The BBC has, for some reason, decided to bring up Climategate again recently. It seems an odd distraction, to do this at the time of COP26. Perhaps it’s part of the ongoing BBC “smear the sceptics” propaganda campaign. If so, it rather backfired. As well as the TV drama “The Trick”, that has already been extensively discussed here and elsewhere, there was a 5-part Radio 4 series “The Hack That Changed The World” on Radio 4. Presented by the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera, the series asks the question

Who was behind the 2009 hack and leak of emails that fuelled climate change sceptics?

It’s amusing that the programme is full of conspiracy theories (as was The Trick) that can be easily debunked simply by looking at basic evidence.

Episode 1 does little apart from setting the scene, plugging The Trick, and kow-tow-ing to clueless climate activist Owen Sheers who seems to have been the driving force between both programmes. Sheers claims that there weren’t any whodunnit stories at the time, which can easily be demonstrated to be untrue by spending a minute on google, see for example here and here. Corera talks to Tim Osborne and Phil Jones. Among the falsehoods, Corera claims that “they had few friends…” – in reality, the establishment rallied round to support them pretty quickly. Towards the end we are told (by the then Vice-Chancellor of UEA Edward Acton, I think, with a very slimy voice) that that the Russian State or the US oil industry could be behind it.

Part 2 looks at the Police investigation, Operation Cabin, interviewing Julian Gregory who led it. Acton says there were one or two people in CRU who were “seeming to say things that were sympathetic to the climate escapists” (sic), but they soon dismissed the idea of an inside job. “There were potentially some dark forces at work here,” says Gregory, “Were we up against a particular country’s intelligence service?” Half way through, we hear briefly from Roger “Tallbloke” Tattersall who was visited by the police, as he reported at the time, because he was one of the bloggers who got the Climategate 2 link. “They asked me how many computers have you got, and I said somewhere between 15 and 20, which caused a bit of consternation because I think they’d only brought three evidence bags with them.” The police investigation was closed in 2012 with no success. One slightly interesting point is that the original CRU server seems to have been wiped.

Part 3 looks into the theory that it was the Russian government. Near the start, an unidentified male American voice says

“It was a test run for what was deployed by Russia in the 2016 election that elected Donald Trump.”

Then Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Advisor, says

“When this went public I said I believed it needed an intelligence agency of the kind operated by a country such as Russia.”

And apparently he still thinks that. Corera then talks to someone from an online intelligence company called Neon Century. He also mentions the statement made by Mr FOIA in 2013, part of which is read out in a Russian accent.

“It’s time to tie up loose ends and dispel some of the speculation surrounding the Climategate affair.”

“That’s right; no conspiracy, no paid hackers, no Big Oil. The Republicans didn’t plot this. USA politics is alien to me, neither am I from the UK. There is life outside the Anglo-American sphere.”

The Neon Century woman notes the omission of definite articles, suggesting a possible Russian or Eastern European origin. Apparently nine payments have been made into FOIA’s bitcoin account, now worth over $200,000, but the money hasn’t been taken out.

Corera then talks to Iggy Ostanin who supports the Russia theory, claiming that it was the Russian security services. Ostanin’s claims about timestamps on the emails were discussed by Steve McIntyre. Tim Osborne supports McIntyre’s view that the 5 hour time difference points to the East coast of the US, not to Russia.

In part 4, called “Dark Money”, Michael Mann claims that Climategate “seemed to be aimed at forestalling progress at Copenhagen 2009”, and accuses the fossil fuel industry of being involved. The GWPF gets a mention, and there is a brief clip of Nigel Lawson. Bob Ward thinks it’s suspicious that GWPF was launched soon after Climategate. The conspiracy theory of “Dark Money” is promoted by Jane Mayer (who has a book to sell on that). Corera reluctantly admits that “There’s no direct evidence we can find that points to a corporate actor doing the hack itself”. The programme then moves its goalposts to look at who made use of the emails. There’s an interview with James Taylor of Heartland Institute, who makes is clear that he’s not sceptical of climate change, but sceptical of claims of a climate crisis. Corera seems interested in where their funding comes from – a question that he didn’t bring up with all the other people he spoke to.

These conspiracy theories could have been disposed of immediately if Corera had looked at the primary sources – the messages posted by Mr FOIA himself. Here is the 2009 post left at Jeff Id’s blog in 2009. Look at the tone of the comments on the emails:

0926010576.txt * Mann: working towards a common goal
1189722851.txt * Jones: “try and change the Received date!”
0924532891.txt * Mann vs. CRU
0847838200.txt * Briffa & Yamal 1996: “too much growth in recent years makes it difficult to derive a valid age/growth curve”
0926026654.txt * Jones: MBH dodgy ground
1225026120.txt * CRU’s truncated temperature curve

Does this look like the language that would be used by the Russian Intelligence Service? Someone trying to disrupt COP15? An oil industry executive? Obviously not. This is clearly someone very interested in, and with a good knowledge of, the technical details of climate science.

