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Was Briffa the mole?

AJ Strata looks at the evidence that someone in the heart of the Hockey Team couldn't stand the pressure any longer and decided to spill the beans. Was it Keith Briffa?

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Reader Comments (30)

I have read AJs piece, My take is that if it was Briffa it could well have been unintentional given the circumstances. In any event who cares, the cat is well and truly out of the bag for which we are all greatful.

I understand that Briffa is, or may have been, not well. I hope he is on the improve. He could probably do without this sort of speculation

Dec 13, 2009 at 6:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry G

If it was Briffa, I would advise that he gives up taking lonely walks in the woods, especially if he is still on medication and carries a penknife.

Dec 13, 2009 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered Commenteranoneumouse

Anything is possible, but I suspect it was one of the back-room boys who did the deed.

Of course, it will all be hushed up to protect the 'hacker' story.

Dec 13, 2009 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterTenuc

whether it was Briffa or not, perhaps he should make a habit of sticking close to genuinely trustworthy people 24 *7*365*X

AJ's assessment paints him as a pretty decent person

Dec 13, 2009 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterconcerned

I've had the sneaking suspicion, right from the outset, that it was David Palmer (the FOI person at UEA/CRUd)

Not on the basis of any strong evidence either way, just a weak Spider Sense kinda thing.

Dec 13, 2009 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterdread0

Dave Palmer is a leading contender for the person who assembled the FOI dossier, if that it what is was - I have some sympathy for the view that it looks like the work of a professional librarian rather than a climatologist. Much less likely to have leaked it though.

If a leak came from within the Briffa camp I would suspect his coworkers rather than Briffa himself - someone like Tim Osborn would seem plausible.

Dec 13, 2009 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

The leaker first tried to post on Real Climate. That indicates that he or she did not know that Real Climate was run by the people at the core of this. It's hard to believe that Briffa would not have known better. It's also the reason why it's hard to believe that a skeptic with good web knowledge could be behind it. It's much more likely to have been someone with no great knowledge about climate change but with some other problem, such as a grudge against the university or a problem with previous suppression of FOI requests. I'd look for someone in admin or a computer admin.

Dec 13, 2009 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Smith

"The leaker first tried to post on Real Climate"

Didn't know that. Oh to have been a fly on the wall and a ghost in the email machine when the RealClimate apparatchiks realised what was being posted. A real China Syndrome moment =)

Dec 13, 2009 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterdread0

The leaker first tried to post on Real Climate: actually I take that as evidence that the leaker knew precisely what RealClimate is, and tried to post it there for maximum embarrassment. When that failed he moved to other climate blogs.

Dec 13, 2009 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"... couldn't stand the pressure ..."

Couldn't stand the heat, surely?

Dec 13, 2009 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterIdeal Gas

Great detective work, peeps. I'm wondering if it was Harry ? Harry of the Fortran ?

Dec 13, 2009 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

As I understand it, the leaked emails etc. were being assembled as part of a fiercely resisted FOI request. It has also been suggested that they had been systematically selected by a whistleblower. Could there not be a third alternative?

It seems likely (to me) that there would be documents being assemble in order to comply with the FOI request, albeit with mush dragging of feet. It also seems logical (again, to me) that certain documents might be removed from the package and stored elsewhere - and then hacked/released....

Just my $0.02 worth.

Dec 13, 2009 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDennis

James Smith,

Actually, trying to post on Real Climate is like a thumb in the eye - there is a scenario where that makes sense actually. One of my readers noted the very earliest emails are to Briffa regarding Yamal, which indicates the FOI process which compiled these emails and documents was at least centered on Briffa (which explains why a lot of his emails as source are not included).

I agree, Briffa probably needs to hang around a better quality group, and I do hope he is on the mend.


Dec 13, 2009 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrta


I work on government programs and the data is definitely the product of collecting information related to a subject. I have no doubt it was collected for FOI, and now I suspect it was Briffa's data set (remember, each person will have a different data set depending on which emails they were being sent or were responding to).

The question is who let the cat out to terrorize the warmists.

Dec 13, 2009 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrta


I agree such a scenario is possible, but is it really that likely? I find the 'someone outside the field' explanation much more believable. The big point being that someone who knew what they were doing could surely find something much more damaging to distribute than the tree ring data. Briffa would have distributed the code used to fiddle the curves.

