NOAA and the Three Monkeys

In a website release earlier this year, NOAA proudly announced the extensive involvement of its officers in IPCC as lead authors, review authors and even the co-chair of IPCC WG1,

Susan Solomon, a senior scientist of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., is co-chair of Working Group 1 (WG1), the Physical Science Basis. Nine of the lead and review authors are from NOAA and 20 of the model runs were done by the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. Lead authors are nominated by their governments.

NOAA authors and IPCC review editors for WG1 include Thomas Peterson, David Easterling, Thomas Karl, Sidney Levitus, Mark Eakin, Matthew Menne of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service; and Venkatachala. Ramaswamy, David Fahey, Ronald Stouffer, Isaac Held, Jim Butler , Paul Ginoux, John Ogren , Chet Koblinsky, Dian Seidel, Robert Webb, Randy Dole, Martin Hoerling of the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and Arun Kumar of the NOAA National Weather Service.

In addition, a cadre of NOAA scientists from the laboratories and programs, including the joint and cooperative institutes, served as contributors and government reviewers of the final report, which is a state of the science based upon published peer-review literature.

Referring to this story, I submitted an FOI request to NOAA about a month ago for the review comments (now online at IPCC) and the review editors comments, reported at CA here. Here is an excerpt:

I request that a copy of any NOAA records (documents, memoranda, review comments, reports, internal and external correspondence or mail including e-mail correspondence and attachments to or from NOAA employees) be provided to me on the following subjects:
(1) review comments on (a) the Second Order Draft and (b) the Final Draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, including, but not limited to, all expert, government and review editor comments;
(2) all annotated responses to such comments by Chapter Lead Authors.

I noted that all my email correspondence with Susan Solomon and Martin Manning had been with their noaa.gov email address.

A.R. Ravishankara, Director, Chemical Sciences Division, Earth Systems Research Laboratory/NOAA (where Susan Solomon and Martin Manning work) has now replied as follows:

“You have asked for copies of NOAA records concerning review comments on the second order draft and the final draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC Working Group 1. In addition, you have asked for all annotated responses to such comments by chapter authors.

After reviewing our files. we have determined that we have no NOAA records responsive to your request. If records exist that are responsive to you request, they would be records of the IPCC and as such can be requested from the IPCC…”

Their strategy is a little different than Phil Jones, who claimed that his records were “exempt”. NOAA did not avail itself of any of the possible exemptions for the request – it denied that it had any records whatever. In many FOI regimes, email messages are producible. I don’t know the American law but I imagine it’s not dissimilar from Canadian FOI law where, for example, the University of Victoria’s policy specifically says that “E-mail messages created on University computer equipment and transmitted using the University’s e-mail system are University records.” If there is no similar policy at NOAA, I’d be shocked.

A guide to FOI from senior officials says that “most records in the possession of an agency are “agency records” within the meaning of FOIA.

The 1996 FOIA amendments affirm the general policy that any record, regardless of the form in which it is stored, that is in the possession and control of a Federal agency is usually considered to be an agency record under the FOIA. Although the FOIA occasionally uses terms other than record,’ including information’ and matter,’ the definition of record’ made by the 1996 amendments should leave no doubt about the breadth of the policy or the interchangability of terms

A document that does not qualify as an agency record’ may be denied because only agency records are available under the FOIA. Personal notes of agency employees may be denied on this basis. However, most records in the possession of an agency are agency records’ within the meaning of the FOIA.

What NOAA is arguing, among other things, is that email to and from NOAA employees on NOAA computers about IPCC review comments is the property of IPCC, rather than NOAA. Suppose that this established a precedent. Let’s say that NOAA employees decided to act as reviewers of pornographic videos sent to them by the International Pornography Council and they were caught. Could they argue that the videos on NOAA computers were records of the International Pornography Council and outside the disciplinary scope of NOAA? Of course not. Or think of this another way: if the emails on NOAA computers are IPCC property, then IPCC should be able to exert control over the emails. If IPCC told NOAA to delete all correspondence involving them, would NOAA be obligated to follow their instructions? I doubt it. I can’t imagine a court finding that records on NOAA computers were not NOAA records.

Now the issue has, for the most part, become somewhat moot with the IPCC release of the review comments and responses (although the review editor comments, included in my request to NOAA, are still not online.) As a Canadian, it’s hard for me to take much umbrage at NOAA’s actions and I’m surprised to some extent at having standing. Nonetheless, this sort of action by a government agency is annoying (but it’s bad policy to be annoyed because you have to expect a run-around from government officials.) I presume that Americans who submitted similar requests will get similar replies. It appears that there is an appeal provision and I’ll probably avail myself of that facility.

The three monkeys? See no records, hear no records, got no records.

76 Comments

  1. Jeremy Friesen
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 4:44 PM | Permalink

    Yeah, that’s more than a little suspect. I know very few organizations that delete all their emails once they’ve been received or sent, they just sit there filling up space. And yes, it would not make sense to claim that email correspondence is the exclusive property of the “other guys”.

  2. jae
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 4:59 PM | Permalink

    This could get verrrrry interesting. “We don’t got no stinking records.” That’s unbelievable. But they probably have to fight to the end on this one, because people tend to be very “loose” with emails.

  3. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 5:19 PM | Permalink

    And it gets worse. NCDC just threw a roadblock up against the efforts of http://www.surfacestations.org and its volunteers by removing key information about the “managing parties” field of USHCN and COOP stations. This makes locating the station much more difficult, and instead of being able to call ahead and ask permission, surveyors must now scour the neighborhood and show up unannounced.

    No notification was given, nor even a professional courtesy to ask for a change in our methods. The records were simply removed from public view where they existed before. Clearly this was a response to the efforts to photograph and document the USHCN network. The system was functional Sunday evening, June 24th and went down Monday Morning June 25th. When it came back up the “managing parties” field was gone. I would note that I shared a radio interview with Dr. Thomas Peterson of NCDC last week, so I am certain NCDC is aware of the effort.

