Of Climategate, constabularies, Hickman and l’affaire Tallbloke: a timeline to consider

Just in case you hadn’t heard, a U.K. blogger, Tallbloke, recently had his home invaded by six police officers who – after approximately three hours – left with two computers and a router, claiming that they wished to “clone” the hard drives as part of their (now two-year old) “investigation” into a “data security breach” at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Why this could not have been done on site, with far less inconvenience to one whom they’ve declared is not a suspect, and why this “cloning” has not yet been completed and Tallbloke’s equipment returned to him, are questions that one sincerely hopes will be answered in the fullness of time.

In the meantime, several bloggers have written about this – and related events – since Tallbloke first broke the news on December 14. And, as I had noted a few days ago, the MSM seem to have suddenly noticed Climategate 2.0:

[...] this incident seems to have generated far more interest from the MSM (including the CBC!) than the actual release of the CG2 emails on Nov. 22, and I suspect will encourage even more people to begin their own exercises in due diligence regarding the messages of doom and gloom.

Donna Laframboise has summarized these events in her post today (which also includes a fully linked version of a great piece she had written for the National Post, on December 20, regarding the involvement of the US Department of Justice).

But one thing that I have not seen highlighted throughout the commentaries I’ve read, is the curious timing of the involvement of The Guardian‘s “features journalist and editor”, Leo <free speech for me and no comment from thee when it doesn’t suit me> Hickman – and his failure to verify prior to posting. Hickman’s partner in alarmism is Damian Carrington (another Guardian “journalist” of the green persuasion not known for fact-checking) who was responsible for The Guardian‘s “exclusive” preview of the notorious October 2010 “No Pressure” video.

Bearing in mind the above, as well as The Guardian‘s rather uncanny ability to get the jump on much of the reportage that contributed to the Murdochmania media-frenzy last summer, and the questionably close relationship between some elements of the U.K. press and U.K. law enforcement officials (not the least of which is perhaps best illustrated by the ease with which former News of The World honcho, Neil Wallis succeeded in crossing so many boundaries) … Consider the following …

November 22:

Climategate 2.0 emails released by FOIA (whom I prefer to call The Saint) with announcement and download link placed on various non-alarmist blogs (including Roger Tattersall’s Tallbloke’s Talkshop, JeffId’s The Air Vent, Anthony Watts’ WUWT, and Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit)

November 23:

Damian Carrington, who seems to have appointed himself as The Guardian‘s “expert” on what constitutes a “real scandal”, declared:

Failure to catch climate email hacker is the real scandal
While evidence of global warming grows ever clearer, we are still in the dark over who is putting climate scientists’ emails online

As an aside, it was when I attempted to post a comment in response to this post of Carrington’s that I found that, for some strange reason, any comment from me is now subject to “pre-moderation”. Since the last comment I had made in response to a Carrington post – or indeed anywhere on the Guardian site – was merely to politely ask him (for the second time, since he had ignored my first request) to correct an error his July 28/11 blogpost – in which he had declared another “real scandal” – I can only conclude that Carrington’s advocacy overrides any interest in journalistic inegrity or accuracy. It would have been nice if someone at the Guardian had sent me a note explaining why this second attempt had been deleted (and comments from me placed on “pre-moderation”). But I digress …

November 25:

Hickman “invited” his readers to:

Help us find clues in climate email hacker’s message A README.txt file left by ‘FOIA’ with the hacked emails that were dumped online this week contains tantalising clues

The invitation generated 225 responses during the “open window” period … which didn’t last very long, as comments were closed at 5:00 p.m. GMT. It is not known how long the E-mail address (to which readers could also direct responses) remained active and/or was monitored.

It is worth noting that when challenged on the “hack” labelling, Hickman engaged in the Team’s – by now tried and true – exercise in redefining the meaning of commonly understood English words. When asked:

“Can you also present your evidence that this was a hack and not a leak?”

