Dec 29 2011

Who Is Climategate’s FOIA.org?

Major Update At End!

I have struggled with whether to post this or not, but as I contemplated my assessment of who the FOIA.org is (the person or persons behind the release of CRU emails and documents in 2009 and 2011) I decided the person(s) behind Climategate is/are probably known to authorities and protected. In fact, my suspicion is the document releases may be another CRU attempt to try and slip past the public scrutiny they so fear.

Let’s look at this question logically and with the technical insight a career around computer systems can provide.When combined with my lifetime living in the shadow of the world’s political super bowl (DC) I tend to see things from a very different angle.

I helped design some of this country’s most challenging command, control, communications and computer systems. I spend a lot of time these days reviewing proposed computer system architectures and implementations for the government. I know something about the data volume, data mining and storage problems and technologies implied in trying to hack this much information.

I also work on government programs and have decades of experience dealing with their bureaucratic games, not to mention living in the rarefied community of PhDs, Science, Aerospace, International partnerships, etc.

So with that as some attempt at demonstrating my bona fides (without giving away too much), let’s look at the evidence.

Jeff Id (Condon) over at Air Vent has been of the opinion FOIA.org was a younger person, technically very adept and still a bit of romantic at heart:

For the readers here, it isn’t that I don’t believe it was a student, it is that I don’t know either way. Some friends with more knowledge than I on computers have pointed out some fairly technically sophisticated behavior in the releases which make me reconsider. I brought up the RC hack to Leslie, pointing out that no adult with sensitive information would release it that way. It’s a prank-like behavior. Of course, there is a certain narcissism which comes with a hacker mentality that sometimes delays the adult thought process. When I was in college, a stunt like that would sound like fun. Now — NO effing way.

I tend to disagree with Jeff here, mainly because the released data has been so carefully culled of non-pertinent content. Personal information is redacted – which takes a lot of time to do. The topics of discussion are COMPLETELY within the scope of the mass of FOIA requests pending at CRU prior to the release. Two waves of releases, with the second being so much larger but clearly reviewed and cleansed of non-FOIA information. That all indicates professionalism, not a prank mentality.

Clearly this mass of information spanning emails and documents was being collected by CRU to meet the FOIA requests submitted to CRU. It is also clear in many of the emails Jones was losing the battle of FOIA, but fighting to the end. Very near the end it looked first like the information was going to be released, until a new delaying tactic was invented. I think this created a tipping or decision point.

I suspect Climategate was a combination of realizing the skeptics had a case, Jones et al were creating mythical and unlawful barriers to following the law, and someone at CRU decided the information had to be released. I will lay out my evidence for this conclusion now. But realize, any act that complied with FOIA rules and regulations is not illegal – no matter the tactics and methods used to disseminate the information! Keep that in mind as we explore how FOIA might have been seen as an unavoidable opportunity to tarnish the skeptics instead of the alarmists.

OK, my first conclusion is the Climategate data is clearly not randomly culled from CRU servers, but was the data being pulled together for complying with the FOIA. Emails confirm this repository was created. Let us begin in September of 2008 with an email (#1852) from Micheal Mcgarvie (Tasked by UEA to be FOIA Lead) to the CRU crew on the FOIA actions:

Colleagues,

Apart from a reply from Phil saying that he would get back to me on this I have heard nothing further.

I have ploughed through all the emails relating to the FOIA requests and will discuss with Dave tomorrow. If there are any emails between yourselves which mention Mr Holland or to other parties internally or externally could you forward them to me please.

On the basis of the emails in David’s file I don’t think that we need to meet to discuss this request. Once I have reviewed anything else that is around I will let you kbnow whether we need to meet or not.

I am afraid that we have to comply with this request under law.

Many thanks

Michael

Emphasis mine. This email clearly indicates that the CRU FOAI emails have been collected and analyzed as of September 2008. At this stage it is just for communications with Mr. Holland, but it will grow in scope.

As to the stress inside CRU and UEA, note this email from Phil Jones in September 2008 (#4251):

Michael,

All my emails according to Eudora that mention David Holland also include you or Dave amongst the recipients or the senders. So you have them all.

I have many others that mention Holland. These relate to work I’m doing with Dutch colleagues or someone in the Bridge Club I belong to who has the same surname.

Cheers

Phil

This claim of compliance will not stand the test of time. Jones is about to make a serious admission. Now let’s go to a pivotal email from December 2008 (#1897) that reveals Jones thwarting FOIA laws. These excerpts are in order of the exchanges between Dave Palmer (CRU FOIA lead) and Phil Jones (CRU FOIA lead miscreant). It begins with a message from David Palmer:

Gents,

Please note the below. I am not in a position to deal with the substance of Mr. McIntyre’s comments but now have to handle his request under DPA (which means a troll through your files for material that identifies Mr. McIntyre). Please note that under the DPA, comments about an individual are the personal data of that individual and subject to access under a DPA subject access request. Ergo, I would strongly advise all to be careful in what you put in your correspondence.

