Wahl-Briffa Attachments Were Deleted

The Muir Russell Inquiry was supposed to examine the email controversy. One of the issues that they purported to examine was the surreptitious Wahl-Briffa correspondence of 2006 that Fred Pearce described as a “direct subversion of the spirit of openness intended when the IPCC decided to put its internal reviews online”.

In April 2010, I requested copies of the attachments to the controversial Wahl-Briffa correspondence of July 2006 and in addition, attachments to some earlier less controversial correspondence. The July 2006 Wahl-Briffa correspondence is of particular interest because it was the subject of Jones’ “delete all emails” request to Mann, Briffa, Wahl and Ammann.

From time to time, we’ve heard reassurances that nothing was really deleted.

However, in their response to my FOI request, the university said that they were unable to comply with my request for the attachments to the Wahl-Briffa correspondence because the documents had been destroyed. They refused to provide me with the Wahl and Ammann version that was used in the IPCC AR4 First Draft.

My original request was for attachments to Climategate letters – attachments which were unavailable for the public to comment upon to Muir Russell and which obviously should have been examined by the Muir Russell “inquiry” in their consideration of the Wahl-Briffa correspondence (on which they “reported”):

Dear Mr Palmer,
Pursuant to the Environmental Impact Regulations, I request copies of the following documents (reference is attached to Keith Briffa letter):

Wahl_MBH_Recreation_JClimLett_Nov22.pdf (attachment mentioned in Jan 4, 2005 458. 1104855751.txt)
Wahl-Ammann_3321_Figures.pdf; Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb.doc – attachments mentioned in Feb 21, 2006 647. 1140568004.txt
Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb-Revision1.doc – attachment mentioned in 650. 1140838402.txt Feb 24
AW_Editorial_July15.doc; AR4SOR_BatchAB_Ch06_ERW_comments.doc; Ch06_SOD_Text_TSU_FINAL_2000_12jul06_ERW_suggestions.doc – attachments to 716. 1153470204.txt July 18, 2006
Ch06_SOD_Text_TSU_FINAL_2000_25jul06KRB-FJ-RV_ERW_suggestions.doc – attachments to 733. 1155402164.txt from July 27, 2006

Thank you for your consideration,
Regards, Steve McIntyre

Here is their response:

Dear Mr. McIntyre
ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION REGULATIONS 2004 – INFORMATION
REQUEST (FOI_10-51; EIR_10-03)
Your request for a review of the University’s determination of your request of 5th April 2010 made under the Environmental Information Regulations has been passed to me for review under the University’s appeal process as described in our code of practice1.
Dear Mr. McIntyre
ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION REGULATIONS 2004 – INFORMATION
REQUEST (FOI_10-51; EIR_10-03)
Your request for a review of the University’s determination of your request of 5th April 2010 made under the Environmental Information Regulations has been passed to me for review under the University’s appeal process as described in our code of practice1.

In requesting a review you have raised the following questions:

I hereby request a review of this ruling. In its submission to the Muir Russell inquiry, the University of East Anglia stated: “The cycles of review and revision of IPCC Reports from the First Order Draft onwards are fully transparent and overseen by review editors. All comments and responses are publicly available.”

Obviously the information refused is not “publicly available” as represented by the University. The review comments sent to Briffa were their final comments and were not drafts of their review comments. UEA policies discourage employees from entering into confidentiality agreements if there are reasonable alternatives. Given that IPCC policies require the archiving of review comments, it was improper for Briffa to purport to enter into a confidentiality agreement with Wahl and Ammann that violated IPCC procedures.

Your interpretation of the public interest test surely needs reconsidering. This correspondence has been the topic of extreme public controversy and was supposed to have been consulted by the Muir Russell inquiry. It was the subject of the notorious “delete all emails” request of May 2008.

Your original request was for eight documents and in our response on 2nd June 2010 we provided you with the following two documents:

Wahl-Ammann_3321_Figures.pdf
Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb-Revision1.doc

We were unable to provide the following four documents as we had determined that these were no longer held by the University and cited Reg. 12(4)(a):

AW_Editorial_July15.doc
AR4SOR_BatchAB_Ch06_ERW_comments.doc
Ch06_SOD_Text_TSU_FINAL_2000_12jul06_ERW_suggestions.doc
Ch06_SOD_Text_TSU_FINAL_2000_25jul06KRB-FJRV_
ERW_suggestions.doc

There is no single repository in which all information is held and in order to determine whether the University holds specific information searches are required in a number of locations. I have reviewed the criteria and searches that were undertaken to locate the requested documents and agree with the assessment that these documents are no longer held and agree that Reg. 12(4)(a) applies in this instance.

We refused to release the remaining two documents citing Reg. 6(1)(b), 12(4)(d) and 12(5)(f).

Wahl_MBH_Recreation_JClimLett_Nov22.pdf – document 1
Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb.doc – document 2

Regulation 6(1)(b)
In citing Reg. 6(1)(b), Information already publicly available, we stated:

much of the information requested within several of the draft documents, particularly that pertaining to results, findings and interpretations is available within the final published version of the document and is therefore publicly available and easily accessible to you in another form.