Hickman responded:

Please let’s not get distracted by the whole “hack/leak” debate again. The Guardian has used the term “hack” for this story since the beginning as a generic term

I’m not sure what Hickman’s new, improved definition of “generic” might be, but his assertion is certainly at odds with two “Related Items” that are linked on the very same page as his post:

To the best of my knowledge, Hickman did not post any follow-up which would indicate that any of the comments or emails he received in response to this November 25 “crowd-sourcing” effort, yielded any information that was, well, post-worthy. Unless one wants to count yet another Hickman <free speech for me and no comment from thee when it doesn’t suit me> post

November 29:

Secret message hidden among fresh climate email files
Folder containing second tranche of emails taken from University of East Anglia server included a message from the perpetrator in an encrypted text file

Certainly, there was nothing significant in Hickman’s post that hadn’t been known in the non-alarmist blogosphere since, well, Nov. 22. Although one might wonder about the “secret message” he thought might be conveyed by the image of “A fallen tree [which] lies in the Mongolian desert” which accompanied this very old news. Yet for some reason, perhaps best known only to himself, sometime on or before …

December 5:

Hickman (or someone from The Guardian posing as an “investigative journalist”) decided to “interview” Tallbloke. In Tallbloke’s words:

I have been put in contact with a journalist from the warmer side of the UK press. He was interested in knowing about anything which might help discover the identity of the Climategate whistleblower, or as he referred to them ‘ the hacker’, and why ‘foia’ might have chosen ‘the Talkshop’ to place a link to the server where he had uploaded the FOIA2011.zip file rather than another ‘higher profile’ UK climate blog.

[followed by Tallbloke's response, which is well worth reading in full and included:]

Investigative journalists also have a duty to follow the trail of interdependent public and private bodies and NGO’s which make use of public money, especially when large sums of it are never seen again and no accounting is forthcoming.

In my opinion that is the bigger story waiting out there, rather than the discovery of the identity of the person who chose to pull the dirty laundry out of the closet.
[...]
[and to which post Tallbloke subsequently appended the following:]

The investigative journalist in question thanked me for my response, and for my wider views, which I’m grateful he took the time to read, although he chose not to respond to them.

It may just be coincidence that (as the Norfolk Constabulary subsequently told Tallbloke), at the request of Norfolk’s finest (or perhaps the Metropolitan Police and/or the National Domestic Extremism Team who had been providing “assistance” to Norfolk’s finest since they first began their “investigation” two years ago) a mere four days later …

December 9:

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a “Request for Preservation of Records” via electronic mail to WordPress’ parent company. This letter, addressed to the attention of “law-enforcement[at]wordpress.com” is dated December 9, but we do not know when it was actually sent to or received by WordPress. The content included:

I request that you not disclose the existence of this request to the subscriber or any other person, other than as necessary to comply with this request. If compliance with this request might result in a permanent or temporary termination of service to the Accounts, or otherwise alert any user of the Accounts as to your actions to preserve the information described below, please contact me as soon as possible and before taking action. [emphasis added -hro]

Which suggests that there may have been some discussion or negotiation prior to …

December 13:

When WordPress forwarded this DoJ request to Tallbloke, Jeff (and presumably Steve McIntyre).

December 14:

The police arrive at Tallbloke Towers – and Roger posts the news.

December 15:

In an unecessarily misleading and erroneous account of the police raid, Hickman also wrote:

During an interview with the Guardian last week before the seizing of his computers, Tattersall said that he had been questioned by Norfolk police “some two months” after the initial breach in 2009, but had heard nothing since. A number of climate scientists and bloggers are known to have been questioned by the police. [emphasis added -hro]

December 16:

When I saw Roger’s post regarding Hickman’s factual inaccuracy, I followed his link to Hickman’s article – and then went off in search of this “interview” on the Guardian site, where I found nothing. So I asked Roger about this “interview” and he responded:

