Sunday, November 30, 2014

Peak Oil: does the CIA know?

Years ago, at an international conference on peak oil, I met Michael Ruppert, who later became known for his investigations of the 9/11 attacks. He told me that in the audience, that day, there were a few CIA agents whom he personally knew.

I had no way to check Ruppert's statement, but, on the whole, it made sense to me. The CIA, after all, is an "intelligence" agency and their main purpose is to collect data. So, the fact that some CIA people were attending a meeting on peak oil didn't mean that they thought we were dangerous subversives. They were simply doing their job: collecting data about peak oil; a dangerous economic and political problem (or maybe both things..... Who knows?)

Over the years, I have occasionally wondered about what the Central Intelligence Agency may know about peak oil. They surely have lots of data on crude oil, including data that for us - common citizens - are not available. In principle, they could do a much better job than the ragtag group of geologists and physicists forming the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO). The same is true for climate change; another dangerous worldwide problem. And they don't just have knowledge, they have power. So, could they be acting in some way on these problems?

Alas, every time I asked myself this question, I came to the conclusion that - no - there is no such a thing as a hidden force understanding and acting on the global problems of oil depletion and climate change. No matter what mysterious powers we attribute to the CIA - or to any other of the many shady government agencies charged with "intelligence" collection - my impression is that we deal with an oxymoron. There is no trace of intelligence in their actions - at least in the sense of tackling global serious and long term problems.

My impression is that the problem is that we simply don't know how to manage very large organizations, and that all large organizations tend to flounder in a mess of bureaucracy, individual interests, compartimentalization, power games, infighting and more. In the case of the CIA, these problems are compounded by the fact that everything is shrouded in secrecy. Recently, I stumbled on an article which describes the CIA mode of operation; seemingly from first hand experience. I have no way to check whether the person who uses the nickname of "Shellback" is reliable. However, on the whole, his interpretation fits well with my recent experience with the European Parliament, another huge, bureaucratic, and fragmented organization which seems to be unable to process information in any rational way. And that spells big trouble when we deal with global problems such as peak oil and climate change.

Below, you can find Shellback's article from "The Russian Insider" - Let me repeat that I have no way to tell how reliable Shellback's statements are and the fact that I am reproducing this article doesn't mean that I agree with what Shellback says. I am just passing it to readers as as something that may be interesting to understand how large organizations function. 


From "The Russian Insider"

The Severe, and Maybe Fatal, Handicaps of US Intelligence

Obsession with personalities
Over-impressed by collection techniques
Often re-written to conform to expectations


  1. Thank you--your post has some excellent observations. Perhaps government intelligence is best considered within the realm of agnotology*

    *Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology.

    I think Daniel Kahneman could probably shine light on it--

    “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
    ― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

    “This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

    “The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”

    “we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”

    Did you post this originally?

    George Hart
    Concord Massachusetts

  2. "So, the fact that some CIA people were attending a meeting on peak oil didn't mean that they thought we were dangerous subversives."

    That is an assumption on your part. You are forgiven. It is a common error to assign others an intelligence and sensitivity equal to your own. It is a very human mistake to make.

    Data and knowledge one can have, but yet can be completely devoid of wisdom.

    Obsession with personalities
    Over-impressed by collection techniques
    Often re-written to conform to expectations

    With that list knowing all the details of Peak Oil gains them nothing. It is a case of:

    "Water, water, every where,
    Nor any drop to drink."

    “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.” ― Albert Einstein

  3. My own view is that “the CIA” -which as you correctly point out is a large organization with all of the problems which all large organizations have and which you nicely summarized) DOES (very actively, I believe) try to follow and try to understand both peak oil and climate change and also other environmental problems and trends. And it comes up with various analyses internally regarding: a) what are the problems and issues; b) how do they affect U.S. “national security” interests and c) how do they they affect U.S. geopolitical interests more broadly and ….also d) how do they affect the World and e) what can the U.S. “government” (or policy making system) do about them.

