British police investigating climate email hackers

LONDON Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:30pm EST

Related Topics

LONDON (Reuters) - British police will examine a batch of email exchanges between climate scientists which appeared on the Internet Tuesday as part of an inquiry into the hacking of the private documents, police said Wednesday.

The University of East Anglia, whose Climate Action Research Unit is considered one of the world's leading institutions on climate science, said the emails appeared to be "a carefully-timed attempt to reignite controversy over the science behind climate change."

Negotiators from almost 200 countries meet from November 28 in South Africa for a U.N. climate summit, where only modest steps are expected toward a deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions despite warnings from scientists that extreme weather will likely increase as the planet warms.

An anonymous group or individual called FOIA posted a file on a Russian server, here.zip,

which included more than 5,000 emails.

Two years ago, a series of emails written by climate experts from the university were stolen by unknown hackers and spread across the Internet in what became known as "Climategate," just before a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.

The leaked emails contained private correspondence from 1995 to 2009. Climate change skeptics claimed they showed scientists manipulating data to support global warming.

However, independent inquiries cleared the university of all accusations of fraud and data manipulation, although they did recommend it change the way it handled requests for information.

"We are aware of the release of the document cache. The contents will be of interest to our investigation which is ongoing," said police spokeswoman Nicola Atter.

"Nothing so far leads us to believe the emails raise any new issues. If, on closer study, we see anything that requires further investigation, that we will do," Edward Acton, vice chancellor of the university, told reporters Wednesday.

"It may throw more light on the perpetrator rather than the victims of this invasion of privacy. I am very keen to know who did it," he added.

Police would not reveal information about suspects but said it was following "all lines of enquiry, some of which have been international in nature."

Acton said the way numbers appeared, using full stops instead of commas, was uncommon among British or American English speakers.

In addition to the 5,000 emails released Tuesday, there are another 39,000 pages which cannot be accessed yet as they require a password, the vice-chancellor said.

Those seen so far include quotes on discussions between scientists over how to portray climate data, the workings of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and how to share information.

"I have looked at 100 or so and those highlighted are quite cherry-picked (...) They are quite representative of frank and honest discussion between scientists," said Phil Jones, head of the university unit.

In a statement immediately after the emails appeared on the Internet Tuesday, the university said: "This appears to be a carefully-timed attempt to reignite controversy over the science behind climate change when that science has been vindicated by three separate independent inquiries and a number of studies."

(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

FILED UNDER: