Climategate 3, the goon squad and going nuclear.

One of the climate establishment’s new coping mechanisms in handling what is effectively the third release of the climategate emails, is to put pressure on the people who were sent the decryption key, rather than looking for the identity of the leaker. The leaker goes by the name FOIA and the establishment in this case are the University of East Anglia, usually abbreviated to UEA, which is also rather tellingly interpreted by its own notably laid-back students as the University of Easy Access.

Incidentally, in the aftermath of the long drawn out and seemingly unquenchable PR disaster that climategate keeps turning out to be for UEA, there are rumours of them working hard on repairing their academic credibility. Given the alarums and excursions of the last few years, big donors have been noticeably gun-shy of the place. They’re sprucing up their academic credentials by trying to recruit some scholastic heavy hitters like Gergis, Marcott, Shakun and Lewandowsky. Apparently the University of Western Australia are actually very keen to let UEA have the advantage of the latter’s full-time services, and as quickly as humanly possible. It’s all going extremely well, but I do think them having to break the fait accompli to Lew will be the tricky bit.

In case you don’t know, the previous or second release contained another batch of emails in plaintext as well as all of the remainder, but in an encrypted archive. The third release is FOIA supplying the decrypt key for the archive to certain bloggers.

Why concentrate on the key’s recipients? There appear to be a number of reasons. The first would be that looking for FOIA would seem to be a fruitless exercise. The official police search for FOIA has been closed down and the statute of limitations applicable to any supposed criminal act in connection with the leak has run out. In the light of even what little whistleblower legislation exists in the UK, it’s actually highly debatable whether there’s a basis in law to proceed with a criminal charge in any case. At the end of the day, FOIA on trial would have been a disaster for the “cause” and still would be.

Having not been able to stop the release of the key, the point solution appears to be simply bringing in a legal goon squad to try to intimidate people who were sent the decryption key by FOIA. I’ve seen one of the goon squad’s communications with a blogger and I’d have to say, it’s marvelously vague, in the matter of all empty threats. The blogger is ominously warned against doing something which is never quite spelt out. The dire consequences of doing so, also not spelt out, appear somehow, well, mysteriously dire without actually being specific in any way. It’s all truly terrifying stuff, yawn.

As bluffs go, I’d caution the university against ever playing poker against anyone who doesn’t cycle around furiously delivering newspapers bright and early in the morning.

In terms of a response to a move by FOIA, when you take it apart, it’s pretty ineffectual, if not outright dumb. Even if it did actually succeed in silencing the bloggers, it would turn out to be a disastrous move, for reasons I’ll get to. Patently, the intention is to frighten bloggers out of publishing material from the decrypted emails. Let’s look at the range of responses to them resorting to the legal blunt hockey stick to bludgeon people into silence.

At a practical level, there are some quite intractable cross-jurisdictional problems about even bringing a legal suit. If the blogger is working out of a country strongly protective of the equivalent of First Amendment rights, otherwise known as free speech, then beyond some nuisance value, any case is a non-starter. Let’s just say for instance, they happened to be a blogger operating out of the US state of California, any decision to prosecute would have to be seen in the context of the failure to even indict the self-confessed identity thief and therefore a criminal, Peter Gleick.

The only thing worse for your reputation than being laughed out of court is being laughed at in court, and for one excruciating day after another.

You may not even have their real name, and while you’re trying to bully it out of their free blog provider and you’re getting the sort of co-operation you’d expect from someone, whose whole business model totally depends on big draw blogs exactly like the one you’re trying to get shut down, the blogger is busy replicating the piece across the entirety of the blogosphere, thereby putting it squarely into the fair comment arena for other bloggers. Your low-key but heavy-handed attempt to do a bit of intimidation has now itself become the big story.

You’re buggered at that stage, or given that we’re in the cyber space of the twenty-first century, why don’t we coin version 2.0 of that noble word – bloggered? Sort of suits, don’t it? Every time you come after a blogger, we’d just band together and make sure you got bloggered, as happened in the Tallbloke debacle.

If a blogger decides to publish in a fireproof way, whether anonymously or not, they hold all the cards because they have a huge number of ways of doing so. For instance, it’s the work of a few minutes to set up a free blog and upload it with your article. At your leisure, you can set up a further twenty or thirty duplicate blogs scattered geographically all over the world. Different blog providers, on different servers, in different countries with different laws. All you need to do then is pull the trigger, which is a single group email from a one-time email address to as many people as possible, giving them all the links to the blog article. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and by that stage, there’s simply no way of getting it back in.

Even if you could get a blogger to trial, there’s the huge public interest angle, which you’ll have to find some way to deal with. A blogger publishes, UEA sues and a trial ensues. It’d be the Dreyfuss trial of the twenty-first century but it’d be that blogger rather than FOIA in the dock. Politically, it wouldn’t be the blogger on trial though, but rather the very integrity of climate science, and irrespective of a win, lose or draw verdict, I’ve got a pretty shrewd idea of which one would be found guilty in the court of public opinion, which is the only one that matters in an infowar.

Oh what a cause célèbre that would be. Blogger martyrdom in the name of free speech. The whole of the worldwide skeptic blogosphere rallying around to defend the poor blogger from the highly paid legal thugs of a supposedly pristine academic institution, the libertarians fighting for free speech and interesting groups like the nihilists or syndicalist-anarchists just getting stuck in for the chaotic hell of it. Appeals for a fighting fund, petitions, mugs, articles, blogs, T-shirts. Merchandise, merchandise, bring it on. Hit me with your rhythm stick. Hit me, hit me. Counter demonstrations outside the court with the inevitable clashes making the news, and we’re off. We’d make sure to take you on that trip, every damn embarrassing step of the way. Not a mud hole on the way to the final Circus Ludicrous would be missed.