There was also a README.TXT file written by Mr FOIA in the 2011 Climategate 2 release.

/// FOIA 2011 — Background and Context ///

“Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”
“Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”
“One dollar can save a life” — the opposite must also be true.
“Poverty is a death sentence.”

and so on. Just the sort of language you’d expect from a right-wing lobby group, on the self-deluding planet that Mann, Mayer and Ward live on.

In the last programme, Corera talks to the sceptics – unusual behaviour for a BBC journalist. He starts with Steve Mosher, who reports how he was contacted by Charles Rotter, moderator at WUWT, when the link was posted there in November 2009 (WUWT quarantined the post, though other recipients, Jeff Id’s Air Vent blog and the Climate Skeptic blog, left it there for all to see). Mosher says that at first he thought the hacker was someone inside CRU, but later became convinced it was someone outside. Of the various theories, he says “The Russian one is just like really stupid”, pointing out that Russian servers are very commonly used for such uploads.

We also hear from Steve McIntyre. He says “The Climategate hacker was a lone wolf partisan reader of the climate blogs”. He thinks a Climate Audit reader found an open door at CRU.

“The theory that this was done by some fossil fuel corporation just seems risible on multiple grounds… the idea of somebody coming into a boardroom and saying we want to disrupt Copenhagen by hacking the University of East Anglia (in a Dr Evil voice) it’s laughable. No corporation would want to do that. They don’t want to get involved in that kind of illegality. And even if they did why would you go at the University of East Anglia? It sounds like a Mike Myers skit.”

At the end, Corera says he thinks Steve Mc’s theory is the most likely. He then drops his original aim: “I’m becoming less sure that the identity of the hacker is what matters most. What’s important is how it was used.” But he still seems to believe that it changed the world.


  1. Paul,

    Thanks for listening through all that, and thereby taking one for the team. Astonishing that there could be five programmes of speculation, culminating in “At the end, Corera says he thinks Steve Mc’s theory is the most likely. He then drops his original aim: “I’m becoming less sure that the identity of the hacker is what matters most….””

    What was the point of the five programmes, then, if not to smear and propagandise?


  2. It sounds like Corera deserves credit for allowing rationality to win out and not persisting in the conspiracy theory once the “evidence” had been canvassed. But that credit is more than used up by the prior unnecessary dressing up of evidence/wholesale invention.

    It was a test run for what was deployed by Russia in the 2016 election that elected Donald Trump.

    Someone correct me if I am wrong, but the election conspiracy theory has all but evaporated too. And to state or imply a state actor was responsible is wrong if in the end a state actor is not found to be responsible. Rephrasing that as a question would have been a slight improvement. Either way it seems irresponsible. Presumably listeners drop off episode by episode, so anyone leaving at that stage would have ended up with the wrong impression.

    It’s not a very satisfying story if the conspiracy is front-loaded and slowly evaporates, in effect negating the entire point of a series in the first place. No doubt a lot of work went into it. More work than went into the hack itself, it seems.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. thanks for the overview & link to README.txt (had forgot that)

    so many quotes to pick from but liked this –
    ” Singer/WWF:
    we as an NGO working on climate policy need such a document pretty soon for the
    public and for informed decision makers in order to get a) a debate started and
    b) in order to get into the media the context between climate
    extremes/desasters/costs and finally the link between weather extremes and energy”


  4. @ Paul – that “README.txt” is a gold mine for quotes, probably covered at the time by CA or other blogs, but so long ago I can’t recall !!!


  5. Hi Paul.

    In an interview with a BBC exec Owen Sheers told how Edward Acton approached Owen to write about Climategate from UEA perspective….

    Two purposes?
    Vindicate UEA make Jones look like a saint?

    And then XR messaging for COP26, climategate put back action for ten years, we only have ten to save the world.

    Sheers is a former UEA creative writing graduate.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As a former UEA creative writing graduate, Sheers will have well known the rigidly enforced ban on cars being driven to the edge of UEA’s lake (= The Broad) across well kept areas of grass. Yet in his fantasy play “The Trick” he has his fantasy Phil Jones and his wife do exactly that. A small irrelevancy perhaps, but perhaps indicative of his laxity when it comes to portraying matters of greater import.


