Home > Environment > Climategate:The smoking gun

Climategate:The smoking gun

March 12th, 2010

In writing my previous post on the “Climategate” break-in to the University of East Anglia computer system , I remained unclear about who was actually responsible for the break-in theft of the emails, which were then selectively quoted to promote a bogus allegation of scientific fraud. It seems unlikely at this point that the hacker/leaker wll be identified, so as far as criminal liability is concerned, we will probably never know.

Looking over the evidence that is now available, however, I think there is enough to point to Steven McIntyre as the person (apart of course from the actual hacker/leaker) who bears primary moral responsibility for the crime.

Here’s the timeline of key events

By July 2009, CRU had advised McIntyre that climate data used in their work was available from the original sources, but that they couldn’t release it because some sources had supplied it under confidentiality agreements.

24 July 2009: McIntyre organizes a spam FOI campaign against CRU, asking his supporters to send requests nominating five countries whose data they wanted of the form:

I hereby make a EIR/FOI request in respect to any confidentiality agreements)restricting transmission of CRUTEM data to non-academics involing(sic) the following countries: [insert 5 or so countries that are different from ones already requested]

(unsurprisingly, his supporters ignored the request to stick to new countries, and sent multiples of the same request). In the end, CRU got over 100 FOI requests, all essentially identical, but different enough to pose a huge burden.

25 July 2009: The next day McIntyre announced that he had got a mass of CRU data, essentially all that sought in the harassment campaign, in a post headed “a mole”. McIntyre stated in comments that he had received the data from a person in the UK. In any case, it is clear that his harassment campaign was going hand in hand with attempts to gain unauthorised access to CRU computers, and did not stop when its supposed goal was realised.

Over the weekend beginning Friday 13 November, someone located and copied files (apparently associated with the CRU response to this effort, although this is unclear) from a back-up server at the university’s Climatic Research Unit, and attempted to load it on to the RealClimate site under the name FOIA.zip (the files were in a directory called FOI2009). That attempt failed and the files were then widely circulated to anti-science sites. It’s unclear whether the extraction of the file required sophisticated hacking, simple illegal entry to a poorly protected site, or McIntyre’s “mole”. What is clear, as this report notes is that the name FOi2009 indicates that someone associated with the campaign was responsible. As the report says

An abbreviation often used for the US Freedom of Information Act, it suggests again that the leaker was familiar with the attempts by US bloggers and others to get release of tree ring and similar data.

.

These files included large numbers of emails, selective quotation of which was the primary focus of the subsequent bogus scandal. Whatever claims might be made about access to data, there is no justification for stealing and publishing other peoples’ mail. Everyone who passed on or made use of the stolen emails was guilty of an offence against normal standards of behavior.

Having been advised of the stolen emails, McIntyre linked to them and played a prominent role in disseminating dishonest and misleading claims about their contents, focusing on the phrases “trick” and “hide the decline” which were used to suggest a conspiracy to commit scientific fraud. In fact, as the U Penn investigation found, these claims were baseless. “Trick” referred to a clever way of combining data, and the “decline” was not a decline in global temperatures but a well-known problematic feature of tree ring data.

So, to sum up, McIntyre, having earlier obtained information from the CRU file system by means he declined to reveal, linked to the stolen emails shortly after the theft and made dishonest and defamatory use of the stolen information. The excuse that he was not personally involved in the hack/leak, but merely benefited from the proceeds is essentially irrelevant in moral terms.

What can we learn from this? The first point is that what has been presented as an exercise in a quest for transparency is in fact a standard piece of rightwing harassment and intimidation of scientists, along the lines of the Data Quality Act.

The second is that those who accepted McIntyre’s self-presentation as an honest seeker after truth and the CRU scientists as secretive obstructionists have been suckered. That includes the Institute of Physics, at least some people in the British FOI office and, unfortunately, George Monbiot. Monbiot at least is clearly acting in good faith, and the FOI people presumably didn’t realise they were being played. The story with the Institute of Physics is much murkier, an irony not lost on Tim Lambert.

