It was a seasonably chilly afternoon in 1974 when Senators Claiborne Pell, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and Clifford Case, a Republican from New Jersey, strode into the chambers of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for a classified briefing. While the meeting was labeled “top secret,” the topic at hand was rather mundane: They were there to discuss the weather.
More specifically, Pell, the chairman of the now-defunct subcommittee for Oceans and International Environment, and his colleague were about to learn the true extent of a secret five-year-old cloud seeding operation meant to lengthen the monsoon season in Vietnam, destabilize the enemy, and allow the United States to win the war.
Though it cycled through several names in its history, “Operation Popeye” stuck. Its stated objective—to ensure Americans won the Vietnam War—was never realized, but the revelation that the U.S. government played God with weather-altering warfare changed history. The Nixon administration distracted, denied, and, it seems, outright lied to Congress, but enterprising reporters published damning stories about rain being used as a weapon, and the Pentagon papers dripped classified details like artificial rain. Eventually, the federal government would declassify its Popeye documents and international laws aimed at preventing similar projects would be on the books.
But the public would, more or less, forget it ever happened. Given the rise of geo-engineering projects, both from municipal governments and private companies, some experts believe Popeye is newly relevant.