Spy agencies fund climate research in hunt for weather weapon, scientist fears

A senior US scientist has expressed
concern that the intelligence services are
funding climate change research to learn if
new technologies could be used as
potential weapons.
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, who has contributed to reports for
the intergovernmental panel on climate
change (IPCC), uses computer models to
study how stratospheric aerosols could cool
the planet in the way massive volcanic
eruptions do.
But he was worried about who would
control such climate-altering technologies
should they prove effective, he told the
American Association for the Advancement
of Science in San Jose.
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.The report concluded that while small-
scale research projects were needed, the
technologies were so far from being ready
that reducing carbon emissions remained
the most viable approach to curbing the
worst extremes of climate change. A report
by the Royal Society in 2009 made similar
recommendations.
The $600,000 report was part-funded by
the US intelligence services, but Robock
said the CIA and other agencies had not
fully explained their interest in the work.
“The CIA was a major funder of the
National Academies report so that makes
me really worried who is going to be in
control,” he said. Other funders included
Nasa, the US Department of Energy, and
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration.
The CIA established the Center on Climate
Change and National Security in 2009, a
decision that drew fierce criticism from
some Republicans who viewed it as a
distraction from more pressing terrorist
concerns. The centre was closed down in
2012, but the agency said it would continue
to monitor the humanitarian consequences
of climate change and the impact on US
economic security, albeit not from a
dedicated office.
Robock said he became suspicious about
the intelligence agencies’ involvement in
climate change science after receiving a
call from two men who claimed to be CIA
consultants three years ago. “They said:
‘We are working for the CIA and we’d like
to know if some other country was
controlling our climate, would we be able
to detect it?’ I think they were also
thinking in the back of their minds: ‘If we
wanted to control somebody else’s climate
could they detect it?’”
He replied that if a country wanted to
create a stratospheric cloud large enough
to change the climate, it would be visible
with satellites and ground-based
instruments. The use of the weather as a
weapon was banned in 1978 under the
Environmental Modification Convention
(Enmod) .
Asked how he felt about the call, Robock
said he was scared. “I’d learned of lots of
other things the CIA had done that didn’t
follow the rules. I thought that wasn’t how
my tax money was spent,” he said. The CIA
did not respond to requests for comment
over the weekend.
The US dabbled in weather modification
before Enmod was introduced. In the early
1960s, researchers on Project Storm Fury
seeded thunderstorms with various
particles in the hope of diminishing their
destructive power. A similar process was
adopted during the Vietnam war, with
clouds seeded over the Ho Chi Minh trail
in a bid to make the major supply route for
North Vietnamese foot soldiers too muddy
to pass.
“I think this research should be out in the
open and it has to be international so there
won’t be any question that this technology
will used for hostile purposes,” Robock
said.