This is clearly an internal CRU alert to “behave” with regards to FOAI laws. Jones’ response is a bit of a jaw dropper:

Dave,

Do I understand it correctly – if he doesn’t pay the £10 we don’t have to respond?

With the earlier FOI requests re David Holland, I wasted a part of a day deleting numerous emails and exchanges with almost all the skeptics. So I have virtually nothing. I even deleted the email that I inadvertently sent.

Whoa! Didn’t Dr. Phil Jones of CRU tell Micheal Mcgarvie of UEA he provided all the emails in question just two months prior? One has to wonder if Palmer and Mcgarvie had a little chat after this exchange, and what they thought of their egocentric colleague.

As a manager and owner of a government contracting company, this is a firing offense. Palmer must have been stunned to realize Jones’ easily admitted to breaking the FOIA laws. Palmer’s response indicates how he feels about Jones’ actions, something that I am sure colored their professional relationship throughout the next year:

Phil, you must be very careful about deleting material, more particularly when you delete it. Section 77 of the FOIA state as follows:

77. (1) Where

(a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and

(b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the [1988 c. 29.] Data Protection Act 1998, the applicant would have been entitled (subject to payment of any fee) to communication of any information in accordance with that section, any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.

Like I said, Jones’ actions are worthy of summary firing.

In another December 2008 email (#1228330629) Jones brags to Ben Santer (who is also facing FOIA requests here in the US) on his unlawful ways:

The inadvertent email I sent last month has led to a Data Protection Act request sent by a certain Canadian, saying that the email maligned his scientific credibility with his peers! If he pays 10 pounds (which he hasn’t yet) I am supposed to go through my emails and he can get anything I’ve written about him. About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little – if anything at all.

The timing on these emails is the Santer email is from December 3rd, the Palmer admonition is from December 8. Phil’s admission to Palmer is on December 3rd as well.

Tim Osborn and Keith Briffa, to their credit, took a different path. From another email in October 2008 (#4569) we find them complying to Dave Palmer. So Jones is a bit of a rogue here. Briffa and Osborn mention they have sent all their data to David Palmer – which means the data was collected and being filtered well in advance of the “leak”.

Another worthy read on the delaying tactics by CRU is up at Climate Audit (two actually if you follow the embedded link to part 1 of the story). Heels dug in, Jones was still losing the battle. Apparently this stuck in his craw big time.

By the time October 2009 roles around Jones is grumpy and irritated. He has been forced to make a lot of concessions (see email #1192):

Phil’s comment:

No one, it seems, cares to read what we put up on the CRU web page.

If we have lost any data it is the following:

1. Station series for sites that in the 1980s we deemed then to be affected by either urban biases or by numerous site moves, that were either not correctable or not worth doing as there were other series in the region.

2. The original data for sites that we adjusted the temperature data [Phil: for known inhomogeneities, or what?] in the 1980s. We still have our adjusted data, of course, and these along with all other sites that didn’t need adjusting.

3. Since the 1980s as colleagues and NMSs [National Meteorological Services] have produced adjusted series for regions and or countries, then we replaced the data we had with the better series.

Now let’s posit what is happening by the end of 2009. Jones’ is finally admitting to CRU and UEA FOIA folks that his stonewalling has been a tissue of half truths. He has admitted to deleting emails, and seems to finally admit to deleting/losing original source data. The FOIA folks have been very patient with Jones, even as he grouses endlessly about having to act like a profesional (from an August 2009 email (#3497)):

I also don’t see why I should help people, I don’t want to work with and who spend most of their time critisising me.

Now, if I was a FOIA manager at CRU or UEA, I would be fed up with Jones’ and his dangerous games. After years of supporting his cause you learn he lied to you as well as the skeptics – what would you do? I would let the information out and let him sink or swim on his own.

Except CRU and UEA would have their professional and academic reputations destroyed. One of the more bizarre series of documents in the Climategate 1 dump is all this material to build up the UEA image because it was sinking behind other UK schools, losing prestige, money and hope for the future. At the same time Jones is playing games with FOIA, UEA is looking to salvage and build its reputation. I think this completely irrelevant material was included by FOIA.org in the Climategate 1 data to explain how another force was at work during this period within UEA. Everything dumped was dumped for a reason.

So when it looked like CRU had to release all this damning data, the only thing they could do was control the method of release. And here is where some interesting speculation can be explored.

