It was the Russians. Or possibly the Chinese. No, wait, it was the Americans. Yes, our very own version of Inspector Clouseau is on the case of the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.
Yesterday Sir David King, Tony Blair's former chief scientific advisor, told this newspaper: "It was an extraordinarily sophisticated operation. There are several bodies of people who could do this sort of work. These are national intelligence agencies... there is the possibility that it could be the Russian intelligence agency." However, King goes on to suggest that the expense of such an operation would be too great for the entire Russian state to undertake: "In terms of the expense, there is the American lobby system, which is a very likely source of finance, so the finger must point to them."
And why is it that Sir David thinks that the Kremlin joined forces with unspecified "American agencies" to leak emails from the UEA's Climate Research Unit? He claims it was to undermine the UN's Copenhagen climate Conference (as if it hadn't been doomed anyway).
The more interesting question is why the content of the emails might have been thought to have such an effect, as King apparently believes they did. Perhaps – let's make a wild stab – it was because they revealed that the unit described as the world's most authoritative source of evidence for the threat of man-made climate change had been trying to prevent the methodology behind its predictions from being made public via the Freedom of Information Act.
Perhaps it was also because the emails showed how some members of the UEA team had lobbied scientific journals to block the publishing of papers that dissented from their own opinion about the entirely anthropogenic cause of allegedly unprecedented global temperatures; and perhaps it was also because it contained such emails as this one, from the head of climate analysis of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it's a travesty that we can't... we cannot account for what is happening in the climate system."
For Sir David King, clearly, the travesty is that the public should be allowed to have a glimpse of the true level of uncertainty within climate science. It is astonishing arrogance on his part. His intervention is on the same moral level as any MP who declared that the most important issue about the expenses claims within the Palace of Westminster was how it came to be that the disc on which they were stored was passed to the press. In fact, no MP was that arrogant – or that stupid.
As it happens, we now know that disc was leaked by someone legitimately in possession of it – a whistleblower who was appalled by what he saw, and thought that the public should know. For some reason, it has not occurred to Sir David King that the UEA emails might have been accessed and then leaked by an insider shocked at what he had discovered. Remember also that they were in any case all being collated following a request under the Freedom of Information Act; perhaps this insider became aware that the now suspended head of the Climate Research Unit, Phil Jones, had asked colleagues to delete certain emails, and was determined that Jones should not be allowed to get away with it.
Even if the leak were not the work of a whistleblower from inside the UEA, it is still ludicrous scaremongering on Sir David's part to declare that this must have been a concerted operation by one or more foreign intelligence services. Is he unaware that an autistic loner, Gary McKinnon, is facing extradition to the US, after he hacked into some of the Pentagon's most sensitive codes using nothing more than a domestic dial-up internet connection? Yet, according to Sir David King, such a non-secure academic database as the University of East Anglia's could only have been penetrated by SMERSH, sorry, the FSB, sorry, the CIA....oh, whatever.
On the wider issue of climate change, Sir David has form for scaremongering. In 2004 he declared that if the world did not act to reduce its Co2 emissions, by the end of the century Antarctica would be the planet's only inhabitable continent. It is, by the way, most welcome that his successor as chief scientist, John Beddington, has an altogether more...well, scientific approach. Last week Beddington said: "I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper [climate] scepticism...there is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction...there are uncertainties both in terms of empirical evidence and the climate models themselves."
Beddington was speaking in the wake of a number of damaging revelations about the whole process by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comes up with its terrifying forecasts. The most notable was the admission by the IPCC that its 2007 report's claim that the Himalayan glaciers would "disappear by the year 2035" was based on a misunderstanding (let's not be cynical) by the World Wildlife Fund, which was itself citing a magazine article, which was in turn quoting a single Indian glaciologist, who in his turn subsequently claimed that he hadn't said any such thing.
Yet when a number of the IPCC's critics questioned the astonishing claim that the Himalayas would be free of ice by 2035, the IPCC's chairman dismissed them as "voodoo scientists." Among those alleged "voodoo" practitioners was the Indian Government. Last week the Indian Environment Minister, Jairiam Ramesh, welcomed the IPCC's retraction of its most headline-grabbing claim: "The IPCC's claim that [Himalayan] glaciers will vanish by 2035 was not based on an iota of scientific evidence." One can understand Mr Ramesh's fury. About two billion people depend on meltwater from Himalayan glaciers. If they had believed what the IPCC said, then we could have witnessed a panic movement of population of unprecedented scale.
And where does our own climate change minister, Ed Miliband, stand on this? Last month he harrumphed that "We must not let the sceptics pass off political opinion as scientific fact... the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that feed the great rivers of South Asia could put hundreds of millions of people at risk of drought. Our security is at stake."
Now that Miliband stands revealed as someone who passed off political opinion as scientific fact, what does he say? Under the headline "Miliband declares war on climate change sceptics", the minister was reported this weekend as follows:" I think it would be wrong that when a mistake is made it's somehow used to undermine the overwhelming picture... when the next IPCC report comes out it will suggest that there have been areas where things have been happening more dramatically than the 2007 report implied."
A mistake? The single most significant and newsworthy claim in the IPCC's report is shown to be complete garbage, undermining confidence in the whole process, and it's just "a mistake"? One is reminded of Tony Blair's response to the Chilcot committee last week, when asked about his utterly discredited claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that would take just 45 minutes to launch. A mere detail, said Blair: it was the media's fault for overstating its significance within the wider picture.
After non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the British Government now wants to terrify us – and the world – with scaremongering about "man-made" weather of mass destruction. That's the scandal – not whether someone has hacked into an East Anglian computer.
- More about:
- Freedom Of Information Act
- Independent Police Complaints Commission