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Pointman — A dead man’s hand detonator on hidden emails may protect ClimateGate whistleblower

In the high powered risky game of whistleblowing there are ways to make the the leaker a less attractive target.

Pointman analyzes the ClimateGate whistleblower’s tactics and explains why he, she or they probably released those other 200,000 emails but kept them hidden behind the 4000-8000 character almost unbreakable password. He points out there are no emails released yet between key scientists and people in power, hence the worst, most damaging emails may be kept under a ” dead man’s hand detonator”. If politicians are afraid of what might be in those released-but-hidden emails, they may not want to expose or attack the whistleblower for fear of unleashing the other emails. The hidden emails buy the whistleblower protection.


Some thoughts and some questions about the Climategate 2.0 release

Guestpost by Pointman

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Two years ago, I did what can only be described as a highly speculative profile of the climategate leaker. You can find it here. I strongly suggest you read it now or you’ll have some difficulty following the rest of this piece. Reading it again in the light of what more can be deduced about them from the second release, it holds up surprisingly well. Where it falls down very badly is not so much in its broad conclusions, which I think are basically in the ballpark, but in the whistleblower’s intensity. Boy was I wrong on that.

They’ve sat on the new material for two years and apart from one possible communication, the ”no deal was done” comment on a blog, we’ve not heard a word from them. In that time, they’ve no doubt seen their motivations both lauded and slandered and have never came forward to either accept the plaudits or defend themselves from the attacks. That shows a level of patience and self-discipline only someone on a mission has. We’re very definitely looking at a person driven by integrity and conviction, someone who can’t be bought or sold, either by common coin or by popular recognition. People like that never give up and they’re nearly impossible to either spot or stop.

“People like that never give up and they’re nearly impossible to either spot or stop.”

Keeping a secret that you know you can’t share with anyone else is a constant background stress. Keeping a very big secret is like having a giant boulder on your shoulders that gets heavier and heavier, grinding you down on a daily basis. It takes a huge toll on your resources but they’ve kept their secret successfully for two years. Believe me, that takes a mental and emotional strength that few people possess.

Looking at the “Background and Context” section of the readme file that came with the latest release, their motivation is plain for all to see, as are a number of other things. They are quite prepared to burn climate science down to its very foundations to stop it being used to justify environmental policies that they believe are killing people in the developing world. It is a motivation and strategy I share with them. My admiration of them is only tempered by my awe at the escalated level of risk they’ve now decided to take on.

A question I’ve always asked myself about the original climategate release and the new one too, is one that as far as I can tell, surprisingly no one else appears to ever have speculated on. I’ve never raised it publically because I feared it might intensify the hunt for them by forces more powerful than anything UEA or Norwich constabulary can bring to bear but as I’m now sure that with their latest release, they’ve taken care of that problem, I’ll share it now.

“These missing emails are the real dynamite at the secret heart of this release of climategate.”

Yes, they’ve given us all the top-level conspiratorial correspondence between the likes of Jones, Trenberth, Hansen, Mann et al but these are the very people who simply must have been communicating upwards to senior political figures or at least their most trusted advisers. Think about it for a moment, do you seriously think the latter plough their way through huge turgid IPCC reports and then hammer out policy and approach from them? No, of course not. These missing emails are the real dynamite at the secret heart of this release of climategate. We do not have a single one of those high-level political emails but they must of course exist.

I strongly suspect we now have them in our possession.

From the viewpoint of the political establishment, the original climategate was probably viewed as a squabble about the details of a branch of science and it was strictly confined to the blogosphere, since it was never reported on by the mainstream media. It looked like a one-off, so there was no ongoing political liability to worry about. Release 2 changes things, both for the whistleblower and the parties involved in the political emails. I’ve no doubt that at the time of the first release, the “scientists” assured the politicians that no significant political emails had been compromised and after two years of complete silence, it looked to be so.

With release 2, all bets are off. The release of explicit emails between scientists and senior political figures conspiring to deceive the electorate would not only be politically terminal but would also have to be reported on in the mainstream media. There’d be no way of ignoring them. The whistleblower is not going away and this means a real attempt is now going to be made to find them before they release any more emails. The last time, finding them was the last thing anyone wanted. This time, they simply have to be found and fast. Given the greater will and a lot more resources, there’s a real danger they’ll locate the leaker this time.

