Investigators may be Closing in on Climategate Suspect

Two years ago, the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 private emails between prominent climate scientists raised questions about climate science research, and came to be known as “climategate.” While six investigations have since cleared the climate scientists of wrongdoing, the culprit(s) responsible for pilfering the emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain has eluded investigators. That may be about to change, thanks to the unauthorized release of still more emails from the original stolen trove of correspondence.

Although the climategate culprit still remains at large, the most recent hacking may have left a case-breaking digital clue. Credit: Brian D Perskin/flickr. 

In the runup to the most recent round of United Nations climate change negotiations, which were held in Durban, South Africa in December, more emails from the original batch were released, leading to a much smaller kerfuffle regarding the work of the same group of climate scientists. This time, however, the hacker may have left enough of a digital trail for investigators to follow.

As the New York Times reported on Jan. 1, British and American law enforcement agencies are focusing on digital logs from websites where the second batch of emails were first posted. In the U.K., agents confiscated two laptops from a blogger, although that person is not being considered a suspect.

As the Times reports:

“But November’s leaker left additional clues behind as well. Not much — an encrypted file and a note ending in what seemed to be a taunt — but enough to revive fervent speculation about what sort of person might be behind the stunt.

The note, somewhat cryptic, seemed to suggest that efforts to fight global warming siphoned money from worthy causes like fighting poverty. “Every day nearly 16,000 children die from hunger and related causes,” it said.

Then the note’s author seemed to dangle a challenge for hackers and programmers, saying that even though he was releasing 5,000 e-mails, “The rest, some 220,000, are encrypted for various reasons.”

“We are not planning to publicly release the pass phrase,” the note added coyly.”

The Times story includes reactions from the environmental community as well as climate skeptic groups. Some skeptics have long claimed that the email release was not the work of an outside hacker, but a leak from within the University of East Anglia itself. That argument may be fading, however, in the wake of the second round of emails. Myron Ebell of the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute told the Times that he now thinks the email releases were designed to cause “the maximum possible anxiety” for the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit. “It is like knowing your building has a bomb in it that could be detonated at any time,” he said.