Note: I’ve updated this to correct some errors. In particular, I mistakenly thought the name FOIA.zip had been assigned to the files by UEA, rather than by the hacker/leaker. Also, it’s been pointed out in comments that the multiple emails referred to confidentiality agreements about data rather than data per se. And I’ve emphasized the point that we don’t know and will probably never know who actually stole or leaked the emails. That’s a question for the police. McIntyre’s responsibility, as I said, is moral.

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  1. March 12th, 2010 at 21:30 | #1

    The new trolls were sent here by Terje, who left a comment linking here on a John Andrews post at Climate Audit.

  2. Michael
    March 12th, 2010 at 21:45 | #2

    @Tim Lambert
    So TerjeP is the Corey Worthington

  3. Michael Smith
    March 12th, 2010 at 22:03 | #3

    Quiggin wrote:

    “The first point is that what has been presented as an exercise in a quest for transparency is in fact a standard piece of rightwing harassment and intimidation of scientists, along the lines of the Data Quality Act.”

    The claim that Steve McIntyre participated in a “standard piece of rightwing harassment and intimidation” is utterly and completely laughable — it reveals only the depth of the author’s ignorance and desperation to deflect attention from the real issues.

    McIntyre is a Democrat — he’s not a “rightwing” anything — who believes the globe is indeed warming and that man is likely to be responsible for some portion of that warming. He further believes that our elected leaders should make policy by following the findings of bodies like the IPCC. He has reiterated his positions on these issues many times at his blog — he has also snipped and deleted many a comment for making unsupported assertions about AGW being “a hoax” or accusing climate scientists of acting in bad faith. Not only have you failed to provide any proof of this alleged “right wing” behaviour by McIntryre, it is completely contradictory to his often-stated positions.

    Further, you also accuse Steve of “disseminating dishonest and misleading claims about (the e-mail’s) contents” and claim that he “made dishonest and defamatory use of the stolen information”. Yet, on this point you also fail to present any evidence. Can you not quote some of his blog posts to prove or illustrate your claims? Can you not give us some examples — in Steve’s own words — of theses alleged “dishonest and misleading” claims? Until you do, you are simply broadcasting unsupported allegations that carry no weight with those of us who judge things based on facts and not mere claims.

    Please give us facts to support your allegations — or withdraw them.

  4. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 12th, 2010 at 22:09 | #4

    Tim – I left a link at Climate Audit but I did not “send” anybody here or ask anybody to troll. When other blogs have criticised John Quiggin I have left links on this John Quiggin blog pointing it out. Given that John has criticised Steve I don’t feel it inapproriate to inform Steve in similar manner. I also recently left a link at the ALS blog in relation to a firearms discussion on this site. However I also left a link on this site to an earlier firearm discussion at the ALS blog. I don’t think it is fair to characterise this as sending trolls.

  5. SJ
    March 12th, 2010 at 22:15 | #5

    I think it’s time for this to cease being an “all Terje, all the time” blog. It’s tiresome in the extreme.

    We already know what Terje will say on any given topic, because we’ve all heard it a thousand times before, no matter what the topic is. It’s always predictable, mostly wrong, and often offensive.

    Having Terje’s troglodyte friends join in does not enhance the experience in any way at all.

  6. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 12th, 2010 at 22:23 | #6

    SJ – thats up to John Quiggin. I try hard to stick to his comment policy and I think I do better than most. I don’t try to be offensive but I can’t control the feelings of you or of others. Of course John is free to judge and moderate my comments if he sees fit. Or he could ask me to leave.

  7. anr
    March 12th, 2010 at 22:55 | #7

    JQ’s post is just silly. He clearly has done minimal research and makes unfounded and rather irresponsible allegations. Particularly funny is his his reference to “McIntyre’s “mole”. SM gave all the details of the “mole” on his website. No mysteries there, except to JQ. If JQ can’t even get this basic detail right, how can we take the rest of his post seriously?