Leo asked me in email why my blog was chosen rather than a higher profile uk site. I told him maybe it was because I made one of the FOI requests to CRU back in 2009 and because of this, I was one of the people contacted for a telephone interview by Norfolk police in early 2010. I probably said “some two months” off the cuff from (dodgy post crash) memory. I speculated that because I had commented about that on Climate Audit, FOIA might have chosen me as a recipient for the link comment, or it was just a random blog roll click from another site, or FOIA likes my science.
:-)

You can read the exact words and the rest of what I said to him here:
http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/opinion-foia-and-where-its-at-with-the-global-warming-issue/ [see also December 5, above -hro]

Within a few hours of Roger’s post, at 9:11 a.m. Hickman posted a comment, in which he wrote:

Thanks for clarifying that about WordPress. I will try and get that reworded as soon as possible.

December 17:

At 8:07 a.m. Roger posted a comment in the same thread indicating that a “corrected” version had appeared – and that it was (IMHO) even worse than the original. He even provided a suggested re-write:

I’ll give the Guardian one more opportunity to get it right before I get my solicitor to send them a letter copied to the Press Complaints Commission. They just shouldn’t be this sloppy when reporting on legal matters which can seriously affect people’s livelihood.

This would be my suggested rewrite:

“Both Tattersall and a US-based climate sceptic blogger known as Jeff Id said they had received a copy of a “formal notice” sent to blogging platform WordPress.com by the US Department of Justice’s criminal division, dated 9 December. This requested that Automattic inc, owners of WordPress.com preserve “all stored communications, records, and other evidence in your possession” related to the two blogs for Nov 22/23rd, as well as those for Climate Audit, a climate sceptic blog run by a Canadian mining consultant called Steve McIntyre.”

This prompted a rather long and convoluted defensive comment from Hickman an hour later, in which he blamed the delay on “[his] editors”.

Finally, at 4:00 p.m., Roger received an E-mail from Hickman indicating that a further change had been made and an additional explanatory note appended. Roger – who, I must say, was far more gracious than I think I would have been in such circumstances – thanked Hickman and closed the thread to further comments.

So I didn’t get a chance to ask:

Wait a minute! According to The Guardian … Leo Hickman is a “features journalist and editor” How many “editors” does an “editor” need in order to make a correction to a paragraph that could have been written with greater clarity and accuracy the first time?

Well, at least it would have been, had the “features journalist and editor” either read the available material more carefully, or chosen to exercise due diligence by verifying before making such a potentially damaging statement.

Had he done so, he could also have spared a few bloggers (of the ultra green persuasion) the embarrassment of having to eat their words (and in at least one instance, eventually remove a post) by which they had uttered a baseless and defamatory assertion.

And considering the timeline above, I’d also be very interested in knowing with whom Hickman decided to share the non-published December 5 “interview” noted above. Wouldn’t you?

In the meantime, perhaps Hickman should take some lessons from Donna Laframboise, so he can learn how a real investigative journalist practices due diligence and verification – before going to print. Even on the simple matter of the raid at midnight meme, Donna checked with Roger, so that her article (unlike Hickman’s) was right – the first time.

UPDATE: 12/22/2011 10:30 AM PST

It seems that I’m not the only one who’s interested in knowing with whom (and when) Hickman might have shared the December 5 non-published “interview”. In a comment below, Roger has provided some additional details, which I’m adding here, for the record:

I have asked Leo straight out if he had any form of communication regarding me with the police between my email exchange with him (he never told me it was an ‘interview’) and the raid on my home.

He denies it:

“No. Bishop Hill asked me that via Twitter yesterday and I confirmed it to him too. Why, do you have evidence that suggests otherwise? Very curious to know where this suspicion has come from.”

To which I replied:
“Just an unhappy close coincidence of events I guess. I hadn’t made any such suggestion to Andrew by the way.” [emphasis added -hro]

This raises another question, in my mind: How ethical is it for a journalist to claim that a response to an E-mail question is an “interview”?

