The Cyber-Bonfire is Big and Bright, Deep in the Heart of Texas
By: Chris Horner
In the early 2000’s, the public was introduced to Enron “Shredding Parties,” where documents were destroyed to avoid possible embarrassment or legal consequences. These bashes represented the height of corporate decadence, an open flouting of the law. It came from a rotten corporate culture that saw itself as being above everyone else.
That sounds familiar, aptly describing the global warming industry, to which Enron introduced me during my brief fling in 1997 as Director of Federal Government Relations.
After sitting in on one meeting with BP, Union of Concerned Scientists and the like I raised questions about Enron’s leading role in organizing a classic Bootlegger-and-Baptist coalition to get a global warming treaty (this was pre-Kyoto). This was received quite poorly, and I was gone in a matter of weeks.
But, back to Texans, the global warming industry and destroying documents. WUWT readers may have caught this recent item, in which I suggested there was more nuance involved when public employees delete their work-related emails than a ClimateWire article reported was being advocated among that crowd.
This was my gift to academics should they think about following the counsel set forth by Texas A&M professor/climate activist Andrew Dessler and start deleting their emails.
Dessler peaked my curiosity by boasting of his own, rolling shredding party, after acknowledging that reservations about such an enterprise had initially given him pause. But, hey, then he got legal advice and — he indicated — most or all of his emails were being ‘disappeared’.
So I asked this taxpayer-supported university for some information: given the Texas A&M University System Records Retention Schedule, would they please provide me copies of all “destruction sign-offs (1.2.001)…[and] records disposition logs (1.2.010)”, as well as any related approvals, or submitted record disposition or destruction forms, and/or record storage forms submitted by or approved on behalf of Professor Dessler from July 15, 2012 through January 21, 2014?
The answer came back, “no records”.
So, no requests for permission to delete work-related email by the guy who boasted of deleting what sure sound like the kind of records he needs to ask permission to delete:
“Now, [Dessler] said, he deletes most of his emails after reading them.
When ATI’s Horner realized ‘Frontline’ had picked up Dessler’s story, he submitted another records request. This one sought emails from ‘Frontline’ and other journalists Dessler had communicated with, including reporters at The New York Times, the Associated Press and The Guardian.
But this time, Dessler was ready. ‘When they asked for my emails from “Frontline,” there were none. Those were all gone,’ he said.”
Apparently, this is because “he learned…that he can legally delete as many emails as he wants, and after that, they are no longer subject to public records requests.”
Not quite. So I asked for a little more information: would TAMU provide copies of all electronic mail correspondence sent to or from any account used for Texas A&M-related correspondence by Professor Andrew Dessler over a four-week period which would include the “Frontline” effort (June 17, 2012 through July 15, 2012). That is, did any email survive this particular frenzy?
The answer just came back, “No records” (specifically, “The College of Geosciences conducted a search and found no information that is responsive to your request”).
So, read deleting “most of his emails”, at least for this period, as “deleting all of them.”
Yet, emails are not subject to indiscriminate destruction to avoid transparency. Details matter.
Many emails are indeed “transitory information”, defined as “records of temporary usefulness that are not part of a records series, are not filed within a record-keeping system, and are required for a limited period of time for the completion of an action”. Under Texas A&M policies, those can be deleted.
However, any email which “uniquely documents University business,” it is a state record and “cannot be destroyed or otherwise disposed of unless documented and approved in accordance with University records retention requirements. Approval should be obtained from the University Records Officer prior to deletion or other destruction or disposition.”
That is why our first two requests for certain emails produced so many. Why suddenly none of his correspondence represented a record is an intriguing question. It also rather begs the utility of Texas’s taxpayers footing the bill for email for faculty anymore.
But of course, it would be silly to think that, in fact, no or even very few email really are “records”.
Mr. Dessler’s boast leaves us only two possibilities. The more likely of the two is that he inappropriately destroyed state records. Then boasted about it.
I say more likely because the other option is that he received no emails over that period that meaningfully related to his position at Texas A&M. A tough sell, what with Dessler having already indicated he indeed received (and destroyed) such emails during this period.
“Frontline”, worried about academics just trying to do their work being harassed on the job, leaves no doubt that its package, and therefore correspondence, related to Dessler’s job. We know his correspondence with journalists relates to his job; we know particularly that the Guardian views this as entirely job-related. We are endlessly told the issue is “academic freedom” (if with strained credibility).
At its core, the issue at hand isn’t global warming, or “academic freedom.” It isn’t even science. At core the issue is one of accountability by an arrogant, elite culture that thinks it answers to no one, least of all those who might ask annoying questions. Like, how are taxpayer dollars being spent, in the obvious pursuit of more taxpayer dollars, more taxpayer sacrifice, more taxpayer restrictions?
It is a culture not all that different from the one I saw at Enron. We have seen it at the Universities of Virginia and Arizona, and among their many taxpayer-dependent cheerleaders.
I have no doubt we will see it when we look in the few other places we intend to look. The question is how far will our universities, lawmakers, and courts allow this Enron-ization of their realms go, as they commit to influencing lawmakers, the courts, and society?