Streetwise Professor

December 8, 2009

In Which SWP actually Defends the FSB

Filed under: Climate Change,Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:08 pm

The French Vice Chairman of the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has accused the FSB of causing Climategate by hacking into UEA CRU’s computers.  This presents ol’ SWP with something of a dilemma, with many of the targets of my ire–the French, the UN, the IPCC, and the FSB–arrayed against one another.  What a target rich environment.  On the one hand, I can’t miss.  On the other, it does make choice of target something of a challenge.  LOL.

And I’d be sitting down, ladies and gentlemen, because on this one I have to side with the FSB, at least on the basis of what we know so far.

Here’s what IPCC VC said:

“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 leaked emails, Professor van Ypersele said, will fuel scepticism about climate change and may make agreement harder at Copenhagen. So the mutterings have prompted the question: why would Russia have an interest in scuppering the Copenhagen talks?

This time, if it was indeed the FSB behind the leak, it could be part of a ploy to delay negotiations or win further concessions for Moscow. Russia, along with the United States, was accused of delaying Kyoto, and the signals coming from Moscow recently have continued to dismay environmental activists.

When Ed Miliband, the Secreatary of State for Climate Change, visited Moscow this year, he had meetings with high-level Russian officials and pronounced them constructive. But others doubt that Russia has much desire to go green.

In brief, M. Van Ypersele rests his case on (a) opportunity, and (b) motive.  The notorious abilities of Russian hackers provided the opportunity.  This cannot be disputed.  The motive is much murkier, however, and very indirect.  First, Ypersele assumes that the motive of the leak was to derail Copenhagen.  Perhaps–or perhaps it could have been the result a fit of conscience by someone at CRU (or an affiliated institution) who was scandalized by the anti-scientific behavior of Jones et al.  That could explain the very specific documents targeted in the leak emphasized by Ypersele.

Second, Ypersele stretches to argue that Russia has an especially strong motive to derail the implementation of a global cap and trade system.  The reverse could be true, given that Russia owns the largest stock of Kyoto-created emissions credits: an aggressive climate change deal that required other nations to reduce sharply emissions would enhance the value of these credits.  Yes, Russia has other agendas, such as protecting inefficient polluting industries and encouraging demand for its energy.  Thus, it is hard to determine on net whether Russia’s interests lie with or against CO2 caps.  (And in saying “Russia” one always has to remember it is the Russian elite and power structures that matter.  The credits could create a very nice slush fund for these folks to skim.)

There are other interests–Saudi Arabia comes to mind–that does not have such conflicting interests.  And, as Ypersele notes, Russian hackers are paid for their services: I’m sure Saudi money spends just as well as Russian, and the Saudis are likely to have more at the moment.

So the motive angle is very weak, and does not put Russia at the top of the list of suspects.  (This is sounding like a game of Clue or something.)

Nor does the fact that the documents appeared on a server in Tomsk mean much of anything.  The hackers originally tried to put the stuff on the RealClimate website (and no, I won’t link to that) using a computer in Turkey.  Then, using a computer in Saudi Arabia, they put up a link to the Tomsk site.  Given the murky international connections in the hacker world, it’s impossible to make anything of this.  Moreover, these sorts of analyses inevitably get into the Holmes-and-Moriarty on the Train quagmire: the FSB wouldn’t have put the stuff on a Russian server because it would have drawn suspicion; because people would figure the FSB would never draw suspicion to itself by posting on a Russian server, they put it on a Russian server; because people would figure . . .

This isn’t like Georgia at the time of the invasion in 2008, or in Estonia on 2007.  In each of those cases the motive was clear, few others had the same ability or opportunity, and other circumstances made it clear that Russian interests, and likely the Russian state were involved.  Here, the circumstantial case that Ypersele advances is pathetically weak. Not to say that it’s impossible that the FSB was involved, just that it’s far from proven, or even the most likely scenario.

One final thing.  The NYT article linked above discussing Russia’s Kyoto credits has yet another example of the economic idiocy that characterizes its news pages:

That is because Russia, as a result of the collapse of much of its heavy industry in the 1990s, owns one of the largest stocks of credits to offset carbon emissions.

The unearned windfall, a legacy of the Kyoto agreement that tried to deal with the threat of  climate change, is worth several billion dollars. If abruptly sold abroad, those credits could send the price of carbon on the world’s fragile emissions markets plunging toward zero.