    This email was received by a surfacestations.org volunteer in response to a query:

    Your inquiry was forwarded to me by our webmaster. I’m glad you’ve found
    MMS to be a useful tool in your research.
    MMS is our primary source of station metadata for National Weather Service
    Cooperative Observer and several other networks, and we are
    actively working to provide increased detail for a larger number of stations.

    It sounds as though you’ve used the system enough that once you’ve located
    a station using the search, you’re clicking on the station name hyperlink
    and opening a separate station details window. The managing party for a
    station has always been visible by clicking on the “Other Parties” tab. In
    the case of NWS Coop stations (the USHCN research network relies upon a
    subset of stations in the NWS Coop program), this is usually the NWS office
    that administers the site. This information was previously included at the
    bottom of the Identity tab’s “form view,” but was removed from that view
    early this week because in some cases it also revealed the name of the
    Cooperative observer.

    Cooperative observers are volunteers who donate their time in the interests
    of the public good with a reasonable expectation that their personal
    information will remain private. It is the NCDC’s policy to protect
    observer details, based upon Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Update, Vol.
    X, No. 2, 1989, which exempts the application of FOIA in certain cases and
    establishes privacy protection decisions in accordance with the Privacy Act
    of 1974 (2004 edition). This exemption applies when the personal privacy
    interest is greater than any qualifying public interest for disclosure.

    If you have other questions regarding MMS, please feel free to contact me.
    I am often away from my desk, so my response may not be immediate.

    Regards,

    Jeff Axxxx @ noaa.gov

  4. Will J. Richardson
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 5:26 PM | Permalink

    Dear Mr. McIntyre,

    Over years of litigating with Governmental Agencies, and conducting discovery, I found that many of the documents possessed by the Agency material to my case were distributed through many different employees and up and down the chain of command. For example, the same memorandum might be found in the files or local hard drive of several employees. The interesting effect of that distribution was that each individual would personalize their copy with comments, editing, and annotations. The personal marginalia could be quite revealing and in some instances radically affected the meaning and evidential value of the clean copy of the memorandum originally produced.

    NOAA may be stonewalling you because of the comments, editing, or annotations of their employees which did not make it to IPCC. Just a speculation.

  5. Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 5:44 PM | Permalink

    Concern about “Inappropriate” emails regarding “Inappropriate” comments perhaps?

  6. jae
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 5:46 PM | Permalink

    3, Anthony: Perhaps you should ask them to provide records where the name of the person is NOT shown. Or they could make the name “invisible.” I smell at least one rat here.

  7. BlogReader
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 5:52 PM | Permalink

    What NOAA is arguing, among other things, is that email to and from NOAA employees on NOAA computers about IPCC review comments is the property of IPCC, rather than NOAA.

    And these same people complain about Karl Rove and the disappearing emails sent to the RNC email server.

  8. David Smith
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 5:58 PM | Permalink

    After reviewing our files. we have determined that we have no NOAA records responsive to your request.

    Might the records be unresponsive because you’re Canadian? I know that interpretation is far-fetched but with bureaucracies one never knows.

    It’ll be interesting to hear if US citizens get similar wording.

  9. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 6:07 PM | Permalink

    I’m awaiting My FOIA response.

    I don’t thnk that a Posting by IPCC fulfills my request.
    If NOAA has not maintained proper records I suppose that is an additional issue.

    Now, comes the issue of NOAA shutting down Anthony.

    Anthony, call the guy you did the interview with. Tell him to verify the change
    that NOAA made. This will make a great follow up. Maybe NOAA can swallow that whale.

    Then I suppose we could see if any guys actually complained about privacy issues.

    And I would wonder how NOAA changed its policy with regards to this. Simply, if privacy is an
    issue NOW, then NOAA was violating privacy concerns before. hmmm. If I knew a guy who ran a site…

    These guys dont get it. We have a right to QUALITY DATA. We have a right, legal right, to get
    access to this data and access to the methods.

    I’m thinking that DQA may have to employed against NOAA.

  10. Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 6:15 PM | Permalink

    It would not be surprising that officials of the NOAA have presumed that their emails would not be subject to FOI requests because of the IPCC connection. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the IPCC are not the organisation having to respond to the legal requirements the FOI imposes on them. It is almost certainly just a simple lack of foresight and understanding of the rules.

  11. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 6:58 PM | Permalink

    3(. it’s one thing to remove info when the observer is an individual, but they shouldn’t remove the infor for fire stations, power plants, sewage plants etc.

  12. Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 7:00 PM | Permalink

    Don’t fire stations and treatment plants have rights too!

  13. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 7:48 PM | Permalink

    ok,

    My FOIA response from NOAA is due on July 10.

    So, I put the FOIA officer on notice.

    “I trust her response will not create an offical record that NOAA employees have
    violated federal records managment policies”

    http://www.ofa.noaa.gov/~foia/asdhome/recguide1-rev.htm.

  14. John Lang
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 8:10 PM | Permalink

    It is time to kick these global warming alarmists and data record denialists out of their official positions in the official agencies of record for climate records.

    Might sound a little extreme and a little non-politically correct but I am sure that one of NOAA key mandates is supplying the public with climate data.

    Being government employees, they should not be allowed to run their own personal little global warming empires on the public dole without meeting one of their key public policy mandates.

    Go ask Al Gore for money and you can put out all the climate catastrophe news releases you want (without backing it up with any actual evidence that you want) as the NOAA seems to need to do.

