DCI Speech at the World Affairs
Council in Los Angeles, California
"The Environment on the Intelligence Agenda"
25 July 1996
The environment is an important part of the Intelligence Community
agenda. Today I would like to explain what we mean by the term 'environmental
intelligence,' why the Intelligence Community is involved in this work,
and why our involvement is important for citizens of the United States
and the world. I also want to demonstrate that environmental intelligence
is not a new or expensive area of endeavor for the Intelligence Community.
The Intelligence Community's job is to ensure that our senior policymakers
and military commanders have objective information that will allow them
to make better decisions. Through our collection and analytic effort,
we compile intelligence reports that give our country's leadership insight
into how events in all parts of the world will unfold and how these
events will affect our national security.
Environmental trends, both natural and man-made, are among the underlying
forces that affect a nation's economy, its social stability, its behavior
in world markets, and its attitude toward neighbors.
I emphasize that environment is one factor. It would be foolish, for
example, to attribute conflicts in Somalia, Ethiopia, or Haiti to environmental
causes alone. It would be foolhardy, however, not to take into consideration
that the land in each of these states is exploited in a manner that
can no longer support growing populations.
Environmental degradation, encroaching deserts, erosion, and overfarming
destroy vast tracts of arable land. This forces people from their homes
and creates tensions between ethnic and political groups as competition
for scarce resources increases. There is an essential connection between
environmental degradation, population growth, and poverty that regional
analysts must take into account.
National reconnaissance systems that track the movement of tanks through
the desert, can, at the same time, track the movement of the desert
itself, see the sand closing in on formerly productive fields or hillsides
laid bare by deforestation and erosion. Satellite systems allow us to
quickly assess the magnitude and severity of damage. Adding this environmental
dimension to traditional political, economic, and military analysis
enhances our ability to alert policymakers to potential instability,
conflict, or human disaster and to identify situations which may draw
in American involvement.
Some events have already dictated that environmental issues be included
in our intelligence agenda. When Moscow initially issued misleading
information about the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant,
US leaders turned to the Intelligence Community to assess the damage
and its impact on the former Soviet Union and neighboring countries.
During the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein used ecological destruction
as a weapon, policymakers and the military called on the Intelligence
Community to track the movement of smoke from burning oilfields and
the flow of oil released into the gulf. They asked whether damage to
Iraq's Tuwaitha nuclear complex posed a danger to troops and local population.
In each of these cases, our answer to these questions was not and
could not be, "the environment is not an intelligence issue."
Our answers were classic intelligence: analysis based on our data from
collection systems and open sources. We were able to assess the magnitude
of the Chernobyl accident; we were able to tell US troops how to avoid
lethal hydrogen sulfide from oil fires; and we were able to tell military
planners that damage to the reactor was not a threat.
I would like to emphasize that the environment is not a new issue
for the Intelligence Community. For years we have devoted resources
to understanding environmental issues. Much of the work that now falls
under the environmental label used to be done under other names--geography,
resource issues, or research.
For example, we have long used satellite imagery to estimate crop
size in North Korea and elsewhere. This allowed us to forecast shortages
that might lead to instability and to determine the amount of agricultural
products a nation would need to import--information valuable to US Department
of Agriculture and to America's farmers. We have also tracked world
availability of natural resources, such as oil, gas, and minerals.
We have for many years provided the military with information on terrain
and local resources. As our forces embark on military, peacekeeping,
and humanitarian operations in remote and unfamiliar territory, they
will need even better information on environmental factors that could
affect their health and safety and their ability to conduct operations.
Diplomacy will be ever more concerned with the global debate over
environmental issues. As Secretary of State Christopher said in April,
"our ability to advance our global interests is inextricably linked
to how we manage the Earth's natural resources." He emphasized
that we must put environment "in the mainstream of American foreign
Intelligence has long supported diplomacy in this area, particularly
in regard to key international environmental treaties and agreements.
Here I would draw an analogy to the role of intelligence in negotiating
the arms control treaties. Such treaties could not have been signed
and ratified without intelligence to monitor compliance.
Likewise, the Intelligence Community monitors compliance with environmental
treaties, such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the
Stratospheric Ozone Layer and the London Convention that regulates the
dumping at sea of radioactive and other wastes. Further, intelligence
support should begin with the negotiation process, so that US diplomats
have the benefit of the best available information in framing effective
and enforceable treaties in the future.