What if the Climategate dumps were initiated by CRU or someone related to UEA/CRU for thew purpose of the inevitable FOIA compliance? What if the plan (dumb and desperate as it sounds) was to overwhelm the skeptics with a massive pile of information, and then allow their green media enablers to cover for them?

This scenario makes sense in lots of ways. As has been noted, the initial leak was attempted at Real Climate – the Hockey Team’s own spin machine blog. But nothing happened for weeks? Was this a preemptive alibi? Does it make sense to try and dump damning data on an ally’s doorstep, where it will be censored like the comments from all skeptics?

Clearly CRU heard of this event from their Real Climate allies, but CRU did not get ahead of the news.Were they waiting see how it played out (i.e., to see if their media buds could keep the lid on through Copenhagen)? If they were actually orchestrating the ‘leak,’ it would make sense they lay low and not respond to the attempt at Real Climate. This also makes sense if they wanted to see if they could run this below the radar. Especially when the links were dropped  on smaller blogs in the US and UK. Even if it got out, they small blogs could be targets of intimidation.

Remember, this data was collated for the FOIA responses. It was only available on a few machines (if not just one) with some serious protection (privacy rules at a minimum). While Jones may be a total computer illiterate, I doubt UEA would not enlist some smart and capable people to handle such sensitive information. Remember, the CRU servers had been hit many times, and they did not want this information out.

So we have a closely held, limited access set of information only so many people could see. let alone copy. In a day adn age where I know someone could find any email or document from me pretty much any time, I find it hard to believe they don’t know who accessed the FOIA data. It was/is an ENORMOUS amount to move – if unzipped. If zipped before the move, the logs would show who was on at the time. They should have a very small number of people to look at and check. So why nothing after 2+ years?

Another angle to look at is the Wikileaks Group. Instantiated in 2006 and making news from 2007 onward, it provided an interesting example on methods for releasing information. What if this started to plant strange ideas in the minds of Jones, et al?

I am not saying this is the only or best answer to the question. But FOIA.org spent 2 years culling the emails and cleansing them of unrelated content for the Climategate 2 release. A large and expensive effort, and something only someone who lived and breathed the purposes underpinning the Freedom of Information legislation would take the time to do. By example, Wikileaks embarks on no such efforts and simply blasts away after failing to extort something in return. This is not the work of a hacker or a leaker who wants to punish.

Even their moniker – FOIA.org – pays homage to their cause. Maybe the final bow to the political machinations of Jones and his crew was to agree to a ‘novel’ method of disclosure – one which would cast a shadow on the skeptics. All the while COMPLYING with the intent of FOIA (the information is out there now!).

And when this Hail Mary, desperate attempt failed to contain the damage, the CRU/UEA crew embarked on a series of white-wash investigations, clearing Jones et al of any wrong doing, when any prosecutor worth their salt could use the mountains of Jones’ admissions to nail him for perjury six ways to Sunday. If UEA was worried about their reputation (as the document dump shows) then this seems like the best option out of a lot of bad options.

I believe this theory (totally speculative) is worth pursuing. As one ponders its pros and cons (and they are numerous on both sides) I think the scales tip to it being very close to the truth. It surely fits the M.O. of the Hockey Team, the morals of the FOIA folks, and the desperation of CRU and UEA.

Major Update: OK, been reading a lot over at Climate Audit and was pointed to a CRU Mole:

A Mole

OK, folks, guess what. I’m now in possession of a CRU version giving data for every station in their station list .

Just to prove that I have actual CRU station data, here is the 60th series (Lund Sweden), covering the period 1753-1773:

I find the usage of the term ‘mole‘ way too enlightening.  This is from July 25th, 2009 and the data in question is for a FOIA request in process and being stonewalled by CRU. “Mole” clearly implies someone inside CRU or UEA. Could their initials be DP? Compliance is compliance.

12 responses so far

12 Responses to “Who Is Climategate’s FOIA.org?”

  1. [...] at http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/17820 proposes and explains an intriguing theory on who might have released the University of East Anglia [...]

  2. mojo says:

    Yeah, obviously an inside job, so the cops are (as usual in IT cases) wasting their time looking for a break-in. Whomever it was had nearly unlimited access to back-end systems, would be my guess, and had clearly had enough of the lies and stonewalling.

    My personal guess was a techie, who are generally overworked and undervalued at such institutions, was the culprit. But DP would have all the access needed, and could have easily snagged a pre-compiled archive from wherever it was stashed. And edited or removed logs showing that transaction – a ‘glitch’ at the opportune time, easily explained. Happens all the time, I swear.

    Doesn’t really explain the drips-and-drabs release strategy, though, unless FOIA wanted someone to stick their lying head in a noose, which could subsequently be pulled taught bu a later release.