  15. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 8:32 PM | Permalink

    Anthony,

    when you respond to NOAA. TRy this

    “X, No. 2, 1989, which exempts the application of FOIA in certain cases and
    establishes privacy protection decisions in accordance with the Privacy Act
    of 1974 (2004 edition). This exemption applies when the personal privacy
    interest is greater than any qualifying public interest for disclosure.”

    Are you asserting that the privacy interests of fire stations, waste water treatment plants,
    and a handful of individuals, outweighs the public interest in auditing the data quality
    underlying NOAA reports?

    Get him on the record.

  16. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 8:42 PM | Permalink

    a climate of corruption.

  17. Harold Vance
    Posted Jun 28, 2007 at 9:00 PM | Permalink

    Re #3: the people who make observations that become part of the PUBLIC record, observations that have an impact on PUBLIC policy decisions should have no right to privacy and said observers should be made available for questioning by the GENERAL PUBLIC.

    I vote to cut funding to the NOAA ASAP. This situ is a complete joke.

  18. MarkR
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 3:15 AM | Permalink

    Does the FOI Act in the US allow access to any records relating to the IPCC report?

    I would expect that email discussion took place on how to “improve” the statistics, and how to prevent unfavourable comment reaching the final published version.

    Could all of the Hockey Team, and the IPCC Team emails be obtained from their University file servers?

  19. Harold Pierce Jr
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 3:49 AM | Permalink

    Steve Snop Snip:

    BTW I’m a US citizen, maybe request over my signature might get better results.
    However, I still like the snail mail approach.

    Maybe we should sic Mike Moore on these guys.

  20. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 4:50 AM | Permalink

    hey Anthony,

    have you ever seen the rsults of any NOAA study on the BIAS of rooftop measurments?

    http://www.weather.gov/os/coop/rooftop.htm

    I can’t find the study itself

  21. Boris
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 6:52 AM | Permalink

    3:

    NOAA probably got complaints from some of its cooperative observers. Perhaps not all of the volunteers who contribute to surfacestations.org are as polite as you.

    Keep in mind that NOAA would be legally responsible if one of the observers with an expectation of privacy decided to get lawsuit happy.

  22. Ross McKitrick
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 8:24 AM | Permalink

    I can understand if hosts of coop weather stations don’t want people snooping around their backyards with cameras. But this is published data. If they want to keep the site details to themselves, they should keep the data to themselves too. NOAA can’t have it both ways. If they’re going to use the data for public climatological records with huge public policy implications, the sites have to be made available for verification of the sampling conditions. If a site owner is unwilling to have the site photographed, that’s certainly his or her prerogative, but the station data should then be removed from the USHCN network.

  23. Don Keiller
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 8:38 AM | Permalink

    Dear posters, as a regular reader/lurker and occasional contributor, I have been very impressed by the diversity of expertise amongst the CA network. I also read Realclimate and take much of what they say with a pinch of salt, but their last posting (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/06/a-saturated-gassy-argument/)
    where they argue that atmospheric CO2 is not close to saturation got me thinking.
    1) is “band broadening” significant?
    2) does the absorbtion of CO2 change at low temperatures and pressures?
    3) is the radiation re-emitted after absorpion by CO2 and/or water vapour in the lower atmosphere capable of absorption by CO2 in the higher atmosphere?

    Or is this another Realclimate “smoke and mirrors” job?

    Steve: I think that the saturation issue is a red herring. At some point, I”ll open a thread on the topic.

  24. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

    re: #24

    I wouldn’t mind discussing this RC post, but I’m sure it’s off-topic to this thread. Could you post the above message to the unthreaded thread?

  25. Duane Johnson
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 8:52 AM | Permalink

    Re: #24

    You might want to check out Lubos Motl’s blog for his evaluation and discussion.

    http://motls.blogspot.com/

    Duane Johnson

  26. Don Keiller
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 8:52 AM | Permalink

    re #25 Thanks for the quick response, Dave. Would that be “Unthreaded 13″?

  27. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 8:54 AM | Permalink

    Re#22, Is this one of those, “does a falling tree make noise if no one is around to hear it” things? If privacy were an issue, then why was this info publicly accessible in the first place?

  28. tetris
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 9:53 AM | Permalink

    Steve M,
    What strikes me as very puzzling, is the implication in their answer that NOAA,a United States federal agency, has given a United Nations agency [IPCC] jurisdiction over its policies and proceedures, including its email traffic. Methinks very few people in DC would be happy about that. It should be interesting to see the outcome of Steve Mosher’s FOIA request.

  29. Steve Sadlov
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 10:02 AM | Permalink

    US government computers are, on any given day, being used for illegal activities, hostile espionage and subversive activities. Naturally, in any large organization, some of these sorts of things will occur at some low ocurrence rate. People are people. However, I have reason to believe that within NASA, and now we see here, NOAA, these sorts of problems may be more systemic in nature, and at a rate of occurrence that even the least capable IT forensics auditor would find actionable findings, warranting attention possibly all the way to the White House level. I have personally received forwarded emails originated on NASA IT systems which were indicative illegal and subversive activities.

  30. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 10:13 AM | Permalink

    Steve M, is not this a case that was made to order for a Chris Mooney expose’. After all, you are finding technical/administrative members of the US government (under the Bush administration) less than forth coming about issues near and dear to climate science and policy. I have heard second hand reports of Chris’ newly found even- handedness in these matters.

    I would cherish an opportunity to query Chris about these issues and the revelation and publication of a paper trail/accounting on how the FAR authors determined the published levels of likelihoods and confidence levels. Unfortunately he comes on CA primarily to promote a new book and then disappears. What I find revealing and funny is that a Chris Mooney can claim to be looking at the climate debate from a completely neutral prospective and ignore these issues. At least someone like a Boris makes attempts here to defend these actions.