Environmental intelligence will also be a part of our support to economic
policymakers. They need to know, for example, whether or not foreign
competitors are gaining a competitive advantage over American business
by ignoring environmental regulations. Intelligence can provide valuable
In short, the demand on the Intelligence Community for information
on environmental issues will grow. As the world population expands and
resources such as clean water and arable land become more scarce, it
will become increasingly likely that activities of one country will
have an environmental impact that goes beyond its borders. US policymakers
will need warning on issues that are likely to affect US interests and
Maintaining a capability for environmental intelligence will allow
us to answer important questions that are likely to come from our consumers
in the future. For example, China's rapidly growing population and booming
economy will translate into a tremendous increase in demand for the
world's natural resources, including oil and food. What impact will
this have on world markets? As in the past, we must be prepared to answer
We should also be willing to provide data from our collection systems
to help experts answer less traditional questions, for example: what
impact will increased burning of fossil fuel have on the global environment?
As I have mentioned, the Intelligence Community has unique assets,
including satellites, sensors, and remote sensing expertise that can
contribute a wealth of information on the environment to the scientific
community. We also have mechanisms in place to share that information
with outside experts. This effort will add significantly to our nation's
capability to anticipate environmental crises.
In 1991, then-Senator Gore urged the Intelligence Community to create
a task force to explore ways that intelligence assets could be tapped
to support environmental research. That initiative led to a partnership
between the Intelligence and scientific communities that has proven
to be extraordinarily productive for both parties.
The Environmental Task Force found that data collected by the Intelligence
Community from satellites and other means can fill critical information
gaps for the environmental science community. Furthermore, these data
can be handed over for study without revealing information about sources
For example, imagery from the earliest intelligence satellites--which
were launched long before commercial systems--can show scientists how
desert boundaries, vegetation, and polar ice have changed over time.
These historical images, which have now been declassified, provide valuable
indicators of regional and global climate change.
Some of the scientists who participated in the Environmental Task
force now make up a group called MEDEA. MEDEA works with the Intelligence
Community to establish what we call the "Global Fiducials Program."
Under this initiative, during the next decade we will periodically image
selected sites of environmental significance. This will give scientists
an ongoing record of changes in the earth that will improve their understanding
of environmental processes. More importantly, it will greatly enhance
their ability to provide strategic warning of potentially catastrophic
threats to the health and welfare of our citizens.
At the same time, we do not see the Intelligence Community becoming
a center of environmental science expertise or directly sponsoring research
in that area. In this case, our job is to acquire the data and allow
the scientific community to use them. Their work, quite properly, is
sponsored by others, such as the National Science Foundation, the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space
Administration and academic institutions. We will continue to work with
environmental experts to assure that their knowledge is brought to bear
on what data we collect or retrieve from our considerable archives.
Our interaction with MEDEA is not only valuable for the environmental
community, it also has had direct benefits for the Intelligence Community.
MEDEA has worked closely with our analysts to develop techniques that
have enhanced our ability to collect and interpret data from our collection
Combining Intelligence Community data and expertise with knowledge
from the scientific community can produce a better intelligence product
for policymakers. Scientists from MEDEA worked with our analysts to
respond to requests for information on environmental issues and problems--such
as a series of oil spills in the Komi region of Russia. The Komi oil
spill is just one example of how intelligence satellites and sensors
can provide valuable information quickly after a natural or man-made
disaster. In this case we could tell that large amounts of oil were
not getting into the Arctic rivers.
In the United States, the Intelligence Community provides support
to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other civil agencies
when there is a natural disaster. Using data from a variety of sources,
within hours after a disaster strikes we can assess and report the nature
and scope of the damage -- conditions of roads, airports and hospitals;
and the status of potential secondary threats such as dams and nuclear
facilities. Here I would like to make two points:
- First, we only provide this support upon request. To image US territory,
we must first get permission.
- Second, we provide unclassified products generated from classified
information. We have a Disaster Response Team that can quickly produce
unclassified maps and diagrams that show the damage resulting from
an earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane, oil spill, or volcanic eruption.
To give you a recent example of how well this system works, just a
few weeks ago (June 5), the US Forest Service requested our help in
tracking the wildfires raging in Alaska. In this instance, they did
not have enough planes to adequately chart the extent of the fires.
Within 24 hours of the initial request, we delivered a map depicting
the fire perimeter, smoldering fires, and the most intense blazes. This
information was more comprehensive and detailed than data collected
from overflights by civil aircraft and it was also available much more
quickly than would have otherwise been possible.
