Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tomsk Hackers and Russia's FSB Part II

On November 28, 2009, I posted an article titled "Did Russian 'Hacker Patriots' Embarrass Proponents of Global Warming at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia?" In this first article, I discussed previous escapades by Tomsk hackers and noted that the FSB is suspected of encouraging Russian hackers to attack targets that get under the Kremlin's thin skin.

A bit more than a week later, some British papers began to speculate that the Russian state security, the FSB, might have been involved in the hacking of the CRU climatologists' e-mails in the days before the global warming conference in Copenhagen.

Unusually, an angry U.N. official, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (the vice chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) openly embarrassed the Russian government by accusing the FSB of complicity in the hacking of the CRU server, of posting selected e-mails that appear to discredit scientists and their research when taken out of context, and of wrecking the Copenhagen conference.

The Independent (12-7-09) reported:

The leaked emails, which claimed to provide evidence that the unit's head, Professor Phil Jones, colluded with colleagues to manipulate data and hide "unhelpful" research from critics of climate change science, were originally posted on a server in the Siberian city of Tomsk, at a firm called Tomcity, an internet security business.

The FSB security services, descendants of the KGB, are believed to invest significant resources in hackers, and the Tomsk office has a record of issuing statements congratulating local students on hacks aimed at anti-Russian voices, deeming them "an expression of their position as citizens, and one worthy of respect". The Kremlin has also been accused of running co-ordinated cyber attacks against websites in neighbouring countries such as Estonia, with which the Kremlin has frosty relations, although the allegations were never proved.

"It's very common for hackers in Russia to be paid for their services," Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, said in Copenhagen at the weekend. "It's a carefully made selection of emails and documents that's not random. This is 13 years of data, and it's not a job of amateurs."

The leaked emails, Professor van Ypersele said, will fuel scepticism about climate change and may make agreement harder at Copenhagen. So the mutterings have prompted the question: why would Russia have an interest in scuppering the Copenhagen talks?

This time, if it was indeed the FSB behind the leak, it could be part of a ploy to delay negotiations or win further concessions for Moscow. [See full text.]

Even Brian Whitmore at RFE/RL (12-7-09) posted a careful article titled "Climategate: A Russian Connection?" that summarized the accusations and linked up to the most important British articles. Whitmore closed:

Now we at the Power Vertical love a good old cloak-and-dagger-style FSB-conspiracy yarn as much as anybody (actually, probably more than anybody). Our experience also tells us that the FSB is certainly capable of such an operation. And Russia, a major gas and oil exporter, certainly has motive to derail a new global climate pact.

But the evidence presented thus far is a bit thin and circumstantial. But this does merit keeping an eye on and we'll follow up if something more substantial turns up. If any readers come across anything, either supporting or debunking the alleged Russia connection, give us a shout in comments or by e-mail.

The Russian media, which had been reporting on the scandal, quickly reported the British media's allegations about FSB hackers, although one Russian-language article in
Novaya (12-7-09) suggested that the Chinese customers of the Tomcity server had a bigger motive than the Russians for hacking the CRU. The article was defensive, provided no forensic evidence, and closed with this admonition:

Так что англичанам, перед тем как обвинять хакеров города Томска, следует обратить внимание на их заказчиков из Пекина.

[And so Englishmen, before you accuse hackers from the city of Tomsk, turn your attention to their customers from Peking.]

Finally, the FSB denied involvement but claimed that they had investigated the hacking and knew who the culprit was. The FSB claimed that they didn't want to tell who the hacker was, but that they would tell if everyone didn't stop blaming them. The
British Daily Mail Online (12-13-09) reported:

Russian secret service agents admitted yesterday that the hacked ‘Warmergate’ emails were uploaded on a Siberian internet server, but strenuously denied a clandestine state-sponsored operation to wreck the Copenhagen summit.

The FSB--formerly the KGB--confirmed that thousands of messages to and from scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit were distributed to the world from the city of Tomsk, as revealed by The Mail on Sunday last week.

Now, it has emerged that IT experts specialising in hacking techniques were brought in by the Russian authorities following this newspaper’s exposure of the Tomsk link.

They have gathered evidence about how and where the operation was carried out, although they are not prepared to say at this stage who they think was responsible.

A Russian intelligence source claimed the FSB had new information which could cast light on who was behind the elaborate operation.

