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Probe into climate scientists' stolen emails gets serious

The investigation into the stolen emails from climate scientists in 2009 has suddenly gotten quite serious. It shuffled along under the guidance of a small UK police force for two years. Now Scotland Yard and the U.S. Department of Justice have joined the hunt for cyber criminals.

In 2009 thousands of email from one of the most prestigious universities conducting global-warming science was hacked by criminals. I say criminals because stealing emails is a crime — a cybercrime. The Hadley Climate Research Unit (HadCRU) and East Anglia University server’s firewalls were breached. The target was apparently a scientist named Dr. Phillip Jones.  Because he communicated by email with scientists all over the world, dozens of other scientists’ emails were stolen in the heist. Then, the hackers released most of the emails to the public.

Dr. Phillip Jones
uea.ac.uk
Dr. Phillip Jones

No one is exactly clear why it was done. There are theories. One suggests that opponents of the science, unable to disprove the findings, set out to embarrass the scientists themselves. Another theory suggests that fossil-fuel interests orchestrated the hack and timed the release of the emails to injure the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

They are just theories. There are no facts to support them. Until last week, the investigation limped along conducted by the Norwich Constabulary, a small department. It is about to get exciting.

The press called it "climategate." Led by pro-fossil fuel and denialist bloggers as well as public-relations types working for industry supported think-tanks and foundations, the hungry scoop-crazy media reported the emails showed the climate scientists involved in criminal fraud, knowingly manipulating data and joining forces to keep contrarian science out of the major peer-reviewed journals. 

Probes launched
A half-dozen investigations were launched into the claims. All of them exonerated the scientists, all of them found no manipulation of the science. When the comments were put back into their proper context, the media did little to correct the impression it had created. So doubt about the science and the scientists lingers. The criminals won the battle. But the war is yet to be decided.  Fresh troops have just taken the field. I expect the criminals have broken a sweat.

This year another batch of emails (likely from the same theft, but held back) were dropped.  Much of the mainstream media had learned lessons from their rush to judgment in 2009.  Coverage was much more circumspect. They had learned apparently that reporting out-of-context chatter from stolen emails leaves scoop journalists with ice cream on their faces.

Agents in Great Britain have executed search warrants and seized equipment from anti-science bloggers who helped spread the stolen emails. The U.S. Department of Justice has sent letters to internet service providers and websites in the United States also involved in spreading the stolen emails. They are all being asked to maintain all evidence of any emails received from a shadowy source known as "FOIA."  "FOIA" was the chief distributor of the stolen emails. Norwich has called in the big dogs.

One of the world’s most famous climate scientists, Dr. Michael Mann at the University of Pennsylvania, communicated often with Dr. Jones at East Anglia. In the original reporting, Mann was often quoted, misquoted and taken out of context. Though the investigations have found he did nothing wrong, climategate has nevertheless hurt him.

Mann told me that the people who can’t abide the idea of global warming being true "have no legitimate scientific leg to stand on.  So, they have turned to criminal acts in an attempt to distract the public and policymakers." Dr. Mann is convinced that the criminal act shows the work of "industry-funded front groups and the individuals who do their bidding."

Cyber-terrorism?
The question is whether this can be characterized as a simple cybercrime -- or are there elements of cyber-terrorism involved? Bombing a building is an act of terrorism, but it is not the goal.  The goal, according to experts, is to terrorize, immobilize and destroy one’s sense of security.

Bruce Schneier
schneier.com
Bruce Schneier

So I turned to one of the most respected cyber-terrorism experts in the country, Bruce Schneier.  Schneier has been called to testify before Congress. He is the author of eight books on the subjects of cryptography, warfare, crime and terrorism committed by cyber-criminals.

Schneier told me: "What I’ve been thinking about is whether the hack was intended to intimidate, threaten or bully. Then the crime becomes an effort to stop people from doing legitimate research. So, it is not just a data theft, but has a goal of creating a chilling effect, a threat, an intimidation."

Schneier understands the cyber world, but also the law of unintended consequences. "We are moving into a world in which everything we do is persistent," said Schneier.  By persistent, Schneier means it just doesn’t go away. "A phone conversation is actually archaic," he said.  "Today the conversation is by email or social media and those conversations are persistent."

If everything we say never goes away, it can be brought back and used to harm us. "Gotcha politics is a good example," Schneier says. "Record everything a politician says and find the two sentences he or she uttered to destroy them."

He quotes Cardinal Richelieu, "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

I asked Schneier if "persistence" makes us less willing to communicate. "As we move in a world of persistent conversations, the ephemera disappears," he said.

Ephemeral conversations
The ephemera he is talking about is the way we used to communicate — talking with one another.  The conversation is gone — it is ephemeral. "A lot of our privacy was incidental to the ephemeral nature of our conversations," he told me. "Two million emails were subpoenaed in the Microsoft trial. Not long ago those conversations would have been ephemeral. They would have been a chat in someone’s office."