    But what “comes out of “the CIA as a whole” (and just like any other large organization it cannot really speak with one voice, and/ but SINCE it often does, the "speakers" will automatically suppress the many internal voices and viewpoints which in fact make it up; and so, for instance, “intelligence estimates” fed to the U.S. president daily are fed to him and the national security council by some special group within the CIA and not by the individual analysts or agents who prepared them)…and various analyses are then fed into “the U.S. government and policy-making system” more broadly in its various points and places. A system which is comprised not just of the executive branch but also of the other branches of government (congressional committees and etc.) as well as the top echelons of business and corporations and their owner elites who more or less control them. (and the government)

    And this “policy making system” is another extremely large entity made up of more than one large organization (e.g. congress or the cabinet or the pentagon and etc.) and also comprises various networks both formal and informal on both the policy-development and the policy-implementation sides of “policy-making”.

    And as the additional reflections regarding the broader U.S. and NATO intelligence structure which follow your own post correctly point out, the “intelligence community” is also diverse and comprises far more organizations or agencies than just the CIA. (and the “community” is growing and expanding by the minute)

    As a met result what “comes out the other end” (of the U.S. policy making and policy implementation system as advised by the CIA and other intelligence agencies) probably does not resemble very much some of the more technical analyses made by various CIA units or their single specialist who attend peak oil or climate change meetings. And this of course is true also for the European Parliament and other European Institutions such as the European Commission.

    More broadly speaking this is a problem of “governance and governability” of an ever more complex and diverse human society on earth made up of many organizations, agencies, institutions and entities both public and private.

    So we should perhaps ask…. can we manage history? We have never done a very good job of doing so in the past and I doubt we are going to be able to do a better job of it today or in the future. Even though the risks are now FAR GREATER than they have been ever before to the collective survival of the species. At best we might be able to avoid some future World War Ones even though ex-ante we don’t seem particularly able to avoid the new one we seem on the cusp of now. Perhaps some excellent systems and network modelers might be able to come to the rescue with some great computer models of what is going to happen and we can then pull just the right system levers in various organizations and avoid disaster and get onto a virtuous cycle?

    1. "Perhaps some excellent systems and network modelers might be able to come to the rescue with some great computer models of what is going to happen and we can then pull just the right system levers in various organizations and avoid disaster"

      You might enjoy 'The Old Man In The Cave'.

      Sadly, not so many are interested in the survival of humanity as illustrated by this old Twilight Zone vignette. I wish system modellers really could come to the rescue. I also wish I had a pony.

  4. THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (Sydney Pollack - 1975)

    .....Turner goes back to New York City and meets Higgins on a busy street. Higgins defends the oil fields plan, claiming that there will be a day in which oil shortages will cause a major economic crisis for the country. And when that day comes, Americans will want the government to use any means necessary to obtain the oil. Turner says he has told the press "a story" (they are standing outside The New York Times office), but Higgins questions Turner's assurances that the story will be printed. After a brief dialogue, an anxious Turner walks away. The final shot is a freeze frame of Turner passing behind a Salvation Army band singing Christmas carols, while looking over his shoulder toward the camera.

  5. Traducción al español.

    El pico del petróleo: ¿sabe la CIA?

    Hace años, en una conferencia internacional sobre el pico del petróleo, conocí a Michael Ruppert, que más tarde se hizo conocido por sus investigaciones sobre los ataques del 9/11. Me dijo que en la audiencia, ese día, había algunos agentes de la CIA a quien personalmente conocía.

    No tenía manera de comprobar la declaración de Ruppert, pero, en general, tenía sentido para mí. La CIA, después de todo, es una agencia de "inteligencia", y su objetivo principal es recoger datos. Así, el hecho de que algunas personas de la CIA estaban asistiendo a una reunión sobre el pico del petróleo no significa que ellos pensaban que éramos peligrosos subversivos. Ellos simplemente estaban haciendo su trabajo: la recogida de datos sobre el pico del petróleo; un peligroso problema económico y político (o tal vez ambas cosas ..... ¿quién sabe?)