I don’t do conspiracy theories but have few illusions about what powerful political interests are capable of when they’re threatened, so I’ve no doubt that having located them, a point solution can easily be implemented. It would have to be something suitably grubby to completely destroy the credibility of the leaker. For instance, frame them up for downloading child pornography, try them, jail them and throw away the key. Who’d believe a word from a disgraced scientist sitting in cell because of their disgusting paedophile tendencies? Safely locked away and with absolutely no access to a computer, they’d be nullified. They simply wouldn’t be able to release any more material.

The leaker’s solution to this problem, and I have to say it’s rather neat, is to release all the remaining material now. Release 2 contains the political emails and all it needs is the magic pass phrase to unmask them. It could be uttered at some phony trial on trumped-up charges, it could be uttered to a fellow prisoner, it could be disclosed to their lawyer. It could be left with a few trusted friends with instructions as to who to send it to if anything untoward should happen to them. Allowing for the very worst, it could even be in their last will and testament.

Not only will the pass phrase unlock all the encoded emails but it’ll confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the person who knew it is the climategate leaker, even if they are sitting in a jail cell somewhere. In the parlance of cryptography, the pass phrase authenticates them.

What’s more, there may be more than one pass phrase. Climategate 2 is a bomb with a dead man’s hand detonator attached to it and it may very well be cluster munition as well.


CG2 landed as a complete surprise to us all and for a number of reasons, I felt it important to get a piece out on it as quickly as possible. Reading it again, there’s stuff I should have expanded on and there are a few more thoughts I’d have added, if I’d had the time. Some of them might be possible answers to the questions being raised. I’ll kick them into play now.

I said in the original profile that I thought FOIA started out being very innocent politically and I’d have to stick to that assessment. There’s simply no other credible explanation for trying to offer CG1 to a news organisation like the BBC that’s so chronically biased when it comes to anything to do with the environment. I think they’ve learnt a lot about Realpolitik in the two years since CG1 and it shows. There is a different flavour to the material in the second release and it echoes the transition most of us made on our own journeys into becoming climate skeptics.

“…there’s a good chance CG2 contains not only CG3 but CG4, CG5 etc etc. It’s a cluster bomb.”

The first phase was finally admitting to myself that the science was simply junk; there wasn’t any other word for it. The second phase was realising that even though the science was junk, that wouldn’t stop the madness because at heart, global warming was never about the science. It was always about politics. It doesn’t actually matter if the science is crap. CG1 was a selection of emails aimed at showing the science was crap because at the time, they innocently believed that would be enough to do the job. I feel CG2 is more about showing the dirty politics at work behind the scenes. As people dig into the mountain of emails, I think that’ll become more apparent.

The timing of the release is of course intended to give the coup de grace to the Durban clambake but everyone knew that it was always doomed to be a going down the pan, whatever happened. I have a feeling that they were spooked by something else, possibly a renewal of police investigations. I really don’t know what that might have been.

In response, I think they gave us everything they had to make sure it got out in the event they got nabbed. They hid the rest of the material behind a practically uncrackable wall of encryption and only they know the pass phrase. They’ve had two years to think about how to structure that. If I were in their position, I’d rig it all up with several pass phrases, each of which would release a new tranch of material. I reckon there’s a good chance CG2 contains not only CG3 but CG4, CG5 etc etc. It’s a cluster bomb.

FOIA have put themselves under the big blowtorch once again by releasing CG2 but that would be nothing compared to heat which would have been generated if CG2 contained a single one of the big political emails. eg correspondence between Jones/Blair, Hansen/Obama. Like I said, they’ve learnt a lot in the last two years, not just about politics but about survival, a part of which is knowing precisely how far you can push your luck while still having a bit of insurance.

Think about it and sleep well you climate masters of the universe.


Related articles by Pointman :

A profile of the climategate whistleblower.

Why climategate was not a computer hack

The README file that came with climategate 2.0


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