  8. MrPete
    March 12th, 2010 at 22:55 | #8

    @smiths
    I have no problem with folks who put forward a scientific position supported by scientific method and process… whether warm, cool, dangerous, mild or otherwise.
    I use “alarmist” to refer to those who take a political position, and bash those who would improve the science, test the science. Unfortunately, too much AGW activity for the last decade has been political rather than scientific. I say that with great sadness, because I love science. I have relatives who are good climate scientists… they’re horrified by the shenanigans of the few.

    Confirmation bias, circling the wagons, etc are of course nothing new in science. What’s new this time around is the amplification of the web. What might have been a minor “Team” of gruntled (opposite of dis-gruntled? :) ) people long ago this time has been a coordinated Team working internationally to promote and protect their political view and bias this corner of science. And it is supported by PR and media around the world.

    If you’ve never read IPPR’s Warm Words document, I highly recommend it. Stark evidence of how the PR game is played.
    I also highly recommend the table and context of page 11 in McKitrick’s analysis of the politicisation of LOSU (Level Of Scientific Understanding) in AR4. Just google McKitrick losu (those two words, no quotes), go to the link and skip to p11. The rest is good too, but that diagram speaks volumes.

    When politicians are told the science is settled, while scientists’ final input was that half of all major AGW research areas are as UNsettled as possible… something’s fishy.

    Science doesn’t hide its uncertainties, it highlights them.
    Science doesn’t hide its work, it makes the work available for critique and serious attempts at falsification.

    Well, I see this thread is more about arguing than enlightenment… and I’ve got Real Life issues to deal with (not making excuses… my coworker just had a quadruple coronary bypass, so life’s a bit ‘whelming…). Not sure if I can come back anytime soon, so… enjoy.

  9. libertarian
    March 12th, 2010 at 23:44 | #9

    Oh boy. Apart from being completely wrong, this post is almost certainly defamatory. Canada has similar defamation laws to Australia. You do know McIntyre is Canadian not American don’t you Quiggin?. Here’s hoping McIntyre does the right thing and sues Quiggin and UQ. Bad luck for the Australian taxpayer who will ultimately foot the bill, but hey, this hack should have been fired years ago.

  10. March 13th, 2010 at 00:28 | #10

    These two articles may be of interest.

    Melanie Fitzpatrick of the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests:

    Overall, the IPCC’s conclusions remain indisputable. Climate change is happening now and human activity is causing it. Nations around the world will need to adapt to unavoidable climate impacts, including sea-level rise, changes in precipitation, disruptions to agriculture and species extinctions. But if we reduce our emissions dramatically, we can still prevent the worst effects of climate change.

    And here is Matt Ridley who reviews Andrew Montfords, The Hockey Stick Illusion for Propect Magazine.

  11. theduke
    March 13th, 2010 at 01:06 | #11

    If this is what passes for commentary from a “social-democratic perspective,” then social democrats are in big trouble.

  12. Chris O’Neill
    March 13th, 2010 at 01:09 | #12

    @MrPete

    I have relatives who are good climate scientists… they’re horrified by the shenanigans of the few.

    By “few” he presumably means the 97% of active climatologists who agree that human activity is causing global warming. So “few” means 97%. Talk about delusional. Completely out of touch with reality.

  13. Chris O’Neill
    March 13th, 2010 at 01:35 | #13

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Tim – I left a link at Climate Audit but I did not “send” anybody here or ask anybody to troll.

    This is what not “sending” anybody here or “asking” anybody to troll means:

    The following article says that Steve bears moral responsibility for the CRU hacking incident.

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2010/03/12/climategatethe-smoking-gun/#more-8331

    No, that wouldn’t motivate anyone to troll in a M-I-L-L-I-O-N Y-E-A-R-S.

  14. Sean
    March 13th, 2010 at 01:56 | #14

    ” “Trick” referred to a clever way of combining data, and the “decline” was not a decline in global temperatures but a well-known problematic feature of tree ring data.”

