Developing environmental intelligence

National intelligence agency 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 quick assessment of the magnitude and severity of damage. Adding this environmental dimension to traditional political, economic, and military analysis enhances the ability to alert policymakers to potential instability, conflict, or human disaster and to identify situations which may draw in their involvement.

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 diplomats have the benefit of the best available information in framing effective and enforceable treaties in the future.

Environmental intelligence is also a support to economic policymakers. They need to know, for example, whether or not foreign competitors are gaining a competitive advantage over their own businesses by ignoring environmental regulations.

Intelligence can provide valuable information. Imagery from the earliest intelligence satellites, 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.

When Moscow initially issued misleading information about the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, U.S. 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. Satellite imagery has long been used to estimate crop size in North Korea and elsewhere, allowing forecasts of shortages that might lead to instability and to determine the amount of agricultural products a nation would need to import; information valuable to (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and to (America's) farmers. World availability of natural resources, such as oil, gas, and minerals have also been tracked.
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 disasters.
Type Classification:
F: Exceptional strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal