Back to top

British Climatic Research Unit's emails hacked

University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit(CRU) had the e-mail messages of its researchers hacked and published worldwide on November 21st. This can probably be a consequence of increased attention to CRU after it has played a substantial role in IPCC fourth accessment report (2007). A university spokesman has confirmed that these data were private, and were published without permission.

According to initial reports by TGIF Newspaper and What's Up With That blog, hundreds of emails and documents where made available from a FTP site on a Russian server and accompanied by the statement:

"We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps. We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents"

While the hacker remains anonymous, the head of the CRU Dr Phillip Jones has confirmed in an interview with TGIF Newspaper that a breach of security had taken place and that a large quantity of files had been stolen. Dr. Jones was asked to explain some of his own emails in the leak:

Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual land and marine values...

– From: Phil Jones, 16 Nov 1999, To: ray bradley ,mann@[snipped], mhughes@[snipped]

Dr Jones said he had no idea what he meant by using words like "hide and decline" as they were made in the context of a discussion taking place 10 years ago, and he had not attempt to mislead:

No, that’s completely wrong. In the sense that they’re talking about two different things here. They’re talking about the instrumental data which is unaltered – but they’re talking about proxy data going further back in time, a thousand years, and it’s just about how you add on the last few years, because when you get proxy data you sample things like tree rings and ice cores, and they don’t always have the last few years. So one way is to add on the instrumental data for the last few years.

– Dr. Jones, TGIF newspaper ("Investigate magazine") interview

The published messages show the researchers' reluctance in publication of scientific material, though it contains serious global warming observations. The material remained unpublished because of the researchers' fear of skepticism of oppositionists of climate change. Some of the correspondence portrays the scientists as feeling under siege by the skeptics’ camp and worried that any stray comment or data glitch could be turned against them.

The original British server, from which the information was stolen, has been shut down. The university has not confirmed whether the published communication is genuine:

We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites. Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all of this material is genuine. This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation. We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved the police in this enquiry.

– University of East Anglia spokesman

The release of the documents comes just weeks before a big climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, meant to lay the groundwork for a new global treaty to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change.