  31. Bob Meyer
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 10:30 AM | Permalink

    From what I have seen surfacestations.org has been very careful to protect the privacy of “cooperative observers” and other private parties upto and including obscuring license plate numbers of parked cars located near publicly accessible stations. I have partially surveyed several stations that are publicly viewable although they are on private property and until I have contacted the observer I will not submit the photos.

    I agree with Steve Mc (Re #11) that names of individuals should be protected but organizations names should not be if they are funded with tax money. Anyone who goes to the surfacestations.org website and reads the rules can see that no photos of private property are to be submitted without the permission of the owner even if the station is visible from a public area.

    Apparently the privacy issue was not a concern of NOAA prior to the station audits so I find it hard to accept the sudden removal of the managing parties field was a coincidence. If it is true that the coverup is worse than the crime then NOAA has bought itself a world of trouble for something that would at worst have been somewhat embarrassing.

    However, the paranoid part of my thinking says that removing the names of observers from the NOAA website may only be a prelude to a lawsuit for invasion of privacy by the station auditors.

    I’m curious about the law and investigative reporters. What kinds of photos and comments are permissible and what kind are not? Does the law that governs investigative journalism cover us if we are not professional journalists? Anyone out there familiar with the law?

  32. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 10:56 AM | Permalink

    Regarding FOI Act requests, the Department of Justice has a very helpful web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foi-act.htm that provides useful info on the various aspects of a request, including practical discussion of what falls under the various exemption categories.

  33. Buddenbrook
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 11:42 AM | Permalink

    You might find this interesting and related to the topic http://climatesci.colorado.edu/2007/06/29/guest-weblog-by-robert-maddox/

  34. Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 12:31 PM | Permalink

    I investigate fiscal fraud for a living. I smell a rat. You may be getting the run around because you are a Canadian national and I dont know what obligation US Authorities to vide have to provide info to non US Nationals, but some of our US friends should shortly be
    getting a response. Certainly there will be emails etc, as for the suggestion that they dont belong to NOAA, they are just being evasive. I have been following the climate
    debate for a long time and have come to the conclusion we are being hoodwinked.
    Some of their website use a variety of similar techniques to fraudsters:-
    When you question what they are doing, SHock, Horror, You are being unreasonable,
    You dont understand, Its too complex for you, How dare you question what they are
    doing? Follow by complaints and attempts to close down the investigation and stop
    questioning what is going on. They call us deniers, but in reality all we do is
    question the green spin and they hate it. Dig a bit deeper and you can see that
    many of the AGW proponents have got their snouts in the swill of public money
    flowing into climate change
    Good work boys and girls keep it up

  35. Joe S
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 2:09 PM | Permalink

    After reviewing our files. we have determined that we have no NOAA records responsive to your request

    Regarding this post, I got the same reply from NOAA in my mail yesterday.

  36. Mark T.
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 4:46 PM | Permalink

    Calm down Mike… its easy to get mad, but that has proven an ineffectual method for dealing with the bureaucracies.

    I’m sort of surprised at this, actually, as government emails are typically considered a matter of public record, and subject to occasional audit.

    Mark

  37. Stevan Naylor
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 5:01 PM | Permalink

    Looks like NOAA has some other things to explain – about re-positioning of radiosonde launch locations. Check out the Guest Weblog at Roger Pielke’s site by Dr. Robert Maddox – an “internationally recognized as an expert on mesoscale cloud systems, who has worked at the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman Okalhoma, and is now at the University of Arizona in Tucson.”

    If he’s right, it’s not just USHCRN data we need to be worried about…

  38. John F. Pittman
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 7:37 PM | Permalink

    There are procedures about FOIA problems. I suggest we concentrate on those.

    Federal agencies showed varied responses to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s memo instructing agencies to withhold documents whenever legally possible under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The audit concludes agencies’ implementation of FOIA requests is in disarray, with agencies failing to provide basic information to help the public file requests (such as agency FOIA contacts), failure to acknowledge requests within 20 days as FOIA requires, excessive delays and backlogs in responding to requests, and inconsistent appeals processes. The Ashcroft memo has impacted some agencies more than others.

  39. Harold Pierce Jr
    Posted Jun 29, 2007 at 10:33 PM | Permalink

    [snip - off topic]

  40. Stuart Marvin
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 8:20 AM | Permalink

    Whilst in not trying to defend the withholding of information in this vital area of public and scientific concern I can understand NOAA declining the request. Working for a multinational company and having been involved in legal discovery processes I can say that email recovery can be the most difficult.

    First of all we limit individuals on-line email storage to 200MB. Then we only retain email server back-ups for 60 days. So, what can be accessed from the mail server back-ups really depends upon what the individual has chosen to keep on-line. If retained at all the rest will be on off-line mail files on individual workstations or other back-up media users create themselves.

    This means that a search will involve the coordination and cooperation of a large number of people. Even if all the information was on-line then the technical process of re-mounting back-ups and recovering the mail server is very time consuming. Then there is the problem of finding specific information across possibly thousands of email accounts containing thousands of mails.

    So I can understand the reluctance and the desire to attempt to re-direct the request to a more focussed source of information. It is likely that the IPCC will have ordered and structured files available and more easily respond.

    I think NOAA could, with some justification, claim that the effort required would be disproportionate. Instead they are stating that the emails are personal to the reviewers and are not NOAA business records. This indeed may be the case and certainly would be in Europe where certain interpretations of Data Protection Law may apply when users are permitted limited use of company email systems for their own personal purposes.

    The situation with regard to pornography is completely different as these types of message will be in breach of policy, agreed terms of use of the email system or indeed the law. In these cases searches for evidence is easier to justify and perform in that it normally is centred on an individual and there is usually the evidence that created the compliant in the first place.

  41. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 9:54 AM | Permalink

    Re: #41

    Whilst in not trying to defend the withholding of information in this vital area of public and scientific concern I can understand NOAA declining the request. Working for a multinational company and having been involved in legal discovery processes I can say that email recovery can be the most difficult.