Dr. Mann has long believed that intimidation was one goal of the cyber criminals. "They want to intimidate, stymie, harass scientists who are out in front on the risks of climate change, and they want to serve notice to other scientists of what will be in store for them if they speak out."

Schneier said: "How open would you be in conversation if you thought your words would be on the front page of the newspaper the next day?" It is a trend. We have moved, he said, into a new world where we are losing the natural privacy we once enjoyed.

Not only are our communications on the internet persistent, but so is memory. Dr. John Abraham, thermal scientist at the University of St. Thomas, told me: "Those crimes were used to fabricate lies about world-class scientists — lies that are still being repeated today."  

Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on."

I’m hoping the shoes Scotland Yard and the FBI are lacing up are track shoes.

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Comments (18)

I'm happy to hear another investigation is underway, Don.

In keeping with the spirit of those already conducted to exonerate the contents of the e-mails, safeguard the reputation of the climate "scientists" to say nothing of the "research" funding, and to ensure a commensurately thorough bit of work, I suggest Oliver North be dispached immediately to get to the bottom of this hacking.

Concerned insiders, distressed in 2009 about lies being disseminated by “global warming” purveyors, hacked and released their incriminating emails. In 1969, concerned insider Daniel Ellsberg, distressed about lies being told by the U.S. government regarding Vietnam, stole and released the Pentagon Papers.

One mans criminal is another mans whistleblower.

We can only hope those concerned insiders turn themselves in to Federal authorities the way Ellsberg did. At he time, he said "I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision."

We'll see if the climate hackers do the same.

Canada pulls out of the Kyoto protocol hours after returning home from the latest warming confab in Durban. My guess is they finally saw the light as to where this whole movement is going.

Schneier's point about the persistence of correspondence is duly noted, but the real takeaway point here is that in all the stolen emails there's no "smoking gun" or even a slightly smoky cap pistol to be had, in contrast to the devastating revelations of the Pentagon Papers. The usual Fox News suspects have abundantly shown their willingness to gin up innuendo by quote-mining before and all that's new here is the source material.

It's interesting to note how former governor Mitt Romney's email was purged too, which leads one to wonder what was there that needed purging in the first place.

"We'll see if the climate do the same" [as Daniel Ellsberg did when he turned himself in after disseminating the Pentagon Papers).

I don't think so, as the "industry-funded front groups and the individuals who do their bidding" that Dr. Mann describes are none other than the all-powerful Koch Brothers and their oil, gas and coal buddies -- members of the American Legislative Exchange Council one and all. And all interested in discrediting the proofs of climate change -- and the scientists who worked to identify them -- so they can continue to fight meaningful federal and state legislation that would protect the environment and discourage investment in renewables lest their profits be reduced by one iota.

"In the original reporting, Mann was often quoted, misquoted and taken out of context."

Those e-mails were reproduced in their raw state; verbatim. No one has suggested the words were changed in any way.

It was possible to recreate long strings of conversation threads; the context was, and is crystal clear. These guys were conspiring to cook the science, keep critics at arms length and discourage questioning by heaping scorn and ridicule upon peers that disagreed with them.

What the "investigators" (employers of the outed psuedo-scientists, who had every bit as much to lose as the accused did) did was to "re"-context those conversations into something they felt they could spin to their advantage.

Fortunately stifling the truth has proven harder than stuffing cats in a bag, and all the succor available to frustrated psuedo-scientists and their apologists is a bilious plate of cold revenge.

Bon appetit.

Well, Don, it appears that you have "rounded up the usual suspects" by writing this excellent article. Hopefully, the investigation will end the sad campaign to destroy the science of global warming.

Meanwhile, CO2 levels continue to rise and the atmosphere gets warmer.

# 8

Aiding and abetting ?

Sloppiest, laziest, most biassed piece of "journalism" I've read for many's the year. Have you read the reports of any of the investigations? I read the Oxburgh report, for one, it's a joke, really superficial. I don't believe that you have looked into the sceptics' postion at all, you are parroting what someone has told you. If I owned the Minn Post, I would send you back to journalism school; on a bad day I might fire you.

Have a nice Christmas

Just small EPA regulations would prevent 34,000 premature deaths a year. How can you be pro-life and ignore how many lives would be saved? I do not believe the Republican party can claim to be pro-life when they oppose these life saving measures.

"this could result in 34,000 fewer premature deaths per year by 2014, plus preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma every year."

http://www.grist.org/list/2011-07-08-how-many-lives-did-the-epa-just-sav...

