ClimateGate/Russiagate Connection Slowly Dawns on Mainstream Media

December 19, 2017

One of the media’s most shameful failures in a shameful century is certainly the failure to adequately cover Donald Trump’s Russian connections.

Sad to say, historians of the future, if there are any, may not even view that as the worst example in this decade.
I’ve been talking about the continuity between the so-called “Climategate” email hacks, and the Trump/Russia scandal, since right after the ’16 election. Now starting to get some mainstream traction.

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Mother Jones:

Seven years earlier, Trump was riffing on a very different set of hacked emails. The real estate mogul had called into Fox News after a blizzard to declare that climate change was a hoax. Trump claimed that “one of the leaders of global warming” had recently admitted in a private email that years of scientific research were nothing but “a con.”

Trump was referring to the 2009 Climategate scandal, in which emails from climate scientists were hacked and disseminated across the internet. Climate change deniers claimed the messages showed scientists engaging in misconduct and fabricating a warming pattern that didn’t really exist. Multiple investigations ultimately exonerated the researchers, but not before a media firestorm undercut public confidence in the science—just as world leaders were meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, to attempt to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

In hindsight, the Climategate hack, clearly timed to disrupt the Copenhagen negotiations, looks like a precursor to the hack that helped shape the outcome of the 2016 election. That’s how John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose stolen emails were posted on WikiLeaks in the final weeks of the campaign, sees it. The parallels go beyond the hacks themselves. “I think it was the intentionality of influencing the public debate,” he says.

At its core, Climategate was a story about emails—some admittedly embarrassing or poorly phrased—that were dumped online with the intent of altering a crucial global event. WikiLeaks republished the scientists’ emails. Talk radio and Fox News had a field day. Politicians soon followed. Mainstream reporters amplified out-of-context quotes. And the victims of the hack—especially Mann and the University of East Anglia’s Phil Jones—were not prepared for the deluge of investigations, personal attacks, and even death threats that followed.

At the time, some observers openly wondered whether Russia might have orchestrated the Climategate hack. Investigators and other experts haven’t found much to support that hypothesis—the true culprit remains a mystery. Mann himself has pointed to the incident’s “curious connections” to Russia and WikiLeaks, but he, too, notes there’s no specific evidence that Moscow was to blame. Still, Mann sees other ways in which the episode was similar to what Hillary Clinton experienced in 2016. Both hacks, he notes, were “intended to impact the global political scene in a significant manner.”

Podesta, a leading advocate of climate action during the Obama years, describes Climategate as an early example of hackers conspiring “to take the fruits of illegal behavior, weaponize them, then use them in a political context.” And though the emails contained no evidence of scientific misconduct, Podesta notes, climate change deniers successfully used them to “change public perception and increase skepticism about the need for action at a pivotal moment.”

Climategate began in the fall of 2009, when someone accessed thousands of emails and other documents stored on a backup server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit—a prestigious institution in Norwich, England, that is one of the leading centers of global warming research. It wasn’t just CRU employees who were caught up in the hack; their communications with dozens of scientists around the world, including Mann, were stolen as well.

On November 17 of that year, links to a zip file containing the stolen material—labeled “FOIA.zip”—began appearing in the comments sections of blogs run by climate change skeptics. The file name had a clear meaning: Skeptics had been engaged in a long-running battle with the university to gain access to scientists’ raw data and communications using the United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information Act. The file itself was stored on a server in Russia, though that server space could have been used by anyone in the world.

The hacker also broke into RealClimate—a website run by a group of climate scientists—and drafted a post promoting the emails. NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt found the hacker’s post before it was published; it still sits in RealClimate‘s content management system today.

Within days, WikiLeaks published the emails. Its founder, Julian Assange, told PBSthat the university had been trying “to suppress information from the Freedom of Information Act.” (At the time, Assange was considered an advocate of radical transparency. After WikiLeaks’ role in publishing Democratic documents hacked by the Russians and corresponding with the Trump campaign, his motives seem far more suspect.)

The emails in no way altered the well-established fact that humans are changing the climate. Still, skeptics zeroed in on a 1999 message sent by CRU’s Jones, in which he mentioned Mann’s research and also used the phrase “hide the decline.” Given that Mann was best known for the “hockey stick” chart showing the dramatic increase in global temperatures, the wording sounded nefarious. But it turned out that Jones wasn’t describing an attempt to conceal a decline in temperatures. (The world was warming rapidly, after all.) Instead, he was referring to a scientific method for dealing with complications in tree-ring data.

Michael Mann’s groundbreaking “hockey stick” chart—named after the steep rise in global temperatures it depicts—has been validated by numerous independent studies since its publication two decades ago.

A series of independent inquiries would later conclude that while the University of East Anglia had improperly dodged open records requests, none of the scientists had engaged in any type of academic misconduct or fabrication. But that wasn’t the story taking shape on the news networks and in major papers.

On November 20, a New York Times front-page story opened by noting that skeptics “say [the emails] show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.” The Washington Post quoted climate skeptic Myron Ebell—who would later run Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—as saying the emails exposed an “alarmist political agenda.” The Post even ran an op-ed by Sarah Palin, who claimed that scientists had “manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures.”

Television coverage was even worse. NBC told viewers that “those who doubt that man-made greenhouse gases are changing the climate say these emails…show climate scientists massaging data.” ABC inaccurately claimed that “one of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a trick to hide the decline in temperatures.”