    In my view, Steve M’s requests are limited to more or less formal documents that no doubt have been collected in one place or should at least be significantly more available than those items often required in a discovery process. I would think that, if one truly tried sufficiently hard enough, one could rationalize the lack of effort in making any process transparent. Facing the daunting task of providing emails and other documents in a discovery process that could bring adverse legal actions against the provider is not on a par with a public to quasi-public institution’s failure to respond to requests for what could easily be considered public information and of no legal consequences to the provider.

    While I think Steve M’s direct request are going to get bogged down in the usual bureaucratic black holes, the publicity and light he brings to these processes is most helpful. These processes that are less than forthcoming seem rather hypocritical to me and this is on full display at this blog. The lack of media support for these efforts also indicates some hypocrisy on their parts and of which I suspect Chris Mooney is a prime suspect.

  42. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 12:19 PM | Permalink

    I’ve posted an editorial on NCDC’s removal of some station metadata in response to the http://www.surfacestations.org effort.

    Dr. Roger Pielke has done the same on his blog, going so far as to call it a “cover up”:

    http://climatesci.colorado.edu/2007/06/29/noaa-cover-up-of-us-historical-climate-network-surface-station-photographs/

    Strong words from a very congenial man.

  43. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 12:21 PM | Permalink

    Whoops forgot my own blog address, it is:

    http://www.norcalblogs.com/watts/2007/06/noaa_throws_a_roadblock_my_way.html

  44. John F. Pittman
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 1:38 PM | Permalink

    Ross McKitrick #22 Are you sure the data of station volunteers (their names and position) who are not public employees has been published??

    From #3

    It sounds as though you’ve used the system enough that once you’ve located
    a station using the search, you’re clicking on the station name hyperlink
    and opening a separate station details window. The managing party for a
    station has always been visible by clicking on the “Other Parties” tab. In
    the case of NWS Coop stations (the USHCN research network relies upon a
    subset of stations in the NWS Coop program), this is usually the NWS office
    that administers the site. This information was previously included at the
    bottom of the Identity tab’s “form view,” but was removed from that view
    early this week because in some cases it also revealed the name of the
    Cooperative observer.

    Please remember that once it is in the public domain AND you can prove it, excluding information because you claim it identifies a private individual is not supported by US law. If you can show that it has been made public and they refuse you, you can take them to task for violating FOIA US law because the information of identity is already public knowledge. Also note though they may be “volunteer” if they are public agency employees engaged in public agency data acquisition, they are not exempt, due to privacy…such as certain airport employees. I dare say that someone who has asked for or used this data such as Anthony Watts should point out that it was made public already on the www and they cannot retroactively make it “private”. It appears to me that they have already made it public and therefore it IS subject to FOIA. It also means that if anyone is to be sued it should be NOAA. So I suggest you push it. ESPECIALLY if you can cut and paste a private name that you obtained from their site. Please make sure that you inform them that they provided this information and are now considered to be in violation of US FOIA law, and perhaps privacy law as well. PLease note that they ADMIT that they made the information public in the quote that Anthony provided. Once public, it has been usually ruled it cannot all of a sudden become private. Anthony and any who have proof of this need to push it.

  45. John F. Pittman
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 2:28 PM | Permalink

    #35 Joe S Are you a US citizen?? If so consider this

    Please send to NOAA FOIA officer, ‘Jean.Carter.Johnson@noaa.gov’

    I am JOE S (my statements, your email, FOIA request dated XXXX) and my FOIA request have been submitted completely and correctly. From public records, A.R. Ravishankara, Director, Chemical Sciences Division, Earth Systems Research Laboratory or NOAA are now, as far as I can tell. in violation of FOIA through NOAA. It is either Ravishankara or the NOAA FOIA Office. You now have 7 working days to respond to me, since a reasonable FOIA request has been made, or you will be considered not only in violation, but criminally negligent and recalcitrant. On the 8th day I will send to appropriate federal authorities (DOJ) and congressmen your lack of resolution to a legitimate FOIA request.

    QUOTE from Joe S: This was my request….

    I have noted that email correspondence with Susan Solomon and Martin Manning had been publically shown to be with their noaa.gov email address.

    A.R. Ravishankara, Director, Chemical Sciences Division, Earth Systems Research Laboratory/NOAA (where Susan Solomon and Martin Manning work) has now replied in public as follows:

    “You have asked for copies of NOAA records concerning review comments on the second order draft and the final draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC Working Group 1. In addition, you have asked for all annotated responses to such comments by chapter authors.

    After reviewing our files, we have determined that we have no NOAA records responsive to your request. If records exist that are responsive to you request, they would be records of the IPCC and as such can be requested from the IPCC…”

    Your (NOAA) office should be able to confirm this email correspondence.

    There is no exclusion for Federal Agency employees to claim that they are exempt because the work pertains to IPCC. The law is quite clear; a specific request MUST be met if it does not violate certain security or personal data restrictions. Susan Solomon and Martin Manning are sending email from a US federal agency address and the data is not personal. Data concerning AGW has not been declared a security exemption. The IPCC does not have precedence over US law and regulations. If the data exits, and Susan Soloman and Martin Manning have engaged in the specific requested information, and you do not supply such information in a timely and forthright response, A.R. Ravishankara, and NOAA will be in violation of Federal law. Please note that FOIA violations may be violations in strict. Please note that: The 1996 FOIA amendments affirm the general policy that any record, regardless of the form in which it is stored, that is in the possession and control of a Federal agency is usually considered to be an agency record under the FOIA. Although the FOIA occasionally uses terms other than record,” including information” and matter,” the definition of record” made by the 1996 amendments should leave no doubt about the breadth of the policy or the interchangeability of terms.

