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Climate e-mails were hijacked 'to sabotage summit'
Ben Webster, Environment Editor, in Copenhagen and Murad Ahmed
UN officials have likened the theft of e-mails from university climate
researchers to the Watergate scandal, after claiming computer hackers were
probably paid by people intent on undermining the Copenhagen summit.
Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a vice-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), said that the theft from the University of East
Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was not the work of amateur climate
sceptics, but was a sophisticated and well-funded attempt to destroy public
confidence in the science of man-made climate change. He said the fact that
the e-mails were first uploaded to a sceptic website from a computer in
Russia was an indication that the culprit was paid.
“It’s very common for hackers in Russia to be paid for their services,” he
said. “If you look at that mass of e-mails a lot of work was done, not only
to download the data, but it’s a carefully made selection of e-mails and
documents that’s not random at all. This is 13 years of data and it’s not a
job of amateurs.”
Mr van Ypersele said that publication of the e-mails had undermined efforts by
the IPCC to convince the 192 countries at the summit, which begins today,
that they needed to act fast on emissions. “We are spending a lot of useless
time discussing this rather than spending time preparing information for the
He rejected claims by sceptics that the e-mails showed efforts had been made
to manipulate the data to exaggerate the warming trend. “It doesn’t change
anything in the IPCC’s conclusions — it’s only one line of evidence out of
dozens of lines of evidence.”
Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Programme, said that the theft
of emails had echoes of Watergate — the burglary of the Democratic Party’s
offices at the Watergate building in Washington DC in 1972.
“This is not ‘climategate’, it’s ‘hackergate’. Let’s not forget the word
‘gate’ refers to a place where data was stolen by people who were paid to do
so. So the media should direct its investigations into that.”
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate
Change, said that the stolen e-mails looked “very bad” and were fuelling
scepticism, but said the media scrutiny was not unwelcome. Mr de Boer said:
“I think it’s very good that what is happening is being scrutinised in the
media because this process has to be based on solid science. If quality and
integrity is being questioned, that has to be examined.”
This week the Met Office will release temperature data from 1,000 weather
stations around the world in an attempt to shore up public confidence in its
statements about the dangers of climate change.
The raw data will be impossible for any non-expert to interpret. The Met
Office is also planning “as soon as possible” to release the computer code
it used to analyse the data.
It is this analysis, by the Met Office in partnership with the University of
East Anglia, that is at the centre of the controversy over the leaked
The e-mails, which were sent over a 15-year period ending on November 12,
first appeared on websites run by sceptics on November 17.
Almost a month before they were posted on a website popular with
climate-change sceptics, the hacked information was sent to a BBC weatherman
who had expressed his doubts about climate science on his blog. The BBC has
confirmed that Paul Hudson received some documents on October 12 but no
story was broadcast or printed by Mr Hudson or the corporation.
Then, on November 17, someone hacked into realclimate.org, a website popular
with climate scientists. The hackers put all the UEA e-mails and documents
on the website, using a computer based in Turkey. The website’s owners
responded quickly, shutting down the site within minutes.
Finally, using a computer in Saudi Arabia, the hackers posted a link on the
Air Vent blog. The link sent readers to a file that was stored on computers
in Russia. Only then did others begin to pick up on the story.