‘We are not prepared to release details, but we might if the false claims about the FSB’s involvement do not stop,’ he said. ‘The emails were uploaded to the Tomsk server but we are sure this was done from outside Russia.’

The Kremlin’s top climate change official, Alexander Bedritsky, denied the Russian government was involved in breaking into the CRU’s computer system.

‘You can post information on a computer from any other country. It is nonsense to blame Russia,’ he said.

This article pretty much silenced the Russian media on the topic of FSB complicity in the hacking, and the British Daily Mail On-Line (12-27-09) subsequently published a follow-up investigation--based on FSB sources--that blamed the Chinese. A Russian hacker site (12-28-09) promptly echoed the Daily Mail's claims and carried an English-language article titled "Chinese hackers linked to 'Warmergate' climate change leaked emails controversy":

The investigation into the so-called Warmergate emails - the leaked data from the University of East Anglia’s climate change department - took a new twist last night when The Mail on Sunday tracked the stolen messages to a suspect computer which provides internet access to China.

The address used to post the emails is also on an international ‘black list’ which highlights suspicious behaviour on the internet.

The revelation comes after the Russian security service, the FSB–the former KGB–authorised the release of confidential information that allowed us to retrace the route taken by the email traffic. [See full text.]

For the most part, during this entire scandal the Russian media (and "conservative" Western bloggers) mocked the "dishonest" Western scientists whose "dubious research" had been "exposed" by the "honest" (FSB?!) hackers. The explanations of the victimized scientists (See here, here, here, here, here, and here) and the views of Russian scientists who are proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) were given very little publicity in the Russian media (or by "conservative" Western bloggers) during this scandal. Here is a "news" search for ФСБ хакеры Томск [FSB (domestic state security) hackers Tomsk]. Here is a Google "news" search for ФСБ хакеры Томск.

On the subject of global warming, the Russian media sounds very much like Western politicians (Senator Inhofe), conservative think tanks (Cato Institute), and bloggers who are skeptics of global warming. They even quote the same Russian experts, such as the Russian scientist Andrei Kapitsa and the economist Andrei Illarionov of the Cato Institute and the Russian Institute for Economic Analysis. Illarionov was formerly closely associated with the Russian politicians Putin, Chernomyrdrin, and GAZPROM. Now he is associated with the CATO Institute, which was started by a man who owns an oil company. Somehow I doubt these are the independent voices of pure science.

The involvement of the Tomcity server must be a big embarrassment, or worse, for the Russian scientist Sergei Kirpotin, pictured in this article in the Daily Mail Online (12-6-09). Dr. Kirpotin, who teaches at Tomsk State University, has done research on the melting of the permafrost, which he believes is caused by AGW. Permafrost covers about 65% of Russia's surface. The permafrost is basically a frozen peat bog; and when it melts, the greenhouse gas methane is released. Kirpotin claims the release of this methane will accelerate global warming. Buildings in Rusia's permafrost regions also are breaking apart and sinking into the thawing soil. The Russian government knows this is happening and does support research on this phenomenon. [Search "Sergei Kirpotin" or "Сергей Кирпотин" ]

Dr. Kirpotin believes that the thawing of the permafrost is the beginning of an ecological catastrophy, but other Russian opinionmakers calculate that warming may have plusses as well as minuses for Russia. It will be easier to extract oil, natural gas, and other minerals if the permafrost thaws. If the infrastructure is damaged, it may be easier to repair if the climate is warmer.

Russia's President Medvedev is the former Chairman of the Board of the powerful natural gas company GAZPROM, which is half owned by the government and helps pay their bills. My impression, from reading the discussion in the Russian media, is that the very powerful oil and gas oligarchs that rule Russia are going to spend money on global warming when and if it becomes a problem for them.

During the entire scandal, the famous Dr. Sergei Kirpotin was only quoted in the Russian media by the small independent organization Russian Greenpeace (12-9-09), although some Russian media did mention concerns about the melting permafrost. Kirpotin was very angry about the provocation against the CRU scientists. Russian Greenpeace reports:

Сергей Кирпотин, доктор биологических наук, проректор по международным связям Томского Государственного Университета, Россия: «Во-первых, информация, полученная таким путём, не может заслуживать доверия. Совершенно очевидно, что имел место заказ, поскольку не просто была взломана личная переписка, но и сделана подборка совершенно определённой направленности, никакой хакер просто ради развлечения этого бы делать не стал.