    As publically stated: “What NOAA is arguing, among other things, is that email to and from NOAA employees on NOAA computers about IPCC review comments is the property of IPCC, rather than NOAA. Suppose that this established a precedent. Let’s say that NOAA employees decided to act as reviewers of pornographic videos sent to them by the International Pornography Council and they were caught. Could they argue that the videos on NOAA computers were records of the International Pornography Council and outside the disciplinary scope of NOAA? Of course not. Or think of this another way: if the emails on NOAA computers are IPCC property, then IPCC should be able to exert control over the emails. If IPCC told NOAA to delete all correspondence involving them, would NOAA be obligated to follow their instructions? I doubt it. I can’t imagine a court finding that records on NOAA computers were not NOAA records.”

    Please reply immediately since I have already made a legitimate request as allowed by FOIA, and your response has not been satisfactory, nor as far as I can determine has not met the legal requirements of FOIA and admendments.

  46. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 3:04 PM | Permalink

    Apparently is goes beyond FOI issues. There was just a comment posted on Pielkes blog from one of the surfacestations.org volunteer surveyors:

    I just got back from trying to photograph a weather site and was told that the weather service had told them that people might come around asking to photograph the site. They were ordered to tell people that photographs are not allowed.

    I will be emailing more information to Anthony Watts.

    Comment by Douglas Hoyt ‘€” June 30, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  47. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 5:09 PM | Permalink

    well,

    I’d suggest a follow up call to the Pittsburg journalist.
    he owes you. His column got a drudge link. you drove eyeballs to him!
    And a note to the guy you just did an interview with. Quick before the show airs, so he
    can follow up.

    I don’t believe NOAA are familiar with their obligations.

  48. Bob Meyer
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 5:20 PM | Permalink

    Re: #48

    “They were ordered to tell people that photographs are not allowed.”

    Anthony, does this mean war?

    Seriously, what happens at this point? Do we quit and start a press campaign to “free the data”? Or do we photograph all publicly viewable stations and force the issue? Frankly, I doubt that they will get Homeland Security involved claiming that photos of weather stations are a threat to national security but they are obviously trying to hide something. I have to wonder just how far they will go to conceal the facts about their weather stations.

    surfacestations.org has been very sensitive to privacy concerns up to the point where we agreed to obscure the license plates of cars parked near weather stations. If anyone has been careful to protect the privacy of various individuals it has been us.

    On the other hand, NOAA published their names on the metadata website so individual privacy was not NOAA’s concern. If they did this without the permission of the various caretakers then NOAA is subject to a lawsuit. If they did get permission to put the names on their web site then we can’t be accused of anything other than using publicly available data.

    Weather instruments prominently displayed in public parking lots make a very poor case for NOAA to claim that the stations’ function is somehow impaired by people photographing them, nor can they claim that the public has no business knowing about where the station are placed.

    I guess this is the curse of living in interesting times.

  49. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 5:54 PM | Permalink

    An alert blog reader passed this info on to me.

    It appears that NOAA does not follow their own edicts, as they have a web page dedicated to cooperative observer newsletters and awards.

    http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop/2002-Awards.htm

    On this web page you can find names of the obervers, the station name, their PHOTOS infront of their stations, and in some cases their partial life history.

    They also have a gallery of images in addition to the newsletters about COOP observers.

    For example:

    http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop/2002/2002-15.htm

    This blows their “privacy concerns” out of the water. They were worried about names appearing with MMS station data, well here we have names, photos, and more on NOAA own website.

    They can’t have it both ways.

  50. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 6:03 PM | Permalink

    here is the link for the NOAA newletters page.

    http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop/coop_newsletter.htm

    Note the link where ANYBODY can sign up their email and get the newsletter chock full of names, stations, and photos of observers

    Get on the free newsletter mailing list

    Its not even a confirmation email signup, just type in anybody’s email and it appears to accept it.

  51. Nicholas
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 6:31 PM | Permalink

    Anthony, others, this is slightly OT but I’m just going to post three links and a couple of sentences, any further discussion, let’s take this to Unthreaded.

    US Photographer’s Rights Australian Photographer’s Rights NSW Photo Rights

    Quote: “The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place [...]. [...] Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations.”

    I doubt you want to be rude and force the issue, but if you have to, know your rights and get a telephone lens. Someone makes a business-card sized PDF you can print out and keep in your wallet to show to people who might object. If you search google you’ll probably find it.

  52. Mike
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 6:33 PM | Permalink

    Contact the press AND keep photographing the temperature stations.

  53. Harold Pierce Jr
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 6:52 PM | Permalink

    Steve Snip Snip:

    Start a new section: “Harold’s Mouth” and put my off topic and sarcastic comments. and hyperbole
    overkill there. Otherwise your going to go broke replacing your censor scissors that you wear out
    snipping my comments!

  54. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 6:57 PM | Permalink

    So Harold, do you WANT to be blocked from the site? It’s been done before you know.

  55. John F. Pittman
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 7:24 PM | Permalink

    ‘€¢ Thomas Jefferson and Special Awards
    ‘€¢ Holm Awards Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 75-100 Year Institutional Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 50 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 45 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 40 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 35 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 30 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 25 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 20 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 15 Year Length of Service Awards
    ‘€¢ 5-10 Year Length of Service Awards.
    Senator Graham, and Jean Carter Johnson, FOIA officer of NOAA, please, note that NOAA has refused to answer FOIA requests to several FOIA submitters (legitimate requests as far as I can determine) based on the fact that NOAA sites and volunteer observers are claimed to be private even though their names and accomplishments have been made public (see above, details are available on climateaudit.org). Senator Graham, the emails to and from Jean.Carter.Johnson@noaa.gov, and other NOAA officials are easily obtainable by you or your staff. Up until approximately a week ago, these names, locations could be accessed by the internet. Positions and names were directly obtainable, accessible, and in the public domain, and available. Now there is the claim that they are private and this information has been removed from the web. There is no such thing as” a little bit pregnant”. Senator Graham as far as I can determine US law and NOAA FOIA guidelines have been violated. Could you and your office help me? Senator Graham, for your information, on a blog, I will ask that all that have been refused cooperation as required by law to contact you. Please, I hope you and your staff don’t mind a citizen of SC for all of his life of almost 54 years asks for this to be resolved according to US law and precedence.

