NEW YORK, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. intelligence and scientific officials say they are studying data from satellites and other intelligence gathering tools to assess environmental change.
When they are not actively gathering defense-related intelligence, sensitive classified sensors record environmental data on clouds, glaciers, deserts, polar icecaps, wilderness and tropical forests, The New York Times reported Monday.
The program grew out of an earlier effort spanning 1992 to 2001 which advised the government on environmental surveillance. Known as Medea -- for Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis -- it sought to discover whether intelligence archives and assets could shed light on important environmental issues.
Although the new collaboration involves the use of classified instruments for what is essentially a non-military purpose, the operation has the approval of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Times said.
"Director (Leon) Panetta believes it is crucial to examine the potential national security implications of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels and population shifts," agency spokeswoman Paula Weiss said.
When the CIA set up a small unit to assess security implications of climate change, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the agency should be fighting terrorists, "not spying on sea lions."