A group of environmental scientists working with the CIA once again has access to data gathered by intelligence satellites. The images include tropical forests, ice melts, desert landscapes, even population shifts. The program had been discontinued in 2001.

Around 60 scientists with security clearance are involved in the project and are monitored by the National Academy of Sciences. According to Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, the information is “basically free,” as the images have either already been captured for intelligence purposes or are being recorded during the times the satellites are not in use or over uninhabited land. However, while the information, for the most part, is being used to study strictly environmental changes, others, including CIA director Leon Panetta, believe that it could be potentially useful for national security.

In a recent New York Times article, Paula Weiss, a CIA spokeswoman, says, “Director Panetta believes it is crucial to examine the potential national security implications of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels and population shifts.”

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