Hero: Linda Zall Pioneered Climate Intelligence at the CIA

Art: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

Women are at the forefront of the climate movement — but one woman’s pivotal role in climate science and intelligence gathering had been shrouded in secrecy for decades.  Earlier this year, the NY Times’ Bill Broad put a spotlight on the fine work of Linda Zall, who was a leader in using the CIA’s spy satellites to gather and analyze climate change data and intelligence for the government.  In the 1990s, she led an elite team of 70 scientists (called the Medea Project after the Greek mythological sorceress) that used the agency’s extensive satellite imagery collection to “solve environmental mysteries.”  In 1995, President Bill Clinton ordered the declassification of more than 800,000 spy-satellite images and that spawned the modern, data-driven environmental movement.

Now we have Google Earth so everyone can see the evidence of our changing climate.  But at the time, her work was visionary and led the publication of hundreds of groundbreaking papers, studies, and reports — some secret and some public — on climate change, but none of them had her name on them because of where she worked.  We are glad that she can now, years later, talk openly about her work, and during Women’s History Month, we salute all she did to advance climate science and intelligence.

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