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WASHINGTON, May 3 ? Given the jobs of hunting Al Qaeda, tracking nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and monitoring the civil strife in Iraq, American spy agencies are not lacking for work these days. Should they also take on the task of analyzing global warming?

That question is being argued in Congress, as Democrats are fighting for a measure that would require intelligence agencies to produce a comprehensive study on the effects of global climate change on America?s national defense.

Democrats are arguing that large-scale crises caused by climate change, like drought, pandemics, famine and rising sea levels, will affect how the United States conducts foreign policy and where American military resources will be used over the next several decades.

The proposed National Intelligence Estimate would project the effects of global warming over the next 30 years, examining political, social, economic and agricultural risks.

But Republicans are dismissing the proposed study as an unnecessary burden on intelligence agencies already weighed down by the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan and by efforts to combat Islamic radicalism worldwide.

?The Republican members believe that those resources should be directed to clear and present dangers that pose a threat to the lives of Americans and our families,? said Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee.

An intelligence bill awaiting a vote in the House includes language that would make the climate change study mandatory, but it was opposed in a party-line vote by all nine Republican members of the intelligence committee. The Republicans argued that with $6.5 billion already being spent by other government agencies on climate change research, American spies have other priorities.

The question of whether American intelligence agencies should devote resources to global environmental issues is not new. In the 1990s, after the cold war ended, intelligence agencies shifted more money and people into exploring the potential effects of pollution, migration and scarce natural resources, but cut back drastically on those efforts after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A small Center for Environmental Intelligence was established in December 1996, but several years later was folded into another analysis unit in the intelligence community.

Intelligence analysts have already begun working on the effect of climate change on national security, officials said. They said they were using existing scientific research as the basis for their analysis.

The Democrats said that the proposed assessment would not require a diversion of intelligence-collecting staff from high-priority missions, and that much of the work could come from existing unclassified research within the agencies.

?This is the largest intelligence bill ever,? said Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas and chairman of the intelligence committee. ?The notion that we are shortchanging intelligence is not accurate.?

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