Dr. Wahl and Dr. Ammann have confirmed that:

In the case of (document 1), this is a very early component of the much larger article later published by Climate Change, Wahl-Ammann (2007, Climatic Change, vol. 85, 33-69, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10584-006-9105-7)

On this basis I believe that our use of Reg. 6(1)(b) in relation to document 1 was appropriate.

In their note Dr. Wahl and Dr. Ammann also explain that document 2 is the penultimate version leading up to Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb-Revision1.doc. The document Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb-Revision1.doc was accepted for publication and is one of the two documents that we released to you on 2nd June 2010. On this basis I believe that our use of Reg. 6(1)(b) in relation to document 2 was appropriate.

Regulation 12(4)(d)
In citing Reg. 12(4)(d), Unfinished documents, we stated;
both ICO and DEFRA guidance indicates that a draft document is to be considered as an ‘unfinished document’ and this position has been upheld by a recent information Tribunal decision which stated that “However, the opinion of the majority and, ultimately our unanimous conclusion, is that the Draft Report is, by its very name and giving the words their logical meaning, an unfinished document.”

In their note of 21st May 2010 Dr. Wahl and Dr. Ammann explain that both documents were indeed provided as drafts. Following the guidance above both documents are therefore unfinished documents and on this basis I believe that our use of Reg. 12(4)(d) in relation to both documents was appropriate.

Regulation 12(5)(f)
In citing Reg. 12(5)(f), Adverse effects on the person providing information, we stated:

We also cite Regulation 12(5)(f) as Doctors Wahl and Amman have indicated, and we are minded to agree, that several documents were provided to this University on the understanding that they were not public documents and that release would have an adverse effect on future sharing of scientific information between researchers and would limit their ability to openly explore ideas and approaches in draft formats. They made it clear that they felt that the proper fora [sic] to access this information was by way of the completed version.

Doctors Wahl and Amman have identified that release of these documents would have an adverse effects on the future sharing of scientific information between researchers and by extension on them personally. On this basis I believe that our use of Reg. 12(5)(f) in relation to both documents was appropriate.

Regulation 12(1)(b) – Public interest test
In considering the public interest test we stated:

there is a public interest in providing a space in which researchers can exchange ideas, theories and alternatives without fear that information or a position never intended for public release would be disclosed. There is also a public interest in ensuring that the information available to the public has been properly reviewed and assessed as takes place in the academic publication process. This lessens the possibility that the public could be mislead or confused by earlier, less well-examined versions of the information. Additionally, the intellectual property rights of the copyright holder in the final version are protected by ensuring that earlier, non-published versions of copyrighted work are not made available ‘in competition’ with the copyrighted version that the copyright holder has an expectation of making a profit from.

I agree with our original assessment of the public interest test in this case, in particular that it is imperative that researchers are able to exchange and explore ideas in a private space. I am therefore upholding our original decision not to release the two documents:
Wahl_MBH_Recreation_JClimLett_Nov22.pdf – document 1
Wahl_Ammann_3321_Final_21Feb.doc – document 2

In your request for this review you raise two further questions that I will address below:

In its submission to the Muir Russell inquiry, the University of East Anglia stated: “The cycles of review and revision of IPCC Reports from the First Order Draft onwards are fully transparent and overseen by review editors. All comments and responses are publicly available.” Obviously the information refused is not “publicly available” as represented by the University. The review comments sent to Briffa were their final comments and were not drafts of their review comments.

Prof. Briffa and Dr. Osborn have confirmed that neither of the 2 withheld documents are final versions or drafts of IPCC reports nor were they final versions or drafts of review comments or of responses to review comments. They are unfinished drafts of a scientific paper that was later published as Wahl and Ammann (2007) in the journal Climatic Change. Therefore the University’s submission to the Muir Russell inquiry concerning the availability of IPCC report drafts, reviews and responses is correct.

UEA policies discourage employees from entering into confidentiality agreements if there are reasonable alternatives. Given that IPCC policies require the archiving of review comments, it was improper for Briffa to purport to enter into a confidentiality agreement with Wahl and Ammann that violated IPCC procedures.

Prof. Briffa and Dr. Osborn have confirmed that at no stage have we entered into a confidentiality agreement with Doctors Wahl and Ammann. They have also stated that IPCC policies require the archiving of official review comments but not every communication received by the authors over the three years during which these reports were prepared. The official review comments have been archived and are publicly available here at http://hcl.harvard.edu/collections/ipcc/index.html.

If you are dissatisfied with this response, you may exercise your right of appeal to the Information Commissioner at:

Please quote our reference given at the head of this letter in all correspondence.

Yours sincerely
Jonathan Colam-French
Director of Information Services
University of East Anglia
1 http://www.uea.ac.uk/is/strategies/infreg/FOIA+Code+of+Practice+for+Responding+to+Requests

15 Comments

  1. Scott B.
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 10:28 AM | Permalink

    Regulation 12(4)(a) Information not held when receiving a request

    For the purposes of the EIR, information is held when it:
    • “is in the authority’s possession and has been produced or received by the authority; or
    • is held by another person on behalf of the authority.”
    The key issue in this exception is whether the information is held at the time “when an applicant’s request is received”.