About these ads

8 thoughts on “Of Climategate, constabularies, Hickman and l’affaire Tallbloke: a timeline to consider

  1. Thank you for this diligently collated and researched article, and the others you have been working on. It has all been so much of a tumult for me that I haven’t had time to construct timelines, do the secondary analysis etc.

    I have asked Leo straight out if he had any form of communication regarding me with the police between my email exchange with him (he never told me it was an ‘interview’) and the raid on my home.

    He denies it:

    “No. Bishop Hill asked me that via Twitter yesterday and I confirmed it
    to him too. Why, do you have evidence that suggests otherwise? Very
    curious to know where this suspicion has come from.”

    To which I replied:
    “Just an unhappy close coincidence of events I guess. I hadn’t made any such
    suggestion to Andrew by the way.”

    Keep digging.

    Have a great Christmas

    Rog tallbloke

  2. Thanks, Rog and the same to you! I admire your equanimity throughout all this – and I sure hope that the tumult dies down very soon, so that you and your family can enjoy the holidays.

    He denies it?! Well, he would, wouldn’t he?!

    Mind you, there’s always the possibility that technically he’s correct. But this does not preclude the possibility that he might have shared your E-mail (which became an “interview”, obviously unbeknownst to you) with one or more intermediaries who then shared it with their friends in law enforcement.

    I’ll add the additional details you’ve provided to the top post :-)

    Hilary

  3. Pingback: NYT reporter engages in zany conspiracy theory – suggests bloggers “knew” FOIA emails were coming | Watts Up With That?

    • No doubt it is … and no doubt some of them are … although some of my best friends are journalists!

      But perhaps those of the Hickman ilk ought to have the decency to append a sig file indicating words to the effect of “you have the right not to respond to this email, but if you choose to answer, anything you say may be used in any way I choose to use it”. However, my point was, as I’m sure you recognize, for the average Uninformed Lay Person (ULP), mention of an “interview” would lead to an expectation of finding at the very least a series of formal Q and A’s so one knows what question was asked, and what might have lead to the answer, just for “context” ;-)

      All of that being said, it was Hickman’s misleading lead paragraph – and (giving him the benefit of the doubt) failure to verify, compounded by the length of time it took to correct – that was the most problematic from my perspective.

  4. December 9:

    The US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a “Request for Preservation of Records” via electronic mail to WordPress’ parent company. This letter, addressed to the attention of “law-enforcement[at]wordpress.com” is dated December 9, but we do not know when it was actually sent to or received by WordPress. The content included:

    I request that you not disclose the existence of this request to the subscriber or any other person, other than as necessary to comply with this request. If compliance with this request might result in a permanent or temporary termination of service to the Accounts, or otherwise alert any user of the Accounts as to your actions to preserve the information described below, please contact me as soon as possible and before taking action. [emphasis added -hro]

    Which suggests that there may have been some discussion or negotiation prior to …

    December 13:

    When WordPress forwarded this DoJ request to Tallbloke, Jeff (and presumably Steve McIntyre).

    Steve McIntyre didn’t get notice of the DOJ request – I did. Because I am the technical contact for Climateaudit.org

    Incidentally there has been a tremendous craporama about what has happened and where it originated – mostly by James Delingpole blaming “Obama’s boot boys”.

    The DOJ request was standard boilerplate stuff in support of bilateral treaties with the UK – the request undoubtedly came from the Norfolk Constabulary as yet another belated attempt to find out the dastardly person who is making a civil servant (Phil Jones) and his colleagues look bad by actually quoting their own words.

    But it’s unlikely that Delingpole will be blaming “The Queen’s Boot Boys” any time soon.

    I don’t know who FOIA.org is, but frankly I would like him/her/them to make contact and at least have a conversation about the balance of the emails and what they might contain – beause who FOIA is is none of my business or interest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s