  7. “it’s TV not reality” we shout at our TV

    storytellers don’t give us the real world
    they give us an enhanced version of it.
    TV storytellers are addicted to this behaviour.
    That’s why BBC producers rigged competitions, and are now banned from holding them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. @Barry – thanks for the link.

    1st thought – never heard of “BBC’s Chief Content Officer, Charlotte Moore” before

    2nd – “Climate Creatives” – is there no end to the “green jobs” the BEEB can bring into being ?


  9. @ Barry – watched your link – what a love in (wonder if a engineer will ever get a spot ?)


  10. I just got back from a few days in Prague and Twitter thought I should know about this tweet

    which was thoughtful of it! Well done Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for all the comments everyone. A few responses:

    Mark – It wasn’t too much work to listen to the 5 episodes – they are only about 15 minutes long. If anyone’s interested, they are still available on BBC sounds for about a week.

    Jit – Yes, credit to Corera for talking to the sceptics and reaching a sensible conclusion.

    DfHunter – yes, it is a goldmine and has been rather forgotten. More on that in today’s post.

    Adam Gallon – I’m talking about FOIA’s 2011 README file, not to be confused with Harry the CRU programmer’s README file, which is also interesting but a completely different thing!

    Barry – thanks for that, so ultimately is UEA’s Acton pulling Owen Sheers’s strings who in turn pulls Corera’s strings. Climate creatives, LOL.

    Richard – thanks for finding that. Glad to see Steve Mc read the blog and approves!

    Today is exactly the 10th anniversary of Climategate 2, hence the new post.


  12. Catching up with old notes
    The Times TV guide
    Radio Choice of the week Oct 30 mentions the TV show

    “The Trick”
    that drama *showed* that he didn’t do anything of the sort and was engaged in responsible science

    FFS “showed” ..dramas do not prove stuff, so the writer is deluded.

    That bit is preceded by “the 2009 hack of CRU, when *stolen emails* purported to show that Phil Jones had twisted Climate data”
    … you can’t just say leaked emails are STOLEN, that is loaded language.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. To be technical, under the Theft Act 1968, theft is the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention to deprive them of it permanently. It is actually quite interesting to contemplate whether that definition covers this situation, given the various additional definitions in the Act:

    As to whether the activity was dishonest, I wonder if section 2(1)(a) would provide a kind of XR (best of intentions) defence:

    “(1) A person’s appropriation of property belonging to another is not to be regarded as dishonest—
    (a) if he appropriates the property in the belief that he has in law the right to deprive the other of it, on behalf of himself or of a third person”.

    Section 3(1) might also cast doubt on whether the information was “appropriated” within the legal definition:

    “Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation, and this includes, where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealing it, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as owner.”

    Did it amount to assuming the rights of the owner?

    Section 6 tells us what it means to permanently deprive the owner of the property:

    “(1) A person appropriating property belonging to another without meaning the other permanently to lose the thing itself is nevertheless to be regarded as having the intention of permanently depriving the other of it if his intention is to treat the thing as his own to dispose of regardless of the other’s rights; and a borrowing or lending of it may amount to so treating it if, but only if, the borrowing or lending is for a period and in circumstances making it equivalent to an outright taking or disposal.
    (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, where a person, having possession or control (lawfully or not) of property belonging to another, parts with the property under a condition as to its return which he may not be able to perform, this (if done for purposes of his own and without the other’s authority) amounts to treating the property as his own to dispose of regardless of the other’s rights.”

    It must be a moot point whether sharing private email conversations by making them available on the internet amounts to depriving the owner(s) of them.

    That’s all probably academic anyway, since I’m sure there’ll be some more up-to-date offence known to the law now that didn’t exist in 1968, pre-internet, that would cover it. But still, if the BBC called them “stolen” emails, it’s possible that technically they’re wrong to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. > “I’m becoming less sure that the identity of the hacker is what matters most.”

    Aaaand the self-correcting processes of journalism, so like those of science in many ways, are obviously in fine working order at Your BBC.

    Just kidding. It sounds like the limited-damage spin-differential you might get from The Trick’s Jerome Flynn:

    “The key thing is, Phil, when you’re wrong, admit it. Admit you had to change your mind.

    “Not about the *thing,* of course. What you were wrong about is that you thought you cared, but obviously you don’t. You were wrong to think it mattered whether you were right or wrong. Because now that you’re no longer right, it’s made you realize that the thing, whatever it was, was never really the point.

    “The public love[s] that s__t. They think it shows integrity. Seriously. I can show you the focus [group] data.”

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It was Briffa’s laptop password! Visible to a passer by. Thereafter not rocket science. See McIntyre on this.


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