One year after climategate, a journalist has finally come close to asking the question that Tom Fuller and I wanted them to ask: “Why did Jones ask people to delete mails?” This was context that the mails could not supply. For a year now people have distracted themselves with the issue of actual wrongdoing– did he delete mails. In my mind that is less critical than understanding the motive.
As Adams writes in his interview:
So why did [Jones] urge colleagues to delete mes-
sages in which they discussed, among other
things, the preparation of a report for the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?
An attempt to thwart critics, perhaps? “That
was probably just bravado at the time,” he says.
“We just thought if they’re going to ask for
more, we might as well not have them.”
Let’s break that down and see if it makes sense. First, Jones calls it bravado. That, of course, would entail that Jones thought he could violate policy and get away with it. We called the behavior “noble cause corruption.” The kind of behavior that members of institutions engage in when they think that rules do not apply to them.
The other excuse Jones gives makes no logical sense. There was a request into CRU for all the mail and correspondence realting to Ar4 chapter 6. At the time Jones wrote the mail to Mann, he knew that the request was going to be denied. Holland’s request was clear. There was no possiblity of him asking for more mails relating to Chapter 6, he had already asked for them. Osborn for one had said he had none. Jones had none. Only Briffa’s mails were in question and they had been requested. Simply, Holland requested them all and Jones explanation of his behavior makes no sense.
We can, however, make deeper sense of his first excuse, “bravado” by reading the mails more closely, by looking at his prior statements and by connecting a few dots:
One of the first mentions made about the deletion of documents around the Ar4 chapter 6 actually comes before the request to delete mails.
From: Phil Jones <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: “Michael E. Mann” <email@example.com>, “raymond s. bradley” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: A couple of things
Date: Fri May 9 09:53:41 2008
Cc: “Caspar Ammann” <email@example.com>
Mike, Ray, Caspar,
A couple of things – don’t pass on either.
1. Have seen you’re RC bet. Not entirely sure this is the right way to go,but it will drum up some discussion.
Anyway Mike and Caspar have seen me present possible problems with the SST data ….This likely won’t get corrected quickly as it really needs more overlap to increase confidence. …This also means that the SST base the German modellers used in their runs was likely too warm by a similar amount. This applies to all modellers, reanalyses etc….There will be a lot of discussion of the global T series with people saying we can’t even measure it properly now…..The paper doesn’t provide a correction. This will come, but will include the addition of loads more British SSTs for WW2, which may very slightly cool the WW2 years. ….So the German group would be stupid to take your bet. There is a likely ongoing negative volcanic event in the offing!
2. You can delete this attachment if you want. Keep this quiet also, but this is the person who is putting in FOI requests for all emails Keith and Tim have written and received re Ch 6 of AR4. We think we’ve found a way around this…..
This message will self destruct in 10 seconds!
While the reluctance to share adverse data the minute it becomes available might concern some, I’m more concerned with Jones instructing others to delete documents that may be subject to FOIA. It’s also interesting to note that Jones is always looking for a way to not comply with requests. It’s that very gaming of the system and the delaying tactics he used with Willis Eschenbach that got the CA audience so inflamed.
Later Osborn will send a mail to Ammann, evidence that the matter is being discussed and that “confidentiality” will be the loophole that Jones/Palmer try to squeeze through. Note, even if Ammann considered his mails to be confidential, Ammann is not the correct person to make that determination. But CRU are not looking for their actual obligations under the law, they are feeding Ammann the excuse they want to hear:
From: Caspar Ammann <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: request for your emails
Date: Tue, 27 May 2008 17:36:26 -0600
Cc: “keith Briffa” <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh MAN! will this crap ever end??
Well, I will have to properly answer in a couple days when I get a chance digging through emails. I don’t recall from the top of my head any specifics about IPCC. I’m also sorry that you guys have to go through this BS. You all did an outstanding job and
the IPCC report certainly reflects that science and literature in an accurate and balanced way.
On May 27, 2008, at 5:03 PM, Tim Osborn wrote:
I hope everything’s fine with you. Our university has received a request, under the UK Freedom of Information law, from someone called David Holland for emails or other documents that you may have sent to us that discuss any matters related to the IPCC assessment process. We are not sure what our university’s response will be, nor have we even checked whether you sent us emails that relate to the IPCC assessment or that we retained any that you may have sent. However, it would be useful to know your opinion on this matter. In particular, we would like to know whether you consider any emails that you sent to us as confidential.
Sorry to bother you with this,
Tim (cc Keith & Phil)
The game plan for handling Holland’s request is laid out here by the FOIA officer, Palmer:
On Tue, May 27, 2008 6:30 pm, Palmer Dave Mr (LIB) wrote:
Please note the response received today from Mr. Holland. Could you provide input as to his additional questions 1, and 2, and check with Mr. Ammann in question 3 as to whether he believes his correspondence with us to be confidential?
Although I fear/anticipate the response, I believe that I should inform the requester that his request will be over the appropriate limit [18 hours] and ask him to limit it – the ICO Guidance states:
12. If an authority estimates that complying with a request will exceed the cost limit, can advice and assistance be offered with a view to the applicant refocusing the request?
In such cases the authority is not obliged to comply with the request and will issue a refusal notice. Included within the notice (which must state the reason for refusing the request, provide details of complaints procedure, and contain particulars of section 50 rights) could be advice and assistance relating to therefocusing of the request, together with an indication of the information that would be available within the cost limit (as required by the Access Code).
