If you checked the news this morning on things environmental, you would have enjoyed a story of spies and intrigue. Sir David King, the UK's former chief scientist, pronounced that spies of a foreign government were responsible for publishing the so-called Climategate emails:
Sir David King, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser for seven years until 2007, said the hacking and selective leaking of the unit's emails going back 13 years bore the hallmarks of a co-ordinated intelligence operation - especially given their release before the Copenhagen climate conference in December.
King suggested the email leaks were deliberately designed to destabilise Copenhagen and he dismissed the idea that it was a run-of-the-mill hacking. It was done by a team of skilled professionals, either on behalf of a foreign Government or at the behest of anti-climate-change lobbyists in the United States, he said.
"A very clever nerd can cause a great deal of disruption and obviously make intelligence services very nervous, but a sophisticated intelligence operation is capable of yielding the sort of results we've seen here," King said.
More than 1000 emails, and some 2000 documents, were stolen from a University of East Anglia back-up server where remote access is difficult. This represents a small fraction of the total number of emails for the period from 1996 to 2009, suggesting they had been selected for the most incriminating phrases relating to possible scientific misconduct and breaches of the Freedom of Information Act.
Experts have suggested that loading the email file on to a Tomsk computer server may have been a clumsy attempt to lay a trail to the door of the Russian intelligence service, which has since denied any involvement. Some commentators in Russia have said that China had more to gain from destabilising the Copenhagen conference than Russia. King said that it was not possible to dismiss the possibility of Russia's involvement.
"If it was a job done on behalf of a government, then I suppose there is the possibility that it could be the Russian intelligence agency. If it was a maverick group then I suppose it could be the Americans. I've worked within government and I've seen this in operation. It was a sophisticated and expensive operation ... Right now, the American lobbyists are a very likely source of finance for this."
OK, so American lobbyists were likely the source of funding to pay for a team of Russian cyber-spies to plunder the email servers in order to destabilize the Copenhagen summit.
Wow. What next? Cars that shoot rockets? This is even better than that other guy's potboiler, and it's real!
Actually, turns out that it's not at all real, and that David King hasn't got a clue:
The government's former chief scientist has backed away from his sensational claim that a foreign intelligence agency or wealthy US lobbyists were behind the hacking and release of controversial emails between climate scientists.
Sir David King admitted he possessed no inside information about the leaks of embarrassing emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, and had merely been speculating on material already in the public domain. His remarks to a journalist had been a "side-issue", he said.
Sir David told the Guardian today : "The operation looked amazingly significant and amazingly sophisticated. It looks very much like an intelligence operation."
But it emerged that he had been misinformed about key facts. One of his grounds for believing a high-powered team of professionals were behind the leak, he said, was that there had been a wide spread of emails going back decades "between very different people". He told the Independent: "The emails date back to 1996, so someone was collecting the data over many years."
In fact, as UEA confirmed today, all the files and emails were archived on a single backup server on the Norwich campus. Once access was gained, it would have been simple to copy all the material.
Guardian inquiries indicate police investigators have no evidence of foreign intelligence involvement.
Darnit! David King's version sounded so cool! Too bad he was just making it up.
But really, no one seriously believes this was a case of external hacking. People who aren't fixated on the notion that global warming alarmists are good and skeptics are evil are able to consider a far more likely and simpler explanation, and that is the material was spirited out of the UEA servers by an insider. In other words, this is a case of a whistleblower at work. If so, not only is it less nefarious, it might not even be illegal:
There has been a marked change of emphasis on the part of police and information commissioner investigators since the leak occurred last November. The university, which had called in the police, talked about illegal hacking and "theft of data". Police said they were investigating "criminal offences in relation to a data breach."
But the most recent statement from the Information Commissioner's Office, which said the University of East Anglia had flouted Freedom of Information regulations in its handling of requests for data from climate sceptics, uses much more cautious phrasing, leaving open the possibility that no crime has actually occurred. It merely says: "Norfolk police are investigating how private emails have become public."
It the UEA wants to find the culprit, just look for an honest person in the climatology department. Really, it should be easy enough. A honest person out to stick out like a sore thumb in the company of climatologists.