    The encrypted archive within release 2 is most likely a dead-man switch of sorts. “Pull my finger, I dare ya”

  3. crosspatch says:

    I think if you go back to various postings at the time of the “mole” incident, you will find that it was nothing more than data left on their public FTP site that they didn’t really want public. In other words, there was no “mole”, it was intentionally misleading to make fun of them and to heighten their paranoia. They were their own “mole”.

    Anthony Watts had some postings up at about that time.

  4. AJStrata says:

    Well damn CP you took your time coming around to comment!

    Thanks for the clarification. So, other than what do you think??

  5. Martin A says:

    Sorry, but I need to have things spelled out for me.

    What does “Compliance is compliance” mean, please?

    Maybe it means that the FOI requests have now been complied with if the requested data is now out there, no matter what was the means of it getting out there?

  6. crosspatch says:

    I think that there was basically a poisonous atmosphere created in the climate science field. It is plausible to me that many researchers might have felt that it was impossible to do objective research without putting their careers at risk if they produced something that crossed the Mann/Jones vision of climate change.

    Witness the treatment of Soon and Baliunas. Any researcher who comes to a conclusion that is at odds with Mann risks their career or at least their reputation.

    It is also obvious from the README of the second bunch of emails that whoever FOIA is, he/she/they are very empathetic toward people who are dying in this world for lack of a very tiny bit of money and are angered by the sums they see wasted on mitigating climate change.

    It is clear from the emails that much of the current alarm on climate change is basically a fabrication created by manipulating how various data are displayed and by hiding uncertainty in the highly technical back pages of the Assessment Report while presenting the executive summary as if it is a slam dunk certainty. The idea seems to be to make a chain of references to various papers (many amended since original publication) in the expectation that nobody is actually going to follow the chain of references. If you do follow them, in many cases what you end up with is basically a statement that says the uncertainty is so high that the statement that climate is warming due to anthropogenic causes becomes meaningless.

    It is my opinion that whoever is responsible is someone who was intimately involved in the work there but I don’t want to speculate beyond that. I really don’t want to find out who that person is or expose them. Things are better left as they are, in my opinion.

  7. AJStrata says:

    Martin,

    You got it. There is nothing in the FOIA regs on ‘how’ compliance is achieved. Why would there be?

  8. crosspatch says:

    But the data isn’t “out there”. The only thing that is “out there” is the discussion about the data and the lengths gone to in order to deceive people or deny the requests. Nobody has the information that was asked for. All we have is the evidence of the extent to which people went to avoid compliance.

  9. WWS says:

    Very interesting analysis, AJ, and certainly possible. I recall reading a speculation when the first batch came out that it may have been Briffa himself, based on some interesting ommissions and the fact that he hasn’t been heard from much in the last 2 or 3 years. But again, no hard evidence.

    One thing I think you are right about – Jones et al DO know who leaked the info, and he knows they know. Which makes this all kind of a shadow boxing game. Jones and CRU have to keep up the pretense of some “hacker” getting this because, as you said 1) to reveal that it was one of their own would be a PR disaster that they can’t bear to face, and 2) the implied threat of the encrypted data, that will all come out if he is exposed by them. Safe to say there are some things in there that they really, REALLY, do not want public.

    Whoever did this is in the position of the perfect blackmailer. They know who he is and what he did, but they don’t dare to lay a finger on him. They’re even helping him to cover his tracks. Amazing.

  10. AJStrata says:

    WWS,

    The encrypted set is there for CRU to come clean on. If they finish their FOIS responsibilities, my guess is the archive will not be opened. I do agree there are smoking guns in there, and those are what FOIA is waiting for CRU to do the right thing over.

    Otherwise he/she/they pop the lid. I see it as a last chance for CRU and UEA to come clean. Remember, this is important to FOIA. Career ending important.

  11. WWS says:

    Agree AJ, but looking at the history of CRU there is no way they come clean on their responsibilities. They have gone all in on the deception, and there’s no turning back for any of them now.

    If FOIA were the kind to listen to any advice (probably not) I would say, forget about modifying anybody else’s behavior. That ain’t gonna happen, ever. So the only decision you have left to make is when to release the encrypted portion – as long as it isn’t just a big bluff, of course.

    This is a fight to the death – in professional terms, literally. When you’re in a fight to the death, you gotta use every weapon you can get your hands on, because if you don’t use it it’s just like you never had it all. Jones and “The Team” are already playing by these rules, and nobody is gonna beat them if they try to hold back and pull their punches.

    (Of course FOIA may feel that he gets more of a personal benefit from the threat hanging out there than he will get from ever making good on it. If that’s the case, and I hope it isn’t, then the current standoff will go on indefinitely)