Dec 13, 2009 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Smith

Just my $0.02 worth. I have blogged that likelihood elsewhere previously. It would have taken someone a lot of time to carry out the sorting. Not one of the group but an FOI or admin type, fairly senior, considered trustworthy and highly job dependent. That person might not risk blowing the whistle, but a colleague? Or a person who held Briffa in esteem?

Dec 13, 2009 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterKen Harvey

A very simple search with Windows reveals 592 of the emails have the word 'briffa' somewhere in them. Assuming they all are emails to him (which isn't neccessarily the case) how could he have collated the other 481 along with his own?

Dec 13, 2009 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

My guess, since we are all expressing our opinions, is it was Harry, whoever he was. I would bet that almost nobody but Harry knew of the existence of that READ_ME file. In fact, I bet it was only on his account. I have, amongst other things, done software engineering in Silly Con Valley (as we called it) and I often had such files for my own personal use while developing software. But this is just my dos centavos.

In any case, it was a leak, not an outside job. The selection process was just too careful to have been a random smash and grab hack job. And if the Russians did it, as some claim, they must have taken everything on the systems and then sat down and read carefully through 10 years of email. Possible but not likely. They have better things to do like break into the NSA, CIA, MI5, etc. etc.

Dec 13, 2009 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


A "thank you" to Jonathan for pointing me to the Science website that has the article from yesteryear on it. I will try to pull out the article and if I can post it for all to read. It should be interesting reading.

And Dearieme -- your comments still seem to be posted. Am I missing something?

Don Pablo de la Sierra, un hombre con tres gatos.

Dec 13, 2009 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Here's a better theory: William Connelly! He is actually in deep cover for ExxonMobil, and he had elevated privileges at RealClimate and iirc no one from UEA has been stated to be a member. This theory explains a lot, don't you think?

Dec 13, 2009 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDr Slop

Well even if "we" do not know who the leaker or whistle-blower was, you can bet that by now "they" do (by which I mean the powers that be at CRU), assuming that they have a half-competent IT/security team there...

A section of one of those e-mails now takes on a certain poignancy in view of Climategate:

"...I was
really looking forward to a reunion of the "CRU gang". Despite its
relatively small size, CRU has had (and continues to have!) a rather
remarkable "fingerprint" in the world of climate science. ..." [my emphasis]

Dec 13, 2009 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeE

J Smith - there is no way someone outside could compile this data. It was clearly in response to FOI and was most likely collected from a Briffa-centric focus. If you have ever had to compile all information related to a project (for FOI or for Conflict of Interest (COI) or just project close) it is obvious how this data was collected. From the inside.

Dec 13, 2009 at 8:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrta


If you keep all your email (as many of us do) by project or subject pulling up a thousand related emails takes less than a day, It is the data files which are tough to collect. Emails are trivial.

Dec 13, 2009 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrta

"Great detective work, peeps. I'm wondering if it was Harry ? Harry of the Fortran ?"

In another mail "Harry" is saying something to the effect of "Even if the facts aren't right, we still need to do something to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels." That sounds to me like somebody more concerned about the end than the means.

Dec 14, 2009 at 12:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil A

One of my readers noted the very earliest emails are to Briffa regarding Yamal

AJ, that would have possibly been me. And there is more to it than just being a Briffa emai as the first mail in the filel. The correspondents were Russians who were asking him for a favor. The file turned up on a Russian server. It might mean nothing at all but if this were an act of treachery, people who engage in such acts often leave a "calling card" of one sort or another. I just thought it interesting that the very first email of the bunch was one between Briffa and some Russians. Whoever published the zip archive could have their pick of which emails to include and which to redact. And the message posted on the various blogs implied that there were many more and what we have been looking at is but a "random" selection of them.

It only came as an afterthought that the first email might be a clue. Call it, as another reader of this blog did, a "weak spidey sense" sort of thing.

Dec 14, 2009 at 7:29 AM | Unregistered Commentercrosspatch

there is no doubt that AJ Strata's post is great fun; but I don't see any substance here.

There is also the issue that AJ has posted extensively on the Litvinenko poisoning incident. AJ's coverage of that story- and the elementary physics involved- gives me pause for thought.


