Tuesday 3 January 2023

US Spy Agency Works Inside America’s Borders To Assist With Disasters, Prepare For Climate Change

 A U.S. intelligence agency is turning to domestic deployments to assist with disaster relief and help prepare for climate change, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a spy organization that typically supports Department of Defense (DOD) overseas combat operations with mapping and imagery, helped relief workers in Florida locate and rescue survivors after Hurricane Ian ravaged the coast in September. NGA’s involvement in disaster relief efforts highlights a shift in intelligence officials’ willingness to engage within U.S. borders amid a perceived threat of climate change, according to the Post.

“Climate change is dramatically increasing the demand for military operations,” a DOD official said in June, echoing years of assertions from Pentagon leaders that warming temperatures create unstable societies and increase the risk of armed conflict.

Others say climate change creates a distraction from the core mission of DOD and the intelligence agencies that support the U.S. military, according to the Post.

“There are some very strong sensitivities and some hot-button issues,” Corry Robb, who helped run the NGA Florida team, told the Post. But “we’re helping fellow Americans, which is kind of neat.”

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for Hurricane Ian, one of a growing number of national disasters linked to climate change despite a lack of clear evidence according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on Sept. 29. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a U.S. national emergency assistance organization, used its emergency powers to request assistance from a spectrum of federal agencies, including NGA, the Post reported.

NGA’s access to advanced technology, including drones, satellites and complex analysis software, allowed it to collect imagery of areas hit hardest by the hurricane and generate a list of places likely to be most in need of search and rescue teams, the Post reported. NGA could also determine whether transportation infrastructure remained intact and plot the safest routes for rescue teams to extract hurricane victims.

The agency processed up to 60,000 images per day during the weeklong deployment, Robb told the Post.

While the NGA has participated in disaster relief efforts in the past, always without using classified information or systems, September was the first time the agency employed off-the-shelf drones to gather imagery, the Post reported.

NGA deployed under FEMA, a civilian agency, to be able to work domestically, the Post reported.

“It’s for a righteous reason, and they just need it,” Daniel Hoffman, a former senior Central Intelligence Agency officer, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Remember, there’s a strict adherence to the rule of law and all of that stuff, so I wouldn’t get too worried about big brother.”

DOD agencies have historically avoided domestic operations, often due to a legal prohibition over concerns of violating Americans’ privacy rights, scholars have explained.

“We don’t do domestic [intelligence] collection,” the Pentagon insisted after facing scrutiny over its failure to deploy National Guard troops ahead of anticipated unrest at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020. Nevertheless, DOD did have an internal intelligence assessment foreseeing the possibility of election-related rioting, according to The Intercept.

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