Mann quickly became a central target for climate change deniers. Right-wing groups and Republican politicians called for the federal government to revoke his research funding and for his university to investigate him. He received an envelope in the mail containing white powder; it turned out to be cornstarch. “You and your colleagues who have promoted this scandal ought to be shot, quartered, and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families,” declared one emailer. Along with other climate experts, Mann was featured in an anti-Semitic post on the white supremacist website Stormfront—an ominous foreshadowing of 2016.

Sound familiar? Russian intelligence agents followed a strikingly similar blueprint in 2016 after they hacked the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Podesta’s personal Gmail account.

“If you were a Russian operative [and] pitching influence ops for the DNC, and somebody’s like, ‘Eh, I don’t know about that,’ literally you just turn around and go, ‘Look at how well it worked [with Climategate],’” says Jake Williams, a cybersecurity expert and former analyst at the National Security Agency. “I wouldn’t necessarily say one influenced the other, but certainly it’s good proof that that’s a technique that works.”

To access Podesta’s emails, the hackers used a targeted phishing attack that led his office to inadvertently turn over his login credentials. The DNC was hacked by two groups associated with Russian intelligence—one starting in 2015 and another in 2016—also via targeted phishing attacks. Tens of thousands of emails were eventually made public, along with Democratic fundraising reports and other planning materials. Batches of the stolen documents were given to individual news outlets, while other chunks were published directly to the blog of Guccifer 2.0—an online persona thought to be a front for Russian intelligence.

By far the most damage was done via WikiLeaks, which published the DNC emails days before the Democratic National Convention. And when the Trump campaign was thrown into chaos after the Washington Post unearthed a 2005 video of Trump boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy,” WikiLeaks began publishing the Podesta emails less than an hour later. WikiLeaks then rolled out new batches of emails on a near-daily basis in the month leading up to the election. Once again, the timing was clearly designed for maximum impact.

Below, my call-in to the Diane Rehm show on November 10, 2016.

Political jargon was misinterpreted, and innocuous phrases were presented out of context. Years-old private emails were dumped into the public sphere. Benign interactions between reporters and their sources were twisted to imply collusionbetween the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media. In one particularly absurd example highlighted by the liberal group Media Matters for America, Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives breathlessly reported that Podesta had “admitted” that Clinton hated “everyday Americans.” Podesta had actually meant that Clinton hated the phrase “everyday Americans”—a slogan that her campaign frequently used at the time.

The 2016 hacks had devastating personal consequences for their targets. Mann had been compared to a child molester; Podesta was actually accused of child molestation by conspiracy theorists who declared they had detected code words in his emails designed to conceal a child sex ring supposedly operating out of a DC pizzeria. Every piece of the so-called Pizzagate scandal was a lie, but that didn’t stop restaurant staffers from receiving hundreds of death threats. In December 2016, a North Carolina man who claimed to be investigating Pizzagate fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant. Luckily, no one was injured.

We still know very little about “Mr. FOIA”—the online persona who claimed to be behind Climategate. His own words suggest he was a lone individual with no government or corporate backing. (Guccifer 2.0 also claimed to have no connection to Russian intelligence, an assertion that US intelligence agencies say is false.)

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8 Responses to “ClimateGate/Russiagate Connection Slowly Dawns on Mainstream Media”

  1. bbenfulton Says:

    I’m not sure Mother Jones really counts as mainstream media.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I think Chris Mathews does, and now Chris Hayes is tweeting it — so, slowly dawns is appropriate.
      Mother Jones does get read. This will keep creeping along.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        In fact, while MJ may not be up to its own standards of a couple of decades ago, (what print media is?) it continues to publish occasional groundbreaking articles that are indeed eventually picked up by corporate media–after they can’t ignore them any more.

  2. mailtemp1234 Says:

    What Russia connections ?
    Not a single detailed document of any Trump Russia connection just allegations and meaningless non criminal topics with NO PROOF.

    Yet we know loads of very detailed evidence and PROOF includiing bank records, witnesses and government documents about Clinton crimes. Like paying Fusion GPS to hire British spy Christopher Steele to COLLUDE and PAY Millions to the Russians for a fake dossier used by a corrupt White House, Justice department and former Clinton Lobbyist Comey FBI director to illegally authorize FISA warrants so they can SPY on there opponents ??

    What more evidence of a police state and corrupt criminal practices do you want then what OBAMA+Clinton cartel executed with the help of all the cronies and bribes going on all over the place making hundreds of millions selling state favors and Uranium dealings involving RUSSIAN rosotom which is all owned by Putin. Bribes in the millions as well for every favor Hillary ever did and Bills outrageous money laundering talking fees.

    HOW BLIND are LEFT WING Supporters ? when will they ever look outside there progressive fairy naive bubbles and wake up to the hypocritical deceitful evil political party they support which makes the republicans look like Angels. The Democrats have no intention of doing any substantial Socialist or Environmental action for them other then raise taxes to extort more money and create a poverty stricken welfare state.
    The Democrats destroy LAW and FREEDOM wherever they rule and subjugate there supporters.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Their’s some real craziness in this comment, not the least of which is comparing Republicans to freaking ANGELS!!

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        The spirit of Christmas could have been festooned in gay abundance if only mailtemp1234 had learned to use red and green font colors to enhance his random capitalizations… sigh.

        On the other hand, singing aloud his screed to the tune of “Jingle Bells” has all the dogs in the neighborhood baying and prancing.


  3. […] As readers may know, I’m of the belief that Russia’s bold incursion into global electoral politics is not separate from the climate crisis, and the carbon bubble. […]


  4. […] Hacking emails on behalf of an unknown third party hostile to renewable energy? Who ever heard of such a thing? […]


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