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Climategate: A Russian Connection?

Was the so-called "climategate" scandal initiated by the Russian security services?

A story today in the British daily "The Independent" suggests this might be the case:

The computer hack, said a senior member of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, was not an amateur job, but a highly sophisticated, politically motivated operation. And others went further. The guiding hand behind the leaks, the allegation went, was that of the Russian secret services.

In November, an unknown hacker, or hackers, accessed the server of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and disseminated over one thousand e-mails and other documents from over a 13-year period.

"The Independent" reports that the e-mails -- which climate-change skeptics say prove that researchers manipulated their data in order to exaggerate the threat of global warming -- were originally posted on a server in Tomsk owned by an Internet security company called Tomcity:

The FSB security services, descendants of the KGB, are believed to invest significant resources in hackers, and the Tomsk office has a record of issuing statements congratulating local students on hacks aimed at anti-Russian voices, deeming them "an expression of their position as citizens, and one worthy of respect". The Kremlin has also been accused of running coordinated cyber attacks against websites in neighboring countries such as Estonia, with which the Kremlin has frosty relations, although the allegations were never proved.

"It's very common for hackers in Russia to be paid for their services," Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, said in Copenhagen at the weekend. "It's a carefully made selection of emails and documents that's not random. This is 13 years of data, and it's not a job of amateurs."

The newspaper notes that "many in Russia's scientific community are deeply skeptical of the threat of global warming" and suggests that Moscow is less than interested in a strong global pact emerging from Copenhagen:

Much of Russia's vast oil and gas reserves lie in difficult-to-access areas of the far North. One school of thought is that Russia, unlike most countries, would have little to fear from global warming, because these deposits would suddenly become much easier and cheaper to access.

It is this, goes the theory, that underlies the Kremlin's ambivalent attitudes towards global warming; they remain lukewarm on the science underpinning climate change, knowing full well that if global warming does change the world's climate, billions of dollars of natural resources will become accessible. Another motivating factor could be that Russia simply does not want to spend the vast sums of money that would be required to modernize and "greenify" Russia's ageing factories.

The story was also covered by Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" and "The Mail On Sunday." And it has been picked up by the Russian online media.

Some conservative British bloggers, meanwhile, are casting doubt on the alleged Russian connection.

James Demingpole at "The Daily Telegraph" calls it "a glorious red herring, designed both to impugn the motives of the people who leaked the CRU files and to distract from the significance of the files' contents."

Another conservative blogger, Richard North, says that the fact that the e-mails we posted on the Tomsk server does not prove that Moscow had a hand in their dissemination:

From the very start, then, the crucial issue is that this is a publicly-accessible server which can be reached from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, Russian servers are particularly attractive to people who wish to lodge material on the internet anonymously, as the Russian authorities are distinctly unhelpful when it comes to revealing the addresses of computers used to upload material onto servers in their territory.

Thus, the fact that the material was placed on a Russian server gives no clue whatsoever as to the identity of the person (or persons) who uploaded the material, or of their location. The newspapers, therefore, have to invent a connection and a 'motive' in order to forge a link.

Now we at the Power Vertical love a good old cloak-and-dagger-style FSB-conspiracy yarn as much as anybody (actually, probably more than anybody). Our experience also tells us that the FSB is certainly capable of such an operation. And Russia, a major gas and oil exporter, certainly has motive to derail a new global climate pact

But the evidence presented thus far is a bit thin and circumstantial. But this does merit keeping an eye on and we'll follow up if something more substantial turns up. If any readers come across anything, either supporting or debunking the alleged Russia connection, give us a shout in comments or by e-mail.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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