    Please help me with making sure that NOAA complies with US law.

  56. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 7:36 PM | Permalink

    re 48.

    cant photograph? Bloomberg is now in control? Tell it to google earth.
    Tell it to KH-11s and other Assets not to be named by me.
    Tell it to VECTOR CONTROL in San fransisco that just took low level photos of
    private property to assist in pest control. SOMEBODY sell these guys a vowel
    or loan them a third digit for their IQ.

    That said, the operators are allies. Think about the newsletter that is emailed
    out to operators. Especially you guys with IP chops. Nuff said.

  57. Bob Meyer
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 7:38 PM | Permalink

    Re 53

    Nicolas – There is a difference between taking a photograph for personal use and publishing it. That is why I can photograph anything visible from a public place, for instance, the naked woman in the window. However, if I publish that picture I can, and very likely will, be sued. I may well win the suit, but I may also have to declare bankruptcy from lawyer fees.

    I am not a lawyer but it doesn’t require a Supreme Court Justice to realize that if photographers get signed releases there must be a legal reason for it.

  58. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 8:23 PM | Permalink

    Ok one more point about NOAA’s NCDC’s claims on “privacy issues”.

    It turns out that NOAA has some pictures already online in a similar format to http://www.surfacestations.org

    check this out from the NWS SFO (Monterey) office:

    http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mtr/cpm/stations.php

    My two favorites are:

    Livermore, a USHCN Station, its really “cool”:

    and the NWS office at Montery’s station. Note the convenient parking:

    These are NWS photos, not mine. Now if they cna publish pictures of somebody’s pool used for climate monitoring, then so can we.

  59. Nicholas
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 8:40 PM | Permalink

    Bob : Taking a photo through a window doesn’t count as “photographing their property”… that would be “photographing inside their property” and would (in the USA at least) violate the “expectation of privacy” you have inside your home.

    On the other hand, someone sunbathing naked in their back garden would be fair game, I think… that is the sort of thing the paparazzi get away with, and while it’s despicable, I think it’s legal.

    Personally I would publish photos of other people’s property (house, car, barbecue in the back yard, temperature monitoring station, etc.) but I would try to avoid getting any people in the frame. While it’s perfectly legal to take photographs of people in public – and that includes in places where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a yard which is visible from the street – and publish them, I would avoid doing it if possible. I think that blurring the license plates is a prudent measure too, while it probably isn’t legally necessary.

  60. Nicholas
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 9:05 PM | Permalink

    I should clarify.. I think it’s OK to take photos of things which are visible from other property, but it’s not OK to get a ladder and take photos over a fence where you normally couldn’t see over the fence. It has to do with whether someone standing there would feel like they are in a “private” or “public” place. You’re in a “public” place if you can be seen by people on property other than yours, who aren’t specifically trying to see into your property (i.e. no fence climbing, ladders, etc.).

    So if there’s a temperature monitoring station in someone’s front yard, and you can see into their yard from their street, I don’t think they can have any objections to photos being published. Even if they are in the photo, as long as you’re not seeing inside their house. But I would avoid having any people in the photo if possible – then they have even less to object over.

  61. steven mosher
    Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 9:33 PM | Permalink

    John P

    with regards to the IPCC/NOAA FOIA, I have sent a request per your guidelines above
    and given NOAA a 7 day notice. My sense is that NOAA holds the files but considers them
    property of IPCC.

    Looking at IPCC link I cannot even tell the governing law.
    So, their click through licence does not in my mind put anyone clicking it on adequate notice.
    Is my agreement, by clicking through, subject to US law? Every agreement I have ever signed
    has a section on governing law. I clicked through and agreed
    but there was no meeting of the minds, so no agreement in my mind. Also, I’m not sure if they put vistors on notice about
    collecting personal information on people who click through

    With regard to the station data, ( #57) I am not sure anyone has made an official FOIA
    request. I’m game, just pass me pointers I’ll do one.

  62. Harold Pierce Jr
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 3:35 AM | Permalink

    RE: #56

    Steve would never do that in a zillion years. Because if he does, then I won’t send him QUATSINO.TXT and TELLURIDE.TXT. The computations for Telluride CO are done and these results show with absolute certainty that there has been no change in climate at this famous mine site for a century. The results in QUATSINO.TXT are super natural spectacular! The mean monthy minimum temperature for March has remained constant (276.6 +/- 1 deg K where 1 is the deviation from the mean!) for a century also. I have six more temp records from Quatsino to process. I’ll finish these after the poker tourney.

    If you want to take a look-see, the looking price ten million dollars. No kidding! Steve, however, gets’em for free that is after I send them to Mr. Harper!

    I’m US citizen and among my heroes is the late President Harry “Give’em Hell Harry” Truman.

  63. John F. Pittman
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 5:26 AM | Permalink

    #63
    Under the FOI and amendments, I wish to obtain (SPECIFIC IDENTIFIER) in digital form, if it exits in that format, from the (FEDERAL AGENCY NAME HERE) I will accept a printed version if electronic does not exist. My request is by e-mail to (FOIA OFFICER FOR THE AGENCY EMAIL ADDRESS HERE). I believe this request is covered by the Freedom of Information Act. I request (SPECIFIC DOCUMENTS HERE) from AGENCY NAME. Especially, if they are in electronic format. I am willing to pay no more than (DOLLAR ANOUNT HERE) U.S., but believe a fee waiver is appropriate since I would like it in electronic format, or if by paper, this information should already be available and the costs to AGENCY NAME are minimal and covered under administration costs.