    Con los años, yo de vez en cuando he preguntado acerca de lo que la Agencia Central de Inteligencia puede saber sobre el pico del petróleo. Ellos seguramente tienen un montón de datos sobre el petróleo crudo, incluidos los datos que para nosotros - los ciudadanos comunes - no están disponibles. En principio, podrían hacer un trabajo mucho mejor que el confuso grupo de geólogos y físicos que forman la Asociación para el Estudio del Pico del Petróleo (ASPO). Lo mismo es cierto para el cambio climático; otro problema en todo el mundo peligroso. Y ellos no sólo tienen el conocimiento, que tienen el poder. Por lo tanto, podrían ser actuando de alguna manera en estos problemas?

    Por desgracia, cada vez que me hice esta pregunta, me vino a la conclusión de que - no - no hay tal cosa como una fuerza de entender y actuar sobre los problemas globales de agotamiento del petróleo y el cambio climático oculto. No importa lo que los poderes misteriosos que atribuimos a la CIA – o a cualquier otra de las muchas agencias gubernamentales encargadas de la recolección de sombra "inteligencia" - mi impresión es que nos ocupamos de un oxímoron. No hay rastro de la inteligencia en sus acciones - al menos en el sentido de hacer frente a los problemas globales graves ya largo plazo.

    Mi impresión es que el problema es que simplemente no sabemos cómo gestionar organizaciones muy grandes, y que todas las grandes organizaciones tienden a perderse en un lío de la burocracia, los intereses individuales, compartimentación, los juegos de poder, luchas internas y más. En el caso de la CIA, estos problemas se ven agravados por el hecho de que todo se mantiene en secreto. Recientemente, me topé con un artículo que describe el modo de operación de la CIA; aparentemente de la experiencia de primera mano. No tengo forma de comprobar si la persona que utiliza el apodo de "Marinero" es fiable. Sin embargo, en general, su interpretación encaja bien con mi reciente experiencia con el Parlamento Europeo, otra organización enorme, burocrática, y fragmentada, que parece ser incapaz de procesar la información de ninguna manera racional. Y eso explica el marasmo en que quedamos atrapados cuando nos ocupamos de los problemas mundiales, como el pico del petróleo y el cambio climático.

    A continuación podrá encontrar el artículo de Marinero de "The Insider ruso" - Permítanme repetir que no tengo ninguna manera de saber qué tan confiables las declaraciones de Shellback son y el hecho de que yo reproduzco este artículo no significa que estoy de acuerdo con lo que dice el Marinero. Sólo estoy pasando a los lectores como como algo que puede ser interesante para entender cómo funcionan las organizaciones grandes.

    1. Anselmo, but are you publishing these translations somewhere? Do you have a blog?

  6. copy of this document also available on From the Wilderness:

    March 1977: CIA Intel Memo: The Impending Soviet Oil Crisis (ER 77-10147):

    Intelligence Memorandum titled "The Impending Soviet Oil Crisis (ER 77-10147)," was issued in March 1977 by the Office of Economic Research and classified "Secret" until its public release in January 2001 in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

    The Memorandum predicts an impending peak in Soviet oil production "not later than the early 1980s" (the actual peak occurred in 1987 at 12.6 million barrels per day, following a preliminary peak in 1983 of 12.5 Mb/d). "During the next decade," the unnamed authors of the document conclude, "the USSR may well find itself not only unable to supply oil to Eastern Europe and the West on the present scale, but also having to compete for OPEC oil for its own use." The Memorandum predicts that the oil peak will have important economic impacts: "When oil production stops growing, and perhaps even before, profound repercussions will be felt on the domestic economy of the USSR and on its international economic relations."

    -- Military Gospel: Scarcity as source of conflict: Central Intelligence Agency.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)