Profile of the Climategate Whistleblower
Seeing as we’ve just passed the first anniversary of the Climategate leak, it might be of topical interest to repost a piece I did shortly after the emails became a blogosphere bombshell. In the time since then, the ‘hunt’ for the whistleblower has not met with any success that I’m aware of. I would be stunned if it ever does.
The Climategate whistleblower : a profile.
Okay, I’ll preface this with the caveat that I have no access to first hand sources, the people in the unit or any of the IT forensics. Therefore, instead of the usual who, where, when, how and why, I have to go on the latter – which is basically motivation; an intellectual challenge but interesting. I will give my reasons for each conclusion, something which I don’t usually do. The reasons will offend a lot of sensibilities.
I’ve outlined in a previous post why I think it very unlikely that the emails were obtained by an external hacker. Therefore, they were leaked by an insider who had “access”, without which any source is useless. If one thing comes out of reading the emails, it is that the unit was a very closely-knit and intense peer group, the classic bunker mentality. The second thing is that a decade’s worth of emails must contain a large element of messages of a personal nature. These appear to have been stripped out. Why? To focus on the science without needlessly hurting or humiliating other people. Notice also, that the content was not edited and the damning emails were left in context – the work of a fair-minded individual.
If you have knowledge of climate science and the arguments going on within it, the emails are obviously explosive stuff. A layman would simply not appreciate that. He knows his climate science and to a depth.
This betrayal of the peer group was done purely over a matter of scientific principle and by a man. Women have just as good a capacity for betrayal as men but usually for them, the reasons are inter-personal, rarely if ever for matters of ‘high’ principle. Running the risk of blowing up your career and becoming a pariah within the peer group for something as silly as “your principles” doesn’t play for them. The whistleblower is almost certainly a man. Whistleblower is such a long word and gets in the way of developing a mental image so I shall call him Unus henceforth, after a very pertinent character buried long ago in the golden era of Marvel.
Let’s focus on Unus to see what picture we can get from what little details we have of his activities. The first reliable report of the offering up of the zip file is to BBC journalist Paul Hudson on the 12th October 2009. Why him? Because Hudson had recently penned an atypical BBC piece entitled “Whatever Happened To Global Warming”. He also worked for a respected british institution with journalistic integrity (sarcasm on my part but not for Unus at the time). Hudson, at face value, looked to be at least sympathetic and he did work for the BBC. He, of course, decided or had it decided for him, not to run with the scoop of the century (that was your 15 minutes, Paul).
What’s this tell us about Unus? Basically, he’s far from worldly wise and politically very very naive. The BBC may run the odd story questioning AGW doctrine but that’s just a nod to the impartiality bit of the Charter and anyway, young Mr. Hudson is a nobody a long way down the food chain and very much the last person anyone would expect to do a “Woodward and Bernstein” with the story. To be that innocent of realpolitik, Unus is probably in the middle to late twenties. Also, when you’re older, married, mortgaged with a few kids, you simply don’t risk them all and your livelihood on “matters of principle”. This would be especially true in the closed environment of academia where being found out would be a complete career killer. There exists a possibility that Unus is a single, much older man nearing end of career who’s had enough of the dishonesty but the IT considerations, which I’ll be moving on to, militate against it.
It’s important to note that from his viewpoint, giving the information to the BBC, a perceived neutral party, no big betrayal was being done. It was more in the nature of having a discreet word with the referee, telling him that someone on your side wasn’t playing fair. A little tentative step, not really a betrayal. The ref would handle it.
As far as I’m aware, nothing is heard from Unus for over a month. Why so long? You’ve got the ammo, you’ve shown the will to use it, just pull the trigger somewhere else. It didn’t happen. Why not? I suspect the interaction between Unus and the BBC was a bit of a cold shower for him. Welcome to the real world, Unus and it has sharp edges. In the aftermath and thinking it through, there was no referee, no neutral third party to hand the data to, they were all on the bandwagon. The only people who would do anything with the data were the sworn enemies of the CRU. Of all the people you could betray the group to, that would be the worst. There was no avoiding it. This would be betrayal with a big fat capital B. I suspect you struggled with that decision long and hard for that whole month.
Gavin Schmidt has been peddling some bollocks about an attempt to upload the zip to RealClimate but I find it hard to believe. Why try to upload it to a pathologically pro AGW website, especially one whose founders appear in the emails?
Back to reality. The zip file was uploaded in middle November to an open server in Tomsk Russia and emails were sent to WUWT and possibly others alerting them to the file’s location. Why in Russia of all places? To explain that one I have to digress so bear with me. The EU Data Retention Directive 15th Dec 2005 obliges the capture within all EU states of the details of all mobile calls and their location, text messages, landline calls, internet website visits and emails. As Mr. Caine would say, not many people know that. Interestingly, this piece of legislation is an EU record holder. It went from draft to full directive in three months flat. Why? Because it was already being done but the data being gathered was inadmissible in court. Now it is.
Basically the internet, like all forms of electronic communication, is one big tape recorder – you have been warned. It’s your ISP who’s obliged to render up the logs of your online activities. The chances of the Norwich constabulary getting the access log from a Russian ISP are somewhere between extremely slim and non-existent and patently Unus knows this. What’s more, getting some sort of injunction on an ISP outside the EU to take down the zip file would be problematic at best.
The Norwich police called in a specialist IT unit to track down Unus. Every computer on the internet has a unique IP address. Find his IP address and you’re well on the way to finding Unus. You get that by examining any emails sent by him or any sites accessed by him. You don’t have the start point of any communications but you do have the end points. There are three possibilities. The Tomsk server is a dead end and getting access to the WUWT emails across the pond would be a procedural and legal nightmare. That leaves the BBC emails with Mr. Hudson. Getting their hands on these presents no legal problems, so I assume they have. Did they get a useful IP Address or not? The answer appears to be no, simply because they’ve obviously fallen back on plan B.
Plan B involves scouring all outward communications from within the CRU to see who’s been pissing out of the tent. This explains their momentary interest in the unfortunate Mr. Paul Dennis who had some dialogue with climate sceptics, not quite yet a criminal offence for a climate scientist but enough to earn you an automatic arguido status. The fact that the IP address on the BBC emails was of no use to them means it was concealed either technically (IP chaining, multiple proxy servers etc etc) or Unus used a physical cut out such as public WiFi or an internet café.
Most commentary on Climategate discusses the emails. What’s commonly forgotten is that the zip file also contained program source code and a lot of it. Emails are written in plain English, programs are written in a programming language. The difference is that while the former can be ambiguous, the latter is totally unambiguous. If you’re going to cheat on the computer side, you have to programme it explicitly to cheat, you can’t fudge it. Take my word for it or take the time to check out some of the analysis done, the code is ten times more damning then the emails. That’s why Unus added it to the payload. He’s comfortable reading computer code.
What does all this computer stuff tell us about Unus? He knows his IT to a depth one wouldn’t expect of a climate scientist. Having said that, most of the deductions with regard to his IT expertise are heavily predicated on the level of competance of those trying to find him, which I may have overestimated. He, like them, may not be all that slick. If so, they already know who he is but of course, will never “find” him …
We haven’t heard from Unus since November. Not a peep. I think we never will. Draw your own conclusions. I’ve drawn mine and choose to omit them from this profile.
I’ve looked over what skimpy bios of the CRU players I could find for someone matching this profile, especially for one with the knowledge in the two specialist areas but without any success. The reason, I’m beginning to suspect, is that the whistleblower’s name is not Unus but Gemini.
Related topic : Why Climategate was not a computer hack.