  64. Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 7:47 AM | Permalink

    My comments on the latest “cover up”, and advice for Mr. Watts:

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2007/07/surface-stations-project-science.html#links

  65. steven mosher
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 2:05 PM | Permalink

    Anthony,

    I think one approach might be to get some of your recent contacts to push the observers to self
    document and send it in.

    I’ve sent another FOIA off to NOAA just to see what I can uncover about who ordered the change. Basically,
    if they are saying they did it for privacy issues, then there have to be a couple of emails to and from
    folks with regards to this.

    The most hilarious thing were the Livermore shots. NOAA protecting your privacy. Waaa.

  66. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 2:43 PM | Permalink

    RE67, yes thats one of the options I’m considering.

  67. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 2:50 PM | Permalink

    RE67 having the observers “self document” would remove any concerns about privacy, but given that NCDC has now removed the information, contacting observers might be difficult or in some cases impossible.

  68. steven mosher
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 3:54 PM | Permalink

    Anthony

    I dunno,

    I suppose if I had access to 20 Million listeners, I could find a few observers. and perhaps some have access to old newletters with info. I suspect somebody on the list would be a great record keeper of old newsltters… probe the existing contacts…Also, pick an existing contact, get them to do an FOIA.

    Also, it might be interesting to have a ready set FOIA request on this matter
    for listeners or readers. So, something in the stack of stuff. With a limited time for them to respond it would interesting if your 130 volunteers all sent FOIA requests.

    Some requests would ask for the information, some would ask for the photos we know exist. Some would ask for past newsletters, some would ask for the documents surrounding the change in policy.

    I would suggest a place on your web site for sample letters. Perhaps Pittman can help out. Then, have your 130 volunteers send in requests and ask a couple friends to send requests, and so forth and so on..

  69. Anthony Watts
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 5:16 PM | Permalink

    RE70, Steve I’m not inclined to launch massive FOI requests, nor broach the subject in some media interview yet, because NCDC has not yet had a chance to respond to my request. As a professional courtesy I’m going to give them time to do so, and see what they have to say. Besides it is a weekend approaching a holiday and I would imagine many key people are taking vacation or extended holiday right about now.

    In the 24/7 blog world, our ideas and intents move at near electronic speed, but government is much more glacial. Patience is required, and having worked in government myself I know that acceleration pressure usually doesn’t accomplish much.
    The issue may very well resolve itself and we can all move forward.

  70. Kristen Byrnes
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 7:12 PM | Permalink

    Ahoy from Key West. Today on the way to town we happened to pass by the NOAA/NWS office in Key West. We took some
    good pictures at the National Weather Service that I can’t wait to post when I get home. Clue: Incopetence starts at the top!!!

  71. Paul Linsay
    Posted Jul 1, 2007 at 7:38 PM | Permalink

    Clue: Incopetence starts at the top!!!

    10 points from Gryffindor for spelling! LOL!

  72. Posted Aug 10, 2007 at 5:48 PM | Permalink

    As to FOIA; look up my bio on my firm’s website and then call me about this FOIA problem. I would be happy to help!

  73. JV
    Posted Aug 29, 2007 at 3:43 AM | Permalink

    Regarding NOAA and e-mail records of IPCC reviews, I expect that the reviewers were requested to review as individual academics, not as members of NOAA. So NOAA has little to do with their correspondence. But, you’re probably right, even then the FOIA would grant you access to their NOAA mail records. But then you are assuming that (1) the reviews were sent by email (and not by snail mail or through a website), (2) they used that specific email address for sending in their reviews, and (3) they haven’t deleted the files. If any of those three conditions is not met, there will be no email record in the public domain.

  74. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Aug 29, 2007 at 5:59 AM | Permalink

    #75. I had correspondence with Susan Solomon and Martin Manning and all correspondence over a lengthy period was to their NOAA emails. All submissions and reviews were done by email. I doubt that they would have deleted their email correspondence or that they would have done so prior to my request.

  75. Ed I
    Posted Sep 14, 2007 at 11:42 AM | Permalink

    While working on a project to collect data from a public user group the user group agreed to cooperate in data collection so long as we didn’t give it to the federal government until our project was over. Our research project, in cooperation with a major university, was indirectly federally funded. It turned out that our data became critical to managing an important natural resource albeit one the federal government’s scientists had decided didn’t need managing. After our project was over and with permission of the public from which we had collected the data we turn the data base over to the federal agency. Shortly, after doing so they sent us letters advising that they now “owned” the data and any distribution of the data could only be done with their permission. None of that was any shock to us by this point. What was a shock is that an outside party made FOI request for the data to the federal agency and the person that we knew had been in charge of receiving the data. The outside group was advised that the data didn’t exist within the federal system. Then the group was advised that while the federal agency might have the data, they couldn’t distributed it without our permission. It gets much worse before it was over. Let’s just say our agency had worked in cooperation with a major university and those in the university were told not to release the data subject to the possibility of changes in federal research funding.

    No folks there is not bias or political motivation amoung some federal government scientists. Ha!

  76. SteveSadlov
    Posted Sep 14, 2007 at 12:16 PM | Permalink

    RE: #77 – “No folks there is not bias or political motivation amoung some federal government scientists.”

    And Interstate Highway bridges over the Mississippi River do not fall down. /s

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] a few weeks later, NOAA responded to the FOI request (CA post here) in which they made the remarkable assertion that they held no documents responsive to the FOI [...]

  2. [...] a few weeks later, NOAA responded to the FOI request (CA post here) in which they made the remarkable assertion that they held no documents responsive to the FOI [...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,251 other followers

%d bloggers like this: