Just a year ago, the Climategate files — a collection of emails, data, and computer source code — were somehow purloined from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit and made public. Pajamas Media was one of the first news organizations to cover them, with the first breaking news story out within hours of their first discovery (“Hacker Releases Data Implicating CRU in Global Warming Fraud“).
The full consequences are not yet clear, but the files’ release probably led to the collapse of the Copenhagen climate conference — to which the Obama administration had committed no little amount of political capital — and certainly contributed to the public’s increasing skepticism about the supposed consensus of climate science.
In some ways, the most surprising part of the Climategate files was how well they confirmed the dark suspicions of climate skeptics: there really were problems with replicating some of the most quoted results, there really had been some questionable manipulations made so the data would present the “right” picture, and there really was a somewhat covert group, composed of scientists on the “human agency” side of the argument and certain “reliable” environmental journalists, who were working together to suppress counter-evidence and assassinate the reputations of the skeptics.
Almost exactly a year later, Julius Assange and the WikiLeaks website revealed another collection of similarly purloined data. This time, the data was a collection of diplomatic cable traffic among American diplomats all over the world, some of it considered very sensitive — classified SECRET. Again, the purloined messages proved very embarrassing to the authors, although in this case the damage wasn’t just to egos and reputations; the cables did damage to American interests, even to national security.
On December 3rd, the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom published one of a series of stories based on the cables, this one titled “WikiLeaks cables reveal how U.S. manipulated climate accord.” The United States really was applying considerable political and diplomatic pressure on other players; the scientific “consensus” had long since been subsumed by the pressure to score a political win. As the Guardian put it:
Hidden behind the save-the-world rhetoric of the global climate change negotiations lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support; spying and cyberwarfare are used to seek out leverage.
The bribes — sorry, I mean promised aid — was no mean amount of money. The Guardian reports amounts in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. The government of the Maldives set their price at $30 million. With a population of roughly 300,000, that is $100 per person in a country where the average household gets by on $450 a year.
This pressure, however, wasn’t limited to financial transactions: the United States was developing intelligence on the other participants in the conferences.
Seeking negotiating chips, the U.S. State Department sent a secret cable on July 31, 2009, seeking human intelligence from UN diplomats across a range of issues, including climate change. The request originated with the CIA. As well as countries’ negotiating positions for Copenhagen, diplomats were asked to provide evidence of UN environmental “treaty circumvention” and deals between nations.
At the same time, foreign powers — most probably at least including the People’s Republic of China — used sophisticated social engineering and cyberwar methods to get leverage in the upcoming negotiations.
On June 19, 2009, the State Department sent a cable detailing a “spear phishing” attack on the office of the U.S. climate change envoy … while talks with China on emissions took place in Beijing.
“Spear phishing” is an attack in which a carefully customized email message to a particular person, including personal information and promising something sure to be of interest to the recipient, is used to introduce a “Trojan horse” program, and while the cables don’t actually identify the suspects, it’s the same style of attack, and exactly the same exploit, that the Chinese used on Google.
The Guardian article is an amusing exercise in cognitive dissonance. The CIA wanted to collect intelligence on the other participants: CIA, ooh, bad! But it was to push through the global warming treaty. Wait. Global warming treaty, oooh, good! The Guardian writers clearly had some trouble deciding what they really thought.
By the time the Copenhagen conference came around, domestic political considerations inside the Obama administration had far outweighed whatever scientific basis originally drove the negotiations. On the other side of the table, pious public mouthing of global-warming dogma was replaced by straight-out monetary transactions: if you want our agreement, come up with the most cash. And China, South Africa, Brazil, and India were working the process with both politics and less savory means, to make sure they had the leverage to get what they wanted.
The lesson of the WikiLeaks climate cables turns out to be very much like the lesson of the Climategate files last year. The most surprising aspect of this story is how thoroughly the cables confirm the dark suspicions of climate skeptics.
Charlie Martin writes on science and technology for Pajamas Media.