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.