President Joe Biden's latest addition to a prestigious board of intelligence advisers is a liberal climate scientist who said she experienced an "acute mental health crisis" and "could not get out of bed" following the 2016 election of former president Donald Trump.
Biden on Thursday tapped Brown University climate scientist Kim Cobb to serve on the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, the White House announced in a press release. While past presidents have used the board to probe high-profile national security threats and intelligence failures, it's unclear whether Cobb will be able to stomach such sensitive and unsettling information.
That's because the mere news of Trump's upset win in 2016 sent Cobb into "an acute mental health crisis" that for weeks saw her unable to "get out of bed, despite having four children to tend to," the climate scientist told Mother Jones in 2019. "I could not see a way forward," Cobb recalled at the time. "My most resounding thought was, how could my country do this? I had to face the fact that there was a veritable tidal wave of people who don't care about climate change and who put personal interest above the body of scientific information I had contributed to."
Cobb's appointment to the board reflects the Biden administration's whole-of-government approach to fighting climate change. Just one week after taking office in January 2021, Biden issued an executive order that declared climate change considerations "central to United States foreign policy and national security" and called on Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to prepare a report on the "national security impacts of climate change." Months later, in June 2021, Biden identified climate change as the "greatest threat" to American national security.
Neither the White House nor Cobb returned requests for comment.
Beyond Cobb's self-described "mental health crisis" following the 2016 presidential election, the climate scientist in 2014 boasted of conducting her "third live radio interview for the Voice of Russia," a now-defunct Russian government radio network. The network aimed to "restore a fair attitude towards Russia as an important country of the world with good intentions," Russian propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov said in December 2013, roughly one year before Cobb's third Voice of Russia appearance. Cobb is also a member of CLIVAR, an international network of climate scientists that receives support from China's Ministry of Natural Resources.
The President's Intelligence Advisory Board is by no means a well-known entity—a 2006 Richard Lounsbery Foundation report called it "one of the smallest, most secretive, least well-known … parts of the U.S. intelligence community." Still, the board can be extremely influential, the report notes, if the president wants it to be. Richard Nixon, for example, ordered the board to provide a yearly assessment of the Soviet Union's nuclear threat, and board members have "historically had access to the most highly classified intelligence from the entire intelligence community," according to the report. But not all presidents have held the board in high regard—some have opted to fill it with high-profile political supporters who were rarely consulted, the report states.