Chill factor at 'CIA' weather query
A leading American climate scientist has said he felt "scared" when a shadowy organisation claiming to represent the CIA asked him about the possibility of weaponised weather.
Professor Alan Robock received a call three years ago from two men wanting to know if experts would be able to spot a hostile force's attempts to upset the US climate.
But he suspected the real intention was to find out how feasible it might be to secretly interfere with the climate of another country.
The professor, from the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, New Jersey, has investigated the potential risks and benefits of using stratospheric particles to simulate the climate-changing effects of volcanic eruptions.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California, where he took part in a debate on geoengineering to combat climate change, Prof Robock said: " I got a phone call from two men who said we work as consultants for the CIA and we'd like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we know about it?
"I told them, after thinking a little bit, that we probably would because if you put enough material in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight we would be able to detect it and see the equipment that was putting it up there.
"At the same time I thought they were probably also interested in if we could control somebody else's climate, could they detect it?"
Asked how he felt when the approach was made, he said: "Scared. I'd learned of lots of other things the CIA had done that haven't followed the rules and I thought that wasn't how I wanted my tax money spent. I think this research has to be in the open and international so there isn't any question of it being used for hostile purposes."
Geoengineering to offset the effects of global warming could include scattering sulphur particles in the upper atmosphere to re-direct sunlight back into space, seeding the oceans with iron to encourage the spread of carbon-hungry algae, and creating reflective areas on the Earth's surface.
But the long-term effects of such strategies are largely unknown and many experts fear they may pose grave risks.
A further twist in Prof Robock's story concerns the CIA's alleged co-funding of a major report on geoengineering published this week by the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences.
The report mentions the "US intelligence community" in its list of sponsors, which also includes the American space agency Nasa, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the US Department of Energy.
Prof Robock said the CIA had told one of his colleagues it wanted to fund the report, but apparently did not want this fact to be too obvious.
"The CIA is a major funder of the National Academies report so that makes me really worried who is going to be in control," he added.
He pointed out that the US had a history of using the weather in a hostile way. During the Vietnam War clouds were seeded over the Ho Chi Minh trail - a footpath-based supply route used by the North Vietnamese - to make the track muddy in an attempt to cut it off.
The CIA had also seeded clouds over Cuba "to make it rain and ruin the sugar harvest".
During a press conference on the potential risks of geoengineering, Prof Robock was asked what its greatest hazard might be.
He replied: "The answer is global nuclear war because if one country wants to control the climate in one way, and another doesn't want it or if they try to shoot down the planes ... if there is no agreement, it could result in terrible consequences."