Friday, January 29, 2010

Climategate: Curiouser and Curiouser!

The server used by the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England was recently hacked; e-mails and other documents were stolen, posted on a server in Tomsk, Russia, and circulated on the Internet in late November. The scandal that resulted has been dubbed "Climategate," or климатгейт in Russian.

Because "patriotic" Tomsk hackers in Russia have had a reputation for hacking into sites that get under the Kremlin's skin, the British media and U.N. officials have speculated that the culprits might have been "Tomsk hackers" encouraged or financed by the Russian state security, the FSB. The speculation about the possible involvement of the FSB was even covered by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (12-7-09).

According to the Daily Mail (12-27-09), the embarrassed Russian FSB claims that they have investigated the incident and have provided the Daily Mail with evidence that the Chinese were the culprits:

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.

A computer company in Siberia was ultimately used to post the controversial messages - which cast doubt on the reliability of scientists’ global warming claims - on the internet.

The revelation led to claims that the Russians were behind the release of the information.

But, anxious to distance themselves from the leak, the FSB revealed how the data had been sent to Siberia from a computer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The evidence passed to The Mail on Sunday now raises questions about whether Chinese hackers, backed by the communist regime, are the source of the emails.

Supported by their government and its security and intelligence services, Chinese hackers have been at the centre of huge number of ‘cyber attacks’ in recent years, including attempted computer ‘break-ins’ at the House of Commons and Whitehall departments, including the Foreign Office...

Scotland Yard and Norfolk Police are leading the investigation into the email theft at the University of East Anglia. [See the full text and more background about the claims and counter claims at my earlier post here.]

In some of the e-mail correspondance, the CRU scientists complained about British freedom of information laws that reportedly require climate data to be shared with critics of anthropogenic global warming.

This morning, I noticed that East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) had posted this update:

Statement from Professor Edward Acton, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia

Thu, 28 Jan 2010

The University of East Anglia has released the following statement from the Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Acton.

"The University learnt yesterday that the Information Commissioner's Office (the ICO) had made a statement to the media regarding the University's handling of requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). We have not received any further information from the ICO although we are urgently trying to contact them. The ICO's opinion that we had breached the terms of Section 77 is a source of grave concern to the University as we would always seek to comply with the terms of the Act. During this case we have sought the advice of the ICO and responded fully to any requests for information.

"Sir Muir Russell is currently conducting an Independent Review of the issues surrounding what has become known as ‘Climategate’ and we very deliberately made our handling of FOI requests part of the terms of reference. I look forward to receiving his report and as I have said before it will be published and I will act accordingly if he finds there is indeed substance in these allegations."

I decided to check out the site of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to see what their press release said. The ICO site states:

The Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Oddly, the ICO is only linking to an article from the Telegraph (1-28-10), although the ICO claims:

The ICO usually publicises the enforcement action it takes. Copies of press releases can be found by clicking here.

The ICO press releases do not say anything about the CRU case. It is strange that the ICO evidently only told the media that the "Information Commissioner's office ruled that UEA was in breach of the Freedom of Information Act" (The Telegraph, 1-28-10). How could the ICO have ruled on this case when it is supposedly too late to prosecute the UEA?

An article from The Telegraph (1-28-10) is linked on the ICO homepage in the "News and Views" section, and this would appear to be a kind of confirmation; but it seems strange that the ICO would not post their own statement on their site saying that they "ruled that UEA was in breach of the Freedom of Information Act....But...was unable to prosecute the people involved because the complaint was made too late."

It is also odd that the Telegraph article claims the ICO "was unable to prosecute the people involved," because I don't think individuals would be prosecuted. I think the East Anglia University would be fined.

According to the article in The Telegraph (1-28-10) titled "University scientists in climategate row hid data":

The university embroiled in the 'climategate' scandal refused to make its scientific data available to the public in breach of freedom of information laws, it has emerged.

The University of East Anglia rejected requests for information relating to claims by academic staff that global warming was being caused by man-made emissions.

The Information Commissioner's office ruled that UEA was in breach of the Freedom of Information Act – an offence which is punishable by an unlimited fine.

But it said it was unable to prosecute the people involved because the complaint was made too late.

The ICO wants the law changed so that complaints made more than six months after a breach of the act can still result in prosecutions, it was reported.

Stolen emails revealed how the university's Climatic Research Unit tried to block requests for raw data and other figures, and implied that senior university staff had played a role in the refusal of the requests.

Professor Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit, stood down while official inquiries were made.

In an email, Prof Jones requested that a colleague delete correspondence regarding a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2007.

He also told a co-worker he had convinced university authorities not to answer freedom of information requests from people with connections to a website operated by climate change sceptics.

The news that UEA broke the law came after John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the government, said more honesty about the unreliability of certain predictions was desperately needed...

An ICO spokesman told The Times: "The legislation prevents us from taking any action but from looking at the emails it's clear to us a breach has occurred." [See the Times (1-28-10) article.]

The complaint about the university's conduct was registered by David Holland, a retired engineer from Northampton who had asked for data to back up his view that the university broke the IPCC's regulations in order to discredit climate change sceptics.

Mr Holland was quoted as saying: "There is an apparent catch-22 here. The prosecution has to be identified within six months but you have to exhaust the university's complaints procedure before the commission will look at your complaint. That process can take longer than six months."

Graham Smith, Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, said in a statement: "The emails reveal that Mr Holland's requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation." [See full text]

This story is being repeated on the Internet by the international media and bloggers, but I can't find a press release on the ICO site to corroborate what the ICO Deputy Commissioner Graham Smith reportedly told the media.

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