I see.  The credits are worth billions.  Unless they’re sold.  In which case they’re worthless.  Whatever.

This ranks with a story I read some time back in the NYT which expressed astonishment that the unemployment rate went up even though the rate of increase in layoffs had fallen.  First derivative.  Second derivative.  Again–whatever.

Anybody who gets economic analysis from the NYT is sadly misinformed, but probably considers him- or herself as one of America’s elite.  Which explains quite a lot of our current economic and political troubles.

Perhaps reporter James Kanter can hide behind the adverb “abruptly.”  But why would Russia dump them on the market if that would drive the price to zero?  And if the price doesn’t go to zero due to self-destructive behavior, the whole premise of the rest of Kanter’s article disappears.  Oy.

Update:  An interesting analysis by a systems administrator that casts serious doubt on the hacker story.  In brief: it is almost certain that all the documents had already been assembled, probably by a freedom of information act officer, in response to or anticipation of FOIA requests.  Now, it could have been the case that a hacker gained access to this and disseminated it, but since it was (per this analysis) assembled and ready to go out, it’s also quite possible that this was a leak.  And if it was already assembled for FOIA/FOI purposes, the reasonable inference is that it would have been released in time.  That said, the release weeks before Copenhagen–just enough time for the story to get traction, not enough time for it to die–is crucial.

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  1. I have read that people in England had the emails in question in October 09 and the BBC ignored efforts to investigate. Much like US Media is now doing. The article said that the data might have been an insider leak and the information was provided to the Russian outlets.

    Comment by Bob — December 8, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

  2. I think you need to look at the winners and losers of this, particularly with the ‘Danish Text’ uproar that’s going around. I haven’t had the opportunity to read through it, but it appears damming (particularly requiring developing countries to produce half the carbon of developed countries).

    I tend to side with the sysadmin re: Occam’s Razor. Whether it comes out or not, the most likely answer is some graduate assistant found this file sitting on a shared drive and forwarded it on to a network that knew how to disseminate it. Of course, we could get into your Holmes quagmire and say that someone who really wanted this out is just making it look like some ‘leak’ to draw attention away from the true culprits.

    Point being, the developing world ‘wins’ from both the release of this data and the ‘Danish Text’.

    Comment by Jack — December 9, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  3. Russia does not need a few lousy billions of dollars.
    Europeans are discussing free movement of people between EU and Russia.
    Russian mafia will move tons of narcotics. It will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, – over some time.
    Let me offer a conspiracy theory. Russia will offer to Europe support on climate change, – in exchange for viza-free movement. Stupid Europeans, of course, will agree.
    The questions is how to make a buck here. To open drug rehabilitation centers in Europe? No, don’t even think about it. Russian mafia will charge protection money, in the best case. In the worst case, you will have to accept a Russian mafiosi as a business partner. Some time later you leave this world for the next one. Your estate will get a few pennies. Russians have good accountants. We know it since Hodorkovski (not sure about correct spelling) cheated by not paying billions of dollars in taxes.
    So, what is left? We can only look how Russian mafia will take over the whole Europe. Russian mafia, with support from government of Russia, will be much more efficient than the old KGB. But, if you ask me, stupid Europe deserves to be destroyed.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — December 10, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  4. Let me summarize in a few words.
    Open borders between EU and Russia represent a better value than a few billions of dollars. The value is both monetary and military.
    Putin needed some kind of a leverage to force EU to open borders to Russia, so that Russian mafia starts moving drugs to Europe. The climategate is a perfect way to lean on the EU and to trade support for climate change for open borders.
    Without visas and border searches Russian mafia will earn untold amount of money. Even if formal searches are still mandatory, underpaid border guards can be easily bribed. Those who do not accept bribes will be killed off. I bet that barbarians will destroy the EU in the next 10 or 15 years. Now imagine that you can destroy your enemy and get rich in the process. In my view, that is the reason why Putin approved the e-mail leaks.
    If I’m right, soon we will see active open borders negotiations, as well as Putin’s support for European position on global warming / climate change at the end of negotiations.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — December 10, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  5. Funny that the Russians have exactly the same conspiracy theories, with Afghanistan occupied by the West and all.

    Comment by So? — December 10, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  6. So, Russians have conspiracy theories? No, not only theories.
    Russian mafia is already moving tons of Afgan drugs to Europe.
    Open borders will only make their hard work a lot easier.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — December 14, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

  7. The West controls the source. Yes or No?

    Comment by So? — December 16, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

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