David Petraeus’ Response to Climate Change: MOAR DRONZ!

When I saw DHS is acquiring more drones this morning, I joked that the policy response of government agencies when they fail at their core function is to ask for more drones.

Pretty sure there’s direct correlation bet size of NatSec departments [sic] failures at core job–HUMINT, safety–& desire for drones–CIA, DHS.

CIA has another massive HUMINT failure. Response? Moar dronz! DHS fusion centers proven to be huge wastes. Response? Moar dronz!

After @kade_ellis got into the fun, I pushed the idea, suggesting our country would respond to bank looting and climate change with a demand for more drones, too.

Banks looting the country? MOAR DRONZ! Impending climate catastrophe? MOAR DRONZ!

I swear, when I made that joke, I had not yet read how the CIA closed its climate change center because David Petraeus thought it more important to hunt terrorists with drones.

The center was designed as a small unit of senior specialists focused on the impact that environmental changes could have on political, economic and social factors in countries of concern to the United States. The analysts probed questions such as, under what scenarios might a massive drought cause large-scale migration, and when might a government’s failure to respond to a devastating flood open the door for terrorist groups to win over the local populace?

Analysts at the center worked to develop warning software that combined regional climate projections with political and demographic information, and held climate war games looking at what might happen in extreme scenarios, such as if rapid glacial melt caused the ocean’s major currents to shut down.

The center didn’t focus on the science behind climate change but instead relied on data from other government agencies as well as recommendations — including ones in a report released just over a week ago — from the National Academy of Sciences (Greenwire, Nov. 9).

But congressional Republicans skeptical of the science behind climate change sought to block the center’s funding shortly after it was launched. Those efforts failed, but sources say the center received little internal support after Panetta left the CIA in 2011 to take the top job at the Defense Department. Under his successor, David Petraeus, the agency was highly focused on terrorism, specifically targeted killings using armed drones. [my emphasis]

The diddling Director, it seems, thought taking out an American teenager with a drone was more important than responding to a crisis that is already leading to migration and increased credibility for terrorist groups.

But it’s not just the diddling Director. The CIA’s statement on the closure says instead of focusing on climate change, the CIA is focusing on energy.

CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz confirmed the change.

“The CIA for several years has studied the national security implications of climate change,” Ebitz said in a statement to Greenwire. “This work is now performed by a dedicated team in an office that looks at a variety of economic and energy security issues affecting the United States.”

This parallels, as it happens, Obama’s changing emphasis on gas production for energy security reasons, and only secondarily for climate change ones.

It seems our national security establishment–from the man who would turn back the oceans to the diddling Director–are more interested in replacing the Saudis as the petro-state than really preventing climate disaster in the not-too-distant future.

And if that emphasis should continue to destabilize the increasingly climate-wracked world?


Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

19 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    I think we can all agree now that Petraeus has been thinking with the little head and not the big one, else he’d have processed these two facts in his decision-making and management:

    — Climate change affecting crop production increases the likelihood of social volatility and subsequent risk of terrorism and revolution. This factor may have directly affected Syria and Libya as well as Horn of Africa as all three have been affected directly by prolonged drought.

    — Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review has specifically outlined a need to move away from fossil fuels as both volatility in the fuel supply chain puts national security at risk, and the biggest single expense to military is fuel. (Apparently D-Pat ignored this key document he should have read while in DoD.)

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Drone purchases subsidize lobbyists, technical developments crucial to the surveillance state, consultants and contractors. Buying more drones – and paying for constant support costs – is the easiest decision a US government agency could make. It also reinforces one of Mr. Obama’s defining characteristics: the normalization and institutionalization of outrageous abuse.

    It’s also as if the mere purchase of drones were an adequate substitute for adequately and effectively using them. Congress must think so; it hasn’t held a single serious oversight hearing of the DHS since its foundation.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As with most folks in Washington who don’t work for a living, Mr. P is better at selling his desired image of himself than at actually making or running anything.