That scenario can get even worse though. Having decided to make a cost-effective example of a single blogger to deter the others, what do you do if fifty more bloggers scattered all over the world decide to go with exactly the same material or even more material? You going to sue them all? An internet version of the I-am-Sparacus ploy. I think you’ll find that no matter how bullish you are about beating a single penniless blogger, the people charged with the university’s financial oversight might have a slight problem with the whole budget for the next five years disappearing into a multi-national legal black hole, from which any recompense, even in the very best case of a Pyrrhic win, would be negligible. I can assure you, a subsidised, never mind a rich skeptic blogger, is rarer than hen’s teeth.

There is only one single way in which that scenario could possibly play out biblically worse, and that’s if FOIA themselves decided to appear as a witness for the defense, and I wouldn’t put any money up against that eventuality – it’s the ace of spades in a greenie’s nightmare.

Not even UEA are thick enough to hand us a club like that, but you never know. Hope springs eternal, as Milton observed. It wouldn’t be the first time the climate clots have let hubris lead them by the nose into the self-inflicted wound zone.

One of the very few advantages we have is the usual guerrilla fighter’s nimbleness and when it comes to the climate wars, the internet is our jungle. By the time you’ve scheduled an emergency meet with the legal goon squad, got everyone with some sort of poodle in the fight into one room, listened to all the stoopid ideas, fought for the few decent ones against the bureaucratic and legal ass covering ones, we’ve already let the cat out of the bag, given it a saucer of milk and are patiently second guessing your response and making our dispositions accordingly. Your lumbering panzer divisions are simply of no use in the Teutoburg forest.

Patently, there are a number of issues with regard to exposing personal and private information from the email archive, which have no bearing on the ongoing climate non-debate. FOIA themselves in the two previous releases, never needlessly exposed personal information but as we all know, even official work emails will contain personal and sensitive information, if only from things like HR issues being dealt with.

However, it’s an Information Security truism that email is a postcard, which is to say it’s open and anyone can read it. You should never be sending anything sensitive via it en clair. You do that, then you’d better be prepared to live with the results, and that’s perhaps fated to be the resolution of the climategate archive in the end.

It’s purely an intuitive thing but I get a sense from the email that accompanied the release of the key, that after three and a half years of stress and tension, FOIA is exhausted and just wants to hand it all over to other people, so they can take it forward. Those people are the ones who’re now under some degree of pressure and the big blowtorch. The bouncing ball has now landed in their court. Welcome to FOIA’s world.

I said some time ago that FOIA is the one actually running this game, and when you consider the situation post CG3, they’ve still got all the important cards. Nothing much has changed. When you have the power to destroy something, you own it, irrespective of whose name is on it.

If FOIA comes to think the people he supplied the key to have been cowered into inaction and silence by the legal threats of the goon squad, he’ll be left with nothing but the nuclear option, and that very fatigue, which in the end drove him to pass out the key, will kick in, so he will press that big red launch everything button. Duck and cover UEA, because out of the blue, the whole situation will go straight to DEFCON one.

The nuclear option is brutally simple. The encrypted archive is already out there on the internet, so just release the decryption key to the world. Everyone would have access to everything. The key not only decrypts the emails, but the fact that it does so, authenticates FOIA. The moment the first plaintext email comes out of the archive, everyone will know the key is genuine. An internet publishing equivalent of a feeding frenzy begins. The unexpurgated, unabridged and unredacted everything would get published far and wide, and with absolutely no regard to anyone’s privacy or sensitivities. The chips will fall where they will.

Publish everything, let Gaia sort it out.


Related articles by Pointman:

Climategate, a crisis of conscience.

Climategate 3. FOIA’s accompanying email.

Why Climategate was not a computer hack.

Profile of the Climategate Whistleblower.

Click for a list of other articles.

11 Responses to “Climategate 3, the goon squad and going nuclear.”
  1. nzrobin says:

    Talking about goons and the University of Easy Access reminded me of the ‘Village Idiot’ skit by Monty Python. Did you know that in that skit the UEA is mentioned as the place the idiots get their degrees? I always thought John Cleese was a lat smarter than he let on. Take a look at about 3:30 to 4:00 in the attached YouTube link.


  2. Joe Public says:

    An excellent piece.

    Let’s not forget that besides the infamous CRU, UEA also has that complementary facility, its School of Creative Writing.

    One minor point, Tallbloke was raided (at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice) in Dec 2011, not last year.


  3. Rick Bradford says:

    I agree – FOIA wants to close this chapter, put it behind him, and get on with other things.

    Let us not forget the signal service he has rendered.


  4. Pointman says:

    Some stuff you gotta share.



  5. Jonas N says:

    But this surely must be a joke:

    [UEA] They’re sprucing up their academic credentials by trying to recruit some scholastic heavy hitters like Gergis, Marcott, Shakun and Lewandowsky. Apparently the University of Western Australia are actually very keen to let UEA have the advantage of the latter’s full-time services, and as quickly as humanly possible. It’s all going extremely well, but I do think them having to break the fait accompli to Lew will be the tricky bit.

    For this would be hilarious indeed. If true!


  6. Mike Singleton says:

    Well written Sir,
    Climategate 3 has gone very quiet but I suspect a few sweaty brows are waiting for the other shoe to drop.


    • nzrobin says:

      The dozen or so who have the key are likely poring over the treasure looking for the gems. But they are all busy folk with other things to do. And after all, there is no rush. A longer look allows more of the threads to be sorted. Meanwhile those folk with something to worry about will likely be fretting. The wiser ones might realise that this would be a good interlude to change your mind, and maybe print something along a sceptical line.


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