    That’s precisely the problem. Tree ring data are problemmatic, and yet they were relying heavily on them to disprove the Medieval Warm Period.

    The tree ring data suggested that recent temperatures were declining, when clearly they were not. This suggests that tree rings may not be reliable indicators of temperature. Since much of their work relied on the supposed accuracy of tree rings as indicators of temperature, they wanted to “hide” this unpleasant fact.

    If you just said that, it would give you some credibility. But when you skirt the issue with a highly constructed phrase, it suggests that maybe you aren’t giving us the striaght story on other points either.

  15. jlc
    March 13th, 2010 at 04:33 | #15

    Hello, Mr Quiggin. I have just found your site and have a question for you.

    I know what “social” means and I know what “democracy” means. But what does “social democracy” mean?

    Is it a euphemism for “communism”?

    Regards,

    Jack

  16. Don Wagner
    March 13th, 2010 at 04:50 | #16

    @smiths
    The U.K. Met office has also called for starting over and getting a comprehensive, transparant database.
    http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/metoffice_proposal_022410.pdf

    Recent released e-mails from Nasa indicate that they rely on Hadcrut data,as well as their own as theirs appear4s to be less precise. Further, the observational methods are increasingly being called into question due to the quality and diminishing quantity of stations.

    This coupled with the fact that Phil Jones said any warming in the last 15 years was statistically insignificant makes me have reservations about how accurate these particular statements are.

    I believe the earth is warming and has been since the last ice age. Wether the UK Met office is the go-to place for accurate statements is another question.

    The scam in the AGW is the “A”

  17. Sean
    March 13th, 2010 at 04:53 | #17

    @Chris O’Neill

    Are you saying people shouldn’t post links to blogs on other blogs? The guy posted a link along with a one sentence description of the article. The description accurately described the article.

    If you think that was an “invitation” to troll, perhaps you could tell us what he should have done differently.

  18. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 05:04 | #18

    No, that wouldn’t motivate anyone to troll in a M-I-L-L-I-O-N Y-E-A-R-S.

    Chris – I don’t know what motivates people to troll and I certainly don’t set out to motivate such behaviour. However I think that given some of the unconstructive comments here from some of the newbies it is fair to say that I regret leaving that particular link. I was logged in from my iPhone at the time and for technical reasons a link copy and paste was much simpler than an email. With hindsight I wish I had taken the time to send an email to Steve rather than just posting on his blog.

  19. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 05:09 | #19

    p.s. In terms of unconstructive I’m refering to the baiting remarks by the likes of jlc and theduke above. They are not unreasonable questions and I have asked much the same in the past myself but in volume they are tedious.

  20. March 13th, 2010 at 06:21 | #20

    The FOIA requests were entirely appropriate. They were a “clever trick” which failed only because CRU was lying about the NDAs.

    The context is that CRU had claimed they couldn’t release raw data because there were NDAs from certain countries which restricted sharing. CRU also claimed they couldn’t say *which* countries these restrictions came from because the NDAs themselves were proprietary. (If skeptics knew which countries these were, it might be possible to get the restrictions removed or to get the data from other sources for just those countries.)

    Given that we can’t know which countries *are* covered by NDAs, the obvious logical next step is to find out which countries *aren’t* covered by NDAs. Thereby answering the earlier question by the process of elimination. So ask to see the agreements for a small group of countries – five at a time. The answer will either be “there aren’t any” or “we can’t answer that”; eventually (with the help of a few more followup requests we’ll be able to solve the mystery.

    If CRU had not been *lying* about the NDA agreements – if they hadn’t just been giving skeptics a bureaucratic runaround but actually *did* know of secret NDAs in place from a few countries, then it would have taken all of 15 minutes to answer all 40 NDAs. Answer “There’s no agreement with respect to those countries ” for 90% of them and answer “We can’t answer that for contractual reasons” to the few that list countries for which there is a “secret” NDA agreement. This “clever trick” might have allowed CRU to reveal which countries have the agreements without actually violating the terms of those agreements.