  2. geo
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 11:38 AM | Permalink

    Y’know, I think it is pretty clear that the intent of the provision that a public entity not have to provide data under FOIA which is already publicly available was to reduce “make work”. In a lot of instances that would make perfect sense.

    But it also seems clear that at least some public entities use that provision to actually hide data in purloined letter fashion, and that is really against the spirit of what the provision is there for. It certainly isn’t saving them any work in this kind of case.

  3. Don Keiller
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

    Steve, this is yet another piece of UEA obstruction, masquerading as “compliance with FOIA rules”.
    If you have not already done so I would send all this correspondence to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office
    (http://www.ico.gov.uk/).
    They have “previous” with UEA and are unlikely to be sympatheic towards them.

  4. WHG
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 12:34 PM | Permalink

    The message seems to be: “Nothing was really deleted, except for the items you requested”. Also, the placement of the Google ad for “document management” services, is quite apropos and amusing.

    • Alan F
      Posted Aug 11, 2010 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

      Actually any data manager worth his salt has multiple images created of all active drives under his/her care. Data forensics is resolute in the matter of working from images too. Not a single experienced admin would dare risk leaving themselves merely a damaged drive or half arsed tape backup to work a recovery from. No never, not ever!

      There be copies galore and the real job is merely locating one of the old system admins. They would be able to show you not only where the bodies are but when they were put there, who came back to take a peek and how often.

      As one myself, I can say we get “let go” all the time in budget cuts (we never matter until it hits the fan then they come crawling and we contract back for obscene amounts of $$$) and we always take our work home with us. Someone is always blaming sys admin for their own failures and its nice to be able to beat them to death with hard copies of the data access chronologies. I’ve had to do that myself. :)

  5. theduke
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

    Makes you wonder how these people sleep at night.

    I know I couldn’t.

    • Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 6:30 PM | Permalink

      It’s easy. They close their eyes, and repeat the mantra “Job Well Done….”, “Job Well Done….”, “Job Well Done….”

  6. Dave H
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 4:21 PM | Permalink

    Have you asked the university what the institutional policy on removing attachments from historic emails is, and whether that’s likely to be what happened? Junking attachments on mails older than a few months is pretty standard practice in my experience.

  7. Brooks Hurd
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 5:41 PM | Permalink

    Just when I think that things have reached the pinnacle of the surreal; I read more of the obfuscation by UEA and realize that we still have longer to climb into the dizzying heights of the surreal.

  8. jv
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 5:46 PM | Permalink

    I have never seen a situation where removing attachments was done with out the emails being backed up to tape first.

    • Latimer Alder
      Posted Aug 11, 2010 at 3:43 AM | Permalink

      No IT Manager has ever got sacked for having too many backups of anything.

  9. EdeF
    Posted Aug 10, 2010 at 9:30 PM | Permalink

    What are you guys worried about, of course we are not going to delete the emails. Oh, that email that said to delete the emails, that was just a figure of speech. We weren’t really going to delete anything. No seriously, trust us.
    Of course, no one really checked to see if we did delete the emails, which of course we really didn’t do. Until this Steve guy writes a FOI EIR request. Well lo and behold! They seemed to have disappeared. Into thin air. All gone.
    And by the way, some of the correspondence was very personal stuff, you know,
    tree ring data and other stuff that we just can’t send out to anyone, no, too personal. Gotta keep it under wraps. And the rest, well that’s all out there in the world you know, in the journals, on the internet. Don’t need to bother us if its already available you know. Cheerio. Eh.

  10. kim
    Posted Aug 11, 2010 at 8:13 AM | Permalink

    It is curious and gratifying that an attempt has been made to hide personal data, in the manner required by law, in the leaked material. Thank you, dear one, thank you.
    =================

  11. Punksta
    Posted Aug 15, 2010 at 5:43 AM | Permalink

    It seems to me that in the public interest, ALL of the UEA emails should now be made publicly available – ie the balance of those not provided in the Climategate leak.

  12. Skiphil
    Posted Jan 9, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Permalink

    So now in Jan. 2013 it is crystal clear that UEA ensured that the Muir Russell inquiry never really got started in examining email records properly:

    http://climateaudit.org/2013/01/09/more-tricks-from-east-anglia/

    Wilful incompetence or conscious cover-up?

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Did Jones Delete Emails? « Climate Audit on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    […] Contrary to claims by Jones and Acton that nothing had been deleted, the University refused the FOI request on the basis that the attachments had been deleted, that they no longer possessed the attachments to the emails – see previous review here. […]

  2. […] Contrary to claims by Jones and Acton that nothing had been deleted, the University refused the FOI request on the basis that the attachments had been deleted, that they no longer possessed the attachments to the emails – see previous review here. […]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,419 other followers

%d bloggers like this: