overwhelm national and international mitigation efforts, and leave the United States scrambling to provide disaster response, humanitarian relief, or being drawn into new conflicts. That's bad news for everyone, including the intelligence community. Even worse, the 206-page report calls for more study, more analysis, and more action -- and yet none of that is likely to happen without the assent of Congress.
Keep in mind that Republican members of Congress opposed even the creation of a CIA climate change center and tried starve it of funding while, as Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones noted last year, "Republican lawmakers -- including the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees, respectively -- have also expressed skepticism about the CIA's climate work."
In other words, add Republicans to the list of those who, like Cuban and Laotian communists of yore, have worked to thwart the Agency. And cross the CIA off any list of potential environmental saviors. In fact, when it comes to the health of this planet, saviors seem distinctly in short supply. As TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reports from the frontlines of a full-scale climate conflict, the only hope for the environment may come from unlikely groups of people in the unlikeliest of places fighting a shadow war more important than any ever waged by the CIA. Nick Turse
A Secret War of Activists -- With the World in the Balance
By Ellen Cantarow
There's a war going on that you know nothing about between a coalition of great powers and a small insurgent movement. It's a secret war being waged in the shadows while you go about your everyday life.
In the end, this conflict may matter more than those in Iraq and Afghanistan ever did. And yet it's taking place far from newspaper front pages and with hardly a notice on the nightly news. Nor is it being fought in Yemen or Pakistan or Somalia, but in small hamlets in upstate New York. There, a loose network of activists is waging a guerrilla campaign not with improvised explosive devices or rocket-propelled grenades, but with zoning ordinances and petitions.
The weaponry may be humdrum, but the stakes couldn't be higher. Ultimately, the fate of the planet may hang in the balance.
All summer long, the climate-change nightmares came on fast and furious. Once-fertile swathes of American heartland baked into an aridity reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of thousands of fish dead in overheated streams. Six million acres in the West consumed by wildfires. In September, a report commissioned by 20 governments predicted that as many as 100 million people across the world could die by 2030 if fossil-fuel consumption isn't reduced. And all of this was before superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the New York metropolitan area and the Jersey shore.
Washington's leadership, when it comes to climate change, is already mired in failure. President Obama permitted oil giant BP to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, while Shell was allowed to begin drilling tests in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. At the moment, the best hope for placing restraints on climate change lies with grassroots movements.
In January, I chronicled upstate New York's homegrown resistance to high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, an extreme-energy technology that extracts methane ("natural gas") from the Earth's deepest regions. Since then, local opposition has continued to face off against the energy industry and state government in a way that may set the tone for the rest of the country in the decades ahead. In small hamlets and tiny towns you've never heard of, grassroots activists are making a stand in what could be the beginning of a final showdown for Earth's future.
Frack Fight 2012
New York isn't just another state. Its largest city is the world's financial capital. Six of its former governors have gone on to the presidency and Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to have his sights set on a run for the White House, possibly in 2016. It also has a history of movements, from abolition and women's suffrage in the nineteenth century to Occupy in the twenty-first. Its environmental campaigns have included the watershed Storm King Mountain case, in which activists defeated Con Edison's plan to carve a giant facility into the face of that Hudson River landmark. The decision established the right of anyone to litigate on behalf of the environment.