    Unfortunately, CRU *was* lying about the agreements. The reason those 40 FOIA requests caused a mad scramble is that CRU didn’t really *have* any raw data and had been just making up lies at random to cover this. There were never any “secret” NDAs restricting distribution of raw data. What really prevented release was that they didn’t have it any more, nor did they have sufficient documentation of where all the data came from and how it was manipulated that it could be recreated from what they did have.

    So the situation at CRU was a mess, and it’s a good thing we learned that so we can fix the problem and get the science right in the future. McIntyre’s work was absolutely in the public interest.

  21. Alice
    March 13th, 2010 at 06:51 | #21

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Terje – if you that left that link at Climate Audit to JQs blog and invited the mass of delusionists that we have had in the past week to this thread you are more insidious than I ever thought. You ought to be banned. We have had a troll infestation and you are part of it. We have libertarian, kim, Don Vagner, Glen, the extremely ill mannered jlc and the duke and the worm Terje who invited them here.

    Time to go home boys.

  22. Alice
    March 13th, 2010 at 07:02 | #22

    @Don Wagner
    Don Wagner – when you leave – take your swearing habits with you.
    You obviously cant even be bothered to read the comments policy here so why would I or anyone else presume you had ever bothered to research the facts on AGW.
    Clear violation of comments policy.
    Ditto Terje’s commet to Grim. As SJ says – it is really tiresome.

  23. Freelander
    March 13th, 2010 at 07:07 | #23

    @Tim Lambert

    I had wondered where the deluge of cretins came from. So this is where Palin and Bush and Abbott and Fielding draw their votes from.

    I particularly liked jlc and his ‘is it a euphemism for “communism”?’ An indication of the type of mental acuity that defines communism as anything I don’t like or agree with.

  24. boconnor
    March 13th, 2010 at 07:30 | #24

    I’d welcome the anti-science bloggers here if they were prepared to argue their case against AGW on the substantive issues, cogently and without personal abuse.

    Otherwise they should go elsewhere. Although, ironically, the more they come and show an inability to argue without malice, or descend into puerile comments, the better for those who believe the science of AGW.

  25. Hal9000
    March 13th, 2010 at 07:45 | #25

    Back in his Boltwatch days, Jeremy Sear used to refer to the trolls Bolt would send his way as ‘winged monkeys’. I always thought that was a particularly appropriate metaphor, although the anti-science crowd perhaps resemble the Wizard’s modus operandi more than the Wicked Witch’s.

  26. Don Wagner
    March 13th, 2010 at 07:56 | #26

    Alice :@Don Wagner Don Wagner – when you leave – take your swearing habits with you.You obviously cant even be bothered to read the comments policy here so why would I or anyone else presume you had ever bothered to research the facts on AGW.Clear violation of comments policy.Ditto Terje’s commet to Grim. As SJ says – it is really tiresome.

    It should be obvious that I’ve researched the facts on AGW since I keep using them to point out your lies and distortions. Further to that, your aquaintance with fact seems to be a nodding one at best as evidenced by the lack of them in your “contributions” As to you presuming to quote blog policy to me, point out the section where calling your intellectual superiors “Fruitloops” is acceptable or adds to the debate

  27. Don Wagner
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:04 | #27

    Freelander :@Tim Lambert
    I had wondered where the deluge of cretins came from. So this is where Palin and Bush and Abbott and Fielding draw their votes from.
    I particularly liked jlc and his ‘is it a euphemism for “communism”?’ An indication of the type of mental acuity that defines communism as anything I don’t like or agree with.

    Deluge of cretins. Must be that AGW causing that. Or it could be just the perception of people like you who think that everyone who thinks differently is somehow stupid and unworthy of debate. In your case that’s probably fortunate for you if this is all you’ve got to offer.

  28. Michael
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:11 | #28

    Don Wagner :
    This coupled with the fact that Phil Jones said any warming in the last 15 years was statistically insignificant makes me have reservations about how accurate these particular statements are.