  4. x174 says:

    one of the ironies of the neocon nincompoopery and beltway brain-dead enders is that the Atlantic basin is especially vulnerable to climate change.

    The desire for drones more than anything expresses this administration’s desire for complete unaccountability: kill whomever with hellfire missiles to get more votes and get credit for the kills but secure deniability for responsibility for the death of innocents and whomever.

  5. marksb says:

    If David Petraeus was a thoughtful person, he woud have realized that sex under the desk with a reserve colonel was not only a bad idea as a commanding officer, but a really bad idea on a personal level. He would have realized that electronic communications outside of official and secure channels was also really stupid and compromising. And it turns out he can’t make a thoughtful command decision either.
    Just another Republican, doing whatever he wants to do because, after all, he’s better than everyone else.

  6. gmoke says:

    More natural gas means more methane releases to the atmosphere. We have to begin thinking about methane management for our own emissions and find ways to remove methane from the atmosphere in case the natural Arctic methane starts leaching out of the tundra and oceans which it already seems to be doing. Enough methane there to make everything we put into the sky look miniscule.

  7. Bob Schacht says:

    Ironies abound: Obama strokes Israeli fears by saying no nation could tolerate rockets raining down on them, and would have to defend themselves. However, armed drones flying into Pakistan apparently don’t qualify. Maybe we should just give Hamas some armed drones and show them how to use them? Because that’s OK, right?

    Bob in AZ

  8. Reginald Folkenmayer says:

    @Bob Schacht: Oil companies sometimes burn the natural gas/methane that initially comes from their wells, but a gas company would be burning their product.

    And yes, burning the gas creates CO2…

  9. Phoenix Woman says:

    @gmoke: Yup. And before the nukers start up, I want to point out that nuclear energy — from mining the radioactive fuel needed to the actual operation of the plants themselves — produces not just CO2, but greenhouse gases that are far more potent in their greenhouse effects than CO2:

    The nuclear lobby argues that nuclear reactors do not generate carbon dioxide and therefore have a beneficial effect on global warming. However, like coal, uranium can only be mined by using fossil fuels. The uranium ore is then converted, enriched and transported.

    Nuclear power plants must be built using fossil fuels for construction and manufacturing concrete, steel and other materials. Transporting and storing uranium requires fossil fuel.

    Taking this into account, scientists at the Oko Institut in Germany maintain that nuclear power plants generate more greenhouse gas emissions than a natural gas-fired cogeneration plant and more than renewable electricity from wind farms, solar and geothermal plants, hydroelectricity and biomass.

    What is worse is that the nuclear plants emit chlorofluorocarbon gas which is 10,000 to 20,000 times more efficient as an atmospheric heat trapper (greenhouse gas) as carbon dioxide. Chlorofluorocarbon gas, banned for commercial use, is an ozone layer destroyer.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @marksb: Well said, but that keeps the debate on the shiny object, sex, when (as you also say) it is about Mr. P’s and establishment Washington’s poor decision making skills, policies and their execution. Those things are getting a lot of people killed and a lot more of them viscerally angry at the US. That’s a self-fulfilling, hence, profitable, outcome for disaster capitalists and the surveillance state outsourcing complex. It’s bad for everyone else.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @Bob Schacht: Consistency is the hobgoblin, well, never mind.

    What goes around comes around is an observation that no one seems to value any more inside the Beltway. I suppose that’s because inside it, they make their own reality. Pity for everyone else who has to live with the true one.

  12. Procopius says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: Yes, he’s better at self-promotion than Mad Man Muntz (I don’t really miss him, I wish I was that age again when I first saw him after midnight on Saturdays). Now that more people have pointed out all the reasons we shouldn’t have hired Petraeus that were hidden when he was riing his wave, it’s time to bring in a new scam artist. After all, Petraeus is going to be gettin millions and millios in speaking fees, directorships of companies, and probably lofty-sounding jobs at conservative think tanks. Give a newer guy a chance. Maybe General Allen.

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