A U.S. intelligence agency charged with protecting the nation from international threats is turning its sights inward to ward off the danger of climate change.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) diverted from its normal mission of supporting the Department of Defense in global combat operations in the wake of September’s Hurricane Ian.
"I just got the final numbers for NGA's support to Hurricane Ian. In 10 days, we reviewed 400,000 square miles of imagery and 20,000 damaged structures and created 1,000 custom, waterproof maps for search, rescue, and recovery efforts," said Whitworth.
— NGA (@NGA_GEOINT) October 11, 2022
The agency directed its powerful technology instead to Florida where it worked to use its mapping and imagery capabilities for search and rescue operations.
As the Post noted, this action is a remarkable shift in Washington’s willingness to deploy the nation’s considerable spying capabilities inward. This came as the Biden administration ramped up its programs to fight “climate-driven disasters.”
The NGA normally utilizes its resources for everything from monitoring the ongoing Iranian protests to North Korean missile launches and Russian military actions in Ukraine.
Its new focus hit much closer to home.
The Department of Defense believes that climate change has created new priorities within the U.S. When Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s coastline, NGA technology provided tens of thousands of drone and satellite images to assist rescuers to zero in on those in danger.
The U.S. intelligence community has long avoided domestic imperatives, but those days may be coming to an end. In June, a DOD official declared that “climate change is dramatically increasing the demand for military operations.”
Those words followed a build-up of statements from the Pentagon that climate change is destabilizing countries and spurring conflict.
This particular deployment came after President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration on Sept. 29. This gave the federal government sweeping power to gather assistance across several agencies, even those not normally tasked with operating within the nation’s borders.
Officials report accessing up to 60,000 images per day during the rescue operation.
As the Post reported, this is the first instance of the NGA using its drones to gather images within the U.S. And though it was deployed under FEMA, technically making it a civil operation and able to work domestically, this significant shift in the intelligence community calls for close scrutiny.