Dec 14, 2009 at 9:08 AM | Unregistered Commenterper


What I mean is; Nearly half of the emails were not sent to Briffa but to other people. How would he have access to them to then leak them? Is it likely that a University computer network would allow any normal user to access everyone else's emails?

Dec 14, 2009 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth


I meant outside the climate people, not outside the university.

My feeling is that someone did a text search on an email backup store looking for keywords and pulled out all those emails that matched. 'Ring' scores 619 hits. 'Tree' 307. I haven't bothered looking for a common set, as I've not got time, nor in fact the interest. Probably the best way to figure the keywords would be to see the FOI request that triggered the collection. Might have been something like tre OR ring OR briffa.

Dec 14, 2009 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Smith

Briffa's name is the one that comes out, mostly (from what I've been hearing and reading) because of the incident where Mann leaned on him. Of course that makes him a suspect, but that was back in 1999.

Do we think Briffa kept this festering for 10 years before outing it? While possible, that seems unlikely - unless something else happened more recently - perhaps very recently.

Harry G says Briffa is not well. If serious, Briffa might not want to go out with with this on his conscience. That could be a trigger.

But if not that, it could be almost any insider who was "raised" in science to believe that the scientific method did not include hiding data and cherry picking data.

It stuck me as very odd that Phil Jones "stepped down" (albeit ostensibly temporarily) so quickly. That perked up my ears a bit. I commented at CA that my money is on Jones.

I am not hearing any other speculation that it might be him, but I am going to ride that horse for a while.

Briffa is the obvious one; we can all pick our dark horses.

Jones is my dark horse.

Dec 15, 2009 at 6:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteveGinIL

Briffa didn't occur to me. But one could make a case of sorts. Here is Briffa in one of the climategate letters.

“>I know there is pressure to present a
>nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand
>years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite
>so simple. We don’t have a lot of proxies that come right up to date and
>those that do (at least a significant number of tree proxies ) some
>unexpected changes in response that do not match the recent warming. I do
>not think it wise that this issue be ignored in the chapter.
> For the record, I do believe that the proxy data do show unusually
>warm conditions in recent decades. I am not sure that this unusual warming
>is so clear in the summer responsive data. I believe that the recent warmth
>was probably matched about 1000 years ago. I do not believe that global
>mean annual temperatures have simply cooled progressively over thousands of
>years as Mike appears to and I contend that that there is strong evidence
>for major changes in climate over the Holocene (not Milankovich) that
>require explanation and that could represent part of the current or future
>background variability of our climate. ”

Four things stand out in this email:

1. Briffa doesn't seem to like Mann very much. This actually comes out more in other parts of his letters.

2. Briffa doesn't like the pressure to present a united front on the "unprecedented warming in the last 1000 years" thing.

3. Briffa thinks that the year 1000 was as warm as today.

4. Briffa thinks that climate variation over the Holocene could contain answers to the climate variation of today. And since there was no AGW issue then, the answer would not be CO2.

Outside of the letter, Briffa was the first to publish the information that tree ring proxies were diverging from surface temperatures in the second half of the twentieth century. Mann, Jones, and the IPCC have been doing everything in their power to hide that fact. Briffa also admitted the divergence in the letter that he wrote as a response to McIntyre's Yamal investigation.

Things aren't completely clear, however. Briffa wouldn't send McItyre his data. Hard to tell if Jones had something to do with that.

My first pick for whistleblower was one of the software engineers that are responsible for implementing the programs that the people at CRU require. When you look at the code files, you see comments that seem to indicate a genuine disgust, by the software engineer, for the things that he was being required to do.

In any case, some people on the warmers blogs were hyping the idea that CRU was going to find the guy who did it and nail him to the wall. I suggested that CRU would pretend to look for the guy, but would actually do everthing they could not to find him. Can you imagine the things that would come out if the person who released the files were taken to court. His attorney would have free access to everthing at CRU. Any attempt to interfere would land people in jail. He would be asking questions of people that were under oath. You can bet your house that Phil Jones and CRU don't want a highly public trial, with world wide media coverage and questions that they couldn't duck.

Dec 16, 2009 at 4:57 AM | Unregistered Commentervsaluki

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