We can also use our capabilities to provide warning before a disaster
strikes. And we do share this information with foreign governments.
For example, when a volcano on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat awakened
in 1995, we monitored significant changes and alerted U.S. and British
West Indies aid and military authorities so that they could prepare
for a possible evacuation of the island's residents. Recently we noted
a change within the volcano crater--a fissure had opened up, indicating
that the risk of an eruption had increased dramatically. We quickly
sent out a warning that allowed authorities on Montserrat to evacuate
4,000 people to a less dangerous area of the island.
These activities lie outside our traditional intelligence mission,
but we believe it is important to provide aid when the capabilities
would not otherwise be available. This effort costs us very little,
and yields tremendous benefits to relief agencies, disaster victims,
and potential victims whose lives could be saved by a timely warning.
Vice President Gore has been a leader in advocating the use of intelligence
information to improve environmental knowledge on an international level,
for example to better monitor oil spills and chemical waste streams
through international water ways.
The US-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation--the
Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission--has established a productive exchange
of information between the US and Russia.
This exchange has brought us unique and valuable data from Russia's
intelligence programs. For example, the Russians have collected extensive
data on the Arctic Ocean. This information is critical to our understanding
of oceanographic and atmospheric processes, which are, in turn, critical
to our ability to predict global climate change. Together with Russia,
we have produced a CD-ROM atlas of the Arctic Ocean. It contains more
than two million individual observations collected from 1948 to 1993
by Russian drifting stations, ice breakers, and airborne expeditions,
as well as observations from US buoys. This once-restricted data will
now be available on the Internet through the World Wide Web and will
more than double the scientific holdings of oceanographic data available
to US scientists.
The Arctic data are not only critical to scientific studies of climate
change. They can also help us chart the movement of pollutants. The
great rivers of Russia flow north into the Arctic. With them, they carry
a heavy burden of waste from Russian industry, including chemicals,
heavy metals, and organics, as well as radionuclides from Russia's defense
programs. For example, 3 million curies of radioactive waste from Chelyabinsk
, dumped into the Techa River years ago, have migrated to the Arctic
Ocean, over 1,500 kilometers from the plant. Russian oceanographic data
can help them and us to determine where radioactive materials and pollutants
will travel once they reach the Arctic and whether they will affect
US and Canadian waters.
Early this year, Russia and the United States exchanged declassified
imagery-derived diagrams of environmental damage over a 25-year period
at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Yeysk Airbase in southwestern
Russia. This ongoing exchange will help both countries clean up their
toxic and radioactive sites. The techniques used to create these maps
could help us identify potential sources of contamination in the future.
Such information-sharing has proven a low-cost and highly effective
way to build good will and strengthen international relationships. We
should seek new opportunities to share information with other countries.
I would like to make one more key point about our work on environmental
issues--the costs are small and the potential benefits enormous. The
resources allocated to environmental intelligence are modest, perhaps
one tenth of a percent of the intelligence budget for collection and
analysis. We are using intelligence capabilities that are already in
place. This important work requires no new capital investments.
Nor does environmental intelligence require us to divert collection
systems from our priority targets or get involved in areas where we
do not belong. The imaging of sites under the Global Fiducials program,
for example, can be done during non-peak hours of satellite use. It
will not interfere with collection against our highest priority targets,
including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism,
drug trafficking, and the activities of rogue states.
In sum, the environment will continue to have an important place on
the US intelligence agenda.
- Environmental factors influence the internal and external political,
economic, and military actions of nations important to our national
- Our intelligence customers, including the policy and military communities,
need--and ask for--support on environmental issues and problems.
- The Intelligence Community has unique technical collection resources
and analytic expertise that can fill critical information gaps for
environmental scientists or help relief agencies cope with natural
- Through a productive partnership with the scientific community,
we can provide strategic warning of environmental hazards that could
endanger our health and welfare.
- These activities do not threaten our traditional missions.
- The vital work I have described requires only a modest commitment
I think it would be short-sighted for us to ignore environmental issues
as we seek to understand and forecast developments in the post-Cold
War world and identify threats to our national welfare. Just as Secretary
Christopher promised "to put environmental issues in the mainstream
of American Foreign policy," I intend to make sure that Environmental
Intelligence remains in the mainstream of US intelligence activities.
Even in times of declining budgets we will support policymakers and
the military as they address these important environmental issues.