    You made the list! http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2010/03/05/list-of-the-clueless/

  29. MrPete
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:18 | #29

    @Chris O’Neill
    Found a sec to see if my comment was taken seriously.

    Obviously not by Chris, whose comment is a great demonstration of politics claiming to be science. Science is not about voting. It doesn’t matter what percent are on the warm/cool/whatever side. Any given scientific hypothesis can be falsified by a single fact.

    The “few” I’m referring to are the few who have gamed the system, have refused to reveal their work, who think methods like Reproducible Research are ridiculous.

    (And those who think science is about opinion polls. :) )

    Why do I bother. I wonder if any of the regulars here will call out people like Chris. We’ll see!

  30. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:21 | #30

    I’d welcome the anti-science bloggers here if they were prepared to argue their case against AGW on the substantive issues, cogently and without personal abuse.

    It isn’t my blog but I agree with the sentiment. It is however worth pointing out that debating the science is banned on this site and the article was not about the reality or otherwise of AGW but about the moral responsibility of the CRU hacking incident.

  31. Don Wagner
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:34 | #31

    Freelander :@Tim Lambert
    I had wondered where the deluge of cretins came from. So this is where Palin and Bush and Abbott and Fielding draw their votes from.
    I particularly liked jlc and his ‘is it a euphemism for “communism”?’ An indication of the type of mental acuity that defines communism as anything I don’t like or agree with.

    At least they don’t pretend to do science

  32. Don Wagner
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:38 | #32

    Michael :

    Don Wagner :This coupled with the fact that Phil Jones said any warming in the last 15 years was statistically insignificant makes me have reservations about how accurate these particular statements are.

    You made the list! http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2010/03/05/list-of-the-clueless/

    Because I’ve used the quote correctly? Amaziing. And you wonder why there are sceptics

  33. iain
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:44 | #33

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    “As a libertarian I have strong views about how property ought to be transfered (by voluntary consent) but…[g]iven that it is public domain the public has a right to comment on it.”

    The problem I (and likely others) have with this comment from Terje is two fold:

    1. Terje didn’t merely comment on the emails. He cut and pasted whole emails that were private property, and on at least one occasion he made no comment whatsoever when he did decide to publish the stolen private property.

    2. When he was challenged on his views about the stolen emails that he was publishing, he made the allegation that Phil Jones deliberately obstructed FOI. This is without clear evidence that this has indeed occurred.

    To be fair to Terje however, his actions and comments were merely examples of him parrotting and copying the actions of others, and not really coming up with any new information or ideas on his own.

  34. Alice
    March 13th, 2010 at 08:45 | #34

    @Don Wagner
    Perhaps I should have called you clueless instead of a fruitloop Don Wagner. JQ beat me to the former…that isnt on the scale of the swear words and the dripping with derision tone that you have brought here. Facts? You call the rubbish you dump here facts?
    You dump political propaganda here…thats all. There is nothing factual about people who organise and participate in malicious cyber campaigns to discredit a much larger body of genuine climate scientists working hard around the globe.
    Why dont you go organise a few fetes or fundraisers for your local primary school and make yourself useful?

  35. jquiggin
    March 13th, 2010 at 09:06 | #35

    I think we’ve seen enough to demonstrate the intellectual and moral quality of McIntyre’s supporters. I’m calling a halt here. Comments on this thread are closed.

  36. Ernestine Gross
    March 13th, 2010 at 09:30 | #36

    @Tim Lambert

    I watched your debate with Christopher Monckton. Well done. Like JQ in his article in the FinReview, you showed very quickly that the good lord acts as if he were to take it for granted that proof by contradiction is too difficult for the members of the climategate and climateaudit tribes, assuming he knows he is only acting.

  37. Ernestine Gross
    March 13th, 2010 at 09:31 | #37

    Sorry, JQ, I submitted my post with some delay with the consequence that I did not see your post at 9:06

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