Thanks for the excellent piece (as usual) Don. As we can see from the rest of the comments, there are clearly some people whose dysfonic perspective on the subject of climate change still leave them looking at a gigantic haystack of research,...

and seeing only the needle they perceive to be buried within it that, to them, proves the haystack, itself, doesn't exist.

Of course it is that phantom needle they keep desperately seeking to convince themselves (and each other) that they can see that doesn't actually exist,...

but those devoted (or paid to be devoted) to trumpeting the reality of that non-existent needle will NEVER stop proclaiming that they see it perfectly clearly,...

and that all those who DON'T see it (those who actually work with and comprehend such things as factual realities) are the ones who simply MUST be blind.

They believers in the phantom needle have no actual evidence to prove or even imply the blindness of those others,...

except that they, themselves, really, really really BELIEVE that it is inconceivable that their own perspective, might be mistaken, nor can they possibly have been misguided if not mislead by those whom they have trusted, (the denizens of the weasel den, for instance)...

who are only to happy to abuse that blind trust to pursue a VERY DIFFERENT agenda than the one they've led their devoted followers to attribute to them,...

namely their own continuing massive enrichment off our planet's current energy supply system, no matter at what cost to our planet's current and future citizens.

Outright break-ins have occurred in Canada. These were no insiders.

http://www.examiner.com/climate-change-in-national/canadian-climate-scie...

The U.S. ranks first among the world's nations in per-capita generation of the greenhouse gases that are increasingly The U.S. ranks first among the world's nations in per-capita generation of the greenhouse gases that are increasingly warming our planet. Led by the Republican Party and its supporters, the U.S. also ranks first among the world's nations in per-capita denial of human-induced global warming and its increasingly lethal impacts on our life-sustaining ecosphere. Those who have engaged in that denial and undermined efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reverse global warming, and adapt to its impacts have effectively if not intentionally aided and abetted global ecocide.

Because of that pathological behavior and the inertia of our planet's climate system, even if greenhouse gas emissions were completely halted today, we have already been locked into decades of global warming. And because the U.S. and the other 190 or so nations who recently attended the 17th UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa again failed to adopt effective measures to reverse global warming and adapt to its impacts, they will become increasingly irreversible and our heirs will have to cope with them for the rest of the their lives.

Only mass grassroots actions will galvanize our nation and the other nations to soon adopt the measures that will minimize those impacts. Are Mr. Shelby and the people who have commented on his timely article ready and willing to undertake those actions? In behalf of my recently born first grandchild, I am.warming our planet. Led by the Republican Party and its supporters, the U.S. also ranks first among the world's nations in per-capita denial of human-induced global warming and its increasingly lethal impacts on our life-sustaining ecosphere. Those who have engaged in that denial and undermined efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reverse global warming, and adapt to its impacts have effectively if not intentionally aided and abetted global ecocide.

Because of that pathological behavior and the inertia of our planet's climate system, even if greenhouse gas emissions were completely halted today, we have already been locked into decades of global warming. And because the U.S. and the other 190 or so nations who recently attended the 17th UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa again failed to adopt effective measures to reverse global warming and adapt to its impacts, they will become increasingly irreversible and our heirs will have to cope with them for the rest of the their lives.

Only mass grassroots actions will galvanize our nation and the other nations to soon adopt the measures that will minimize those impacts. Are Mr. Shelby and the people who have commented on his timely article ready and willing to undertake those actions? In behalf of my recently born first grandchild, I am.

." Dr. Mann is convinced that the criminal act shows the work of "industry-funded front groups and the individuals who do their bidding."

Mann's accusation could go a long way toward catching the alledged criminals. All he has to do is step forward with the facts. Or, like much of his work, is this just a guess. Without the data not very scientific.

My apology for the transcription errors in Comment #16. It should read as follows:

The U.S. ranks first among the world's nations in per-capita generation of the greenhouse gases that are increasingly warming our planet. Led by the Republican Party and its supporters, the U.S. also ranks first among the world's nations in per-capita denial of human-induced global warming and its increasingly lethal impacts on our life-sustaining ecosphere. Those who have engaged in that denial and undermined efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reverse global warming, and adapt to its impacts have effectively if not intentionally aided and abetted global ecocide.

Because of that pathological behavior and the inertia of our planet's climate system, even if greenhouse gas emissions were completely halted today, we have already been locked into decades of global warming. And because the U.S. and the other 190 or so nations who recently attended the 17th UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa again failed to adopt effective measures to reverse global warming and adapt to its impacts, they will become increasingly irreversible and our heirs will have to cope with them for the rest of the their lives.

Only mass grassroots actions will galvanize our nation and the other nations to soon adopt the measures that will minimize those impacts. Are Mr. Shelby and the people who have commented on his timely article ready and willing to undertake those actions? In behalf of my recently born first grandchild, I am.