Во-вторых, это нормальное явление, что в личной переписке учёные могут подвергать сомнению ту или иную гипотезу. Если вырвать из контекста отдельные фразы учёных, создававших в XVIII-XIX веках нашу современную науку, можно прийти к выводам, что все мы сегодня в школе изучаем совершенный бред, не имеющий под собой абсолютно никаких оснований.

И, наконец, вброс подобной информации (особенно перед самым началом конференции в Копенгагене) носит деструктивный характер для общества, особенно в России, где слабо сформированы социальные институты, и подобные провокации только укрепляют преобладающий в общественном мнении скептицизм на тему проблемы изменения климата». [See full text.]

You can get a pretty good idea what he said from using the translation feature on your Google toolbar. He said that the hacking of CRU was a "provocation" and that "it is clear that there was an order."

The Russian government officially claims that the hacking was carried out by the Chinese government. This will stop the Russian media from admiring the hackers, because Russians are pretty xenophobic about the Chinese. Still, the the Chinese seem like unlikely culprits because they have not made any secret about their contempt for global warmists. According to Hong Kong's English-language South China Morning Post (12-8-09), Chinese scientists have correlated eras of warming with China's most successful historical eras. See the SCMP article titled "China gives history lesson on warming: While world weighs how to fight climate change, Chinese recall past glories when mercury rose."

I think it is very probable that Russian hackers with connections to the FSB, the Kremlin, or an energy company such as GAZPROM are behind the kompromat of the CRU scientists. It seems to me that "conservative" Western bloggers are probably being manipulated by the oligarchy's active measures. Al Gore may be mocked as an annoying bore, but he may be right about one thing: AGW may be an inconvenient truth. From what I can see, the Russian and Chinese governments believe in global warming; they just don't want to do anything about it.

Most bloggers who are skeptics of global warming claim that an honest insider posted the "compromising" CRU e-mails. Some bloggers have even congratulated the FSB for their active measures. They say it doesn't matter who leaked the supposedly compromising e-mails. Some bloggers have very strange bedfellows indeed! Of course, the Russian FSB say they have investigated and discovered the gloved hand of Peking. The FSB didn't blame any honest CRU insiders.

I think these bloggers should read what scientists say these e-mails mean. If these bloggers would read the Russian media, they would realize that Russia is researching global warming. They have to know what is going to happen to 65% of their land.

I suspect the Russian oligarchs just aren't on-board with plans to curb their greenhouse gasses because it is very expensive and would slow down their economic development. Warming may be seen as having some plusses for Russia. I think that the government, the industrialists, and the ordinary Russians pretty much agree about this.

The Russian media seemed kind of proud of what the "Tomsk hackers" did to the CRU "falsifiers," although the Russian media, which is owned by these oil/gas oligarchs, has now shut up about the whole subject. Perhaps they were told to; perhaps they aren't going to gloat about what the Chinese hackers did, or perhaps the FSB's active measures campaign has served its purpose--the conference blew up in the face of the Western scientists--not their fault!

Still, the Russian government may have felt a bit embarrassed to be called on the carpet in the U.N. before the world's scientists--and their own scientists. The FSB's active measures probably embarrassed and and alienated Russia's best scientists. Perhaps the regime does not want to be seen before the whole world as--once again--falsifiers of science and persecutors of scientists, when the findings of science are at odds with the regime's goals. In the past, however, the rulers only persecuted scientists in the Soviet Union. Perhaps, with the "help" of "conservative" Western bloggers, that is changing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houses are sinking into the permafrost because heat from the houses melts the permafrost beneath them, not global warming. Research has shown that the permafrost has lasted through warming periods in the past without melting more than a few inches. It would take tens of thousands of years to melt the permafrost to any significant depth.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Snapple said...

Paul Goble is a Russia expert who has worked for a number of government agencies. Here is one article he has on the permafrost and global warming.

You might check out his information about global warming.

Also see the research of Sergei Kirpotin in Tomsk.

It is always thawed on the surface in the summer or plants couldn't grow. It is melting deeper. Sometimes it isn't melting at all because of all the methane bubbling up.

5:10 PM  

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