And… our own Code of Practice states (Annex C, point 5)
5. Where the UEA is not obliged to supply the information requested because the cost of doing so would exceed the “appropriate limit” (i.e. cost threshold), and where the UEA is not prepared to meet the additional costs itself, it should nevertheless provide an indication of what information could be provided within the cost ceiling.
This is based on the Lord Chancellors Code of Practice which contains a virtually identical provision….
In effect, we have to help the requester phrase the request in such a way as to bring it within the appropriate limit – if the requester disregards that advice, then we don’t provide the information and allow them to proceed as they wish….
I just wish to ensure that we do as much as possible ‘by the book’ in this instance as I am certain that this will end up in an appeal, with the statutory potential to end up with the ICO.
One thing to note here. Palmer suggests two ways to get around the request. The first method is to claim that the request would be too costly. If Palmer determines that the request may take more than 18 hours, he can deny the request. This path is troublesome because then Palmer will have to work with Holland to refine his request, or perhaps Holland could opt to pay to have the documents retrieved. Instead, Palmer sticks to the game plan in his denial:
Dear Mr Holland,
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 – INFORMATION REQUEST (Our Ref: FOI_08-31)
Your request for information received on 27 May 2008 has now been considered and it is, unfortunately, not possible to meet your request.
In accordance with s.17 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 this letter acts as a Refusal Notice, and I am not obliged to supply this information and the reasons for exemption are as stated below:
s.1(1)(a) Right to be informed if information held” : Information not held
s.41, Information provided in confidence: Release of the information could result in an actionable breach of confidence
We are unable to provide the information requested in sections (1) and (2) as we simply do not have the requested information. After consultation with colleagues, I would suggest that you contact the IPCC directly for this information.
To recap. There is a request in from Holland for email. In an early mail after receiving this request, Jones is fast on the case of deleting communications. Over the course of May a plan of action is developed. CRU will deny the request, not on the grounds of the request taking to long, but on the grounds that the communication is confidential and Jones’ dodge that they “don’t” have any documents that fit the description.
From: Phil Jones <email@example.com>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org,”Palmer Dave Mr (LIB)” <David.Palmer@xxxxxxxxx.xxx>
Subject: Re: FW: Your Ref: FOI_08-23 – IPCC, 2007 WGI Chapter 6 Assessment Process [FOI_08-23]
Date: Wed, 28 May 2008 17:13:35 +0100
Cc: “Briffa Keith Prof ” <email@example.com>, “Mcgarvie Michael Mr ” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Although requests (1) and (2) are for the IPCC, so irrelevant to UEA, Keith (or you Dave) could say that for (1) Keith didn’t get any additional comments in the drafts other than those supplied by IPCC. On (2) Keith should say that he didn’t get any papers through the IPCC process.either.
The fact is that Briffa did receive correspondence outside the IPCC process. He did communicate with Wahl about McIntyre’s paper. He did use Wahl’s words without proper attribution.
This, then, is the context in which Jones asks Mann to delete mails. The plan is to deny the request. The reasons are laid out.The ploys they will hide behind. But Jones is not willing to do things by the book. Palmer has informed everyone that they must do this by the book. Brimming with bravado, Jones writes to Mann– “delete your mails.” This is not the first time he has made such a request to Mann and others.
We can only wonder if Jones was worried about the appeal that Palmer told him was going to take place. Jones feared that Holland would appeal. He feared that the matter would be taken out of Palmer’s hands upon appeal. It would be turned over to officers he had no control over. So his fear was not that Holland would ask for more documents. Holland had already requested them all. Jones concern is that the appeal office would overturn the decision.
This is not the first time that Jones has contemplated being forced to turn over documents. It’s not the first time he has thought about having an argument with somebody at UAE, someone who might order him to turn over documents. Long before 2008 Jones envisioned such a circumstance. Long before he ever received a FOIA, he planned his approach– “hide” behind various excuses and in the end, if you are forced to turn them over, make sure no documents exists:
I presume congratulations are in order – so congrats etc !
Just sent loads of station data to Scott. Make sure he documents everything better this time ! And don’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites – you never know who is
trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? – our does ! The UK works on precedents, so the first request will test it. We also
have a data protection act, which I will hide behind. Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it – thought people could ask him for his model code. He
has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that. IPR should be relevant here, but I can see me getting into an argument with someone at UEA who’ll say we must adhere
to it !
What a full context of the mails shows is this: Prior to receiving any FOIA request Jones laid out a preferred course of response. Hide behind the ins and outs of the legislation, and if it looks like you may lose some argument with an official outside of CRU about your official obligations, then destroy the documents.
Phil Jones did not ask Mann to delete documents because he feared that Holland would request more. That makes no logical sense. What makes more sense is Jones’ claim of bravado. He thought he had the game figured out. Delay Holland [ they missed the 20 day response] and use official reasons to deny the request. Official reasons that really don’t apply. And thwart any attempted appeal by destroying the documents requested. You see if Jones really did believe that the documents were confidential, if he really did believe that his denial of Holland was just and sound, there would be no reason to fear an appeal or to fear additional requests. It’s because he knew the excuses were bogus; it’s because he knew that Holland’s rights were being trampled, that he displayed such bravado.
As much as they would like it……
“This message will [Not] self destruct in 10 seconds!