By Donella Meadows
–November 29, 1990–
Only when a new world order comes into being do we realize how deeply the old order permeated our existence. Nothing could be more welcome than the fall of the communist regimes of Europe. Yet their absence requires painful re-adjustment, not only there, but here. Consider, for example, the plight of the CIA.
According to a startling recent report, the Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t know who “the enemy” is any more. Our former enemy is now not only cooperating with us in world affairs, it’s spilling its own secrets daily on the front pages of Pravda. A world without enemies and without secrets! What could be more demoralizing to an organization of capable, eager spies?
Therefore a high-level committee is meeting to define the coming enemies of the twenty-first century. There are plenty of candidates in the Middle East, of course. There are drug traffickers and terrorists to keep under surveillance all over the world. But it appears that the committee is gravitating toward declaring the new Number One enemy to be the Japanese.
Well, not the Japanese alone, but anyone who may be plotting to surpass American economic and technical expertise. Said CIA Chief William Webster in a recent speech, “In the years ahead international friction is likely to be increasingly expressed in economic terms…. The right information will be critical. Providing that information is, of course, the business of intelligence.”
Several Congressmen and even some officials of the CIA don’t like that “of course” in the last sentence. They are worried about mixing up the national security apparatus with the free market, putting our spies to work, effectively, for General Motors and IBM.
One could raise even more serious questions about the practice of creating enemies out of current friends — not to mention the self-fulfilling exercise of going out to look for enemies in the first place. Surely there must be more productive ways to use the talents of the CIA.
“We are an information-integrating-and-synthesis agency,” says one senior CIA official. “Our interest is in looking at very broad trends.” Synthesis sounds like something the nation needs. An understanding of interconnections, the big picture, the long term is too often absent from the typical government view, which seldom looks beyond the Beltway, the next election, or the boundaries of bureaucratic fiefdoms.
And with that big-picture understanding, the new CIA will find threats to our national security in some surprising places. That same unnamed senior official already glimpses the challenge, “We are concerned about hazardous waste disposal and the international implications of global warming — both of which come up in international conferences and meetings with the President.”
The enemies that could most undermine America’s future might very well be wastes and climate change. The secrets we most need to know may be nature’s secrets; the intelligence we most need may be the planet’s intelligence. That suggests fascinating new roles for the CIA.
They could put spy satellites to work, for instance, on measuring the rate of loss of tropical forest and identifying the perpetrators of that loss. They could train on-the-ground agents to help in the enormous job of categorizing the living species of the rain forest — a wealth of resources we know almost nothing about.
The loss of the planet’s soils is an ominous but unmeasured trend. Its implications for the destabilization of nations are unrealized, uncalculated. Perhaps the CIA could do the measuring and point to the gravest trouble spots for aid agencies to help remedy the damage.
The issue of climate change is frought with complexity, uncertainty, and the possibility of huge shifts in the global economic order. We can’t make CIA agents into climatologists running the mega-computer models upon which most of our knowledge in this field depends. But the CIA could help monitor the indicators of climate change, from the size of ice shelves at the poles to the growth of coral in tropical oceans. Presumably agents are already on site; they just need a new job description.
International law will increasingly require a way of detecting clandestine polluters of global waters, illegal whalers, breakers of agreements about chlorofluorocarbons and other banned toxics. Greenpeace can’t do it all. Some official help is necessary.
A CIA that delivered environmental intelligence would be welcome nearly everywhere. Agents could be above-board; they could tell their children and people at cocktail partes what they do. They would be aided and protected by local populations. Their information, once they attained it, wouldn’t have to be guarded at great expense. It could be shared gladly with a grateful world.
I hope that wouldn’t take all the fun out of it for them.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1990