Although NOAA were minor players in the Climategate letters, the recent report from the Inspector General of the US Department of Commerce (re NOAA) is the first report to date in which the investigators made any effort to crosscheck evidence from Climategate correspondents against independent sources.
It does not list the emails that it investigated and its report does not discuss some relevant emails involving NOAA (Tom Karl copied on the post-Arusha discussion that resulted in hide-the-decline; also comments on 1127614205.txt ; 1148307524.txt ; 1182342470.txt;1226451442.txt; 1248902393.txt would have made the report more comprehensive.)
They did an interesting analysis of NOAA’s repudiation of 2007 FOI requests for documents held by NOAA related to IPCC review comments. They rejected NOAA’s assertion that they did not hold any IPCC-related documents (an assertion characterized at CA as “mendacious”) and sought an explanation for the assertion from NOAA employee and IPCC WG1 Co-Chair Susan Solomon, who was specified in the FOI request.
Solomon said that she did so on the basis of legal advice from NOAA attorneys. However, the attorneys denied that they had given Solomon such advice. They asked Solomon for evidence that she had received such advice and she was unable to provide any such evidence. They say observe dryly:
“we were unable to reconcile the divergent accounts [of Solomon versus the NOAA attorneys]”
The section deserves careful reading as it also contains important statements on IPCC process.
The incident arose from games that IPCC WG1 (chaired by NOAA employee Susan Solomon) was playing in 2007 about their obligation to provide a public archive of IPCC AR4 review comments – an incident that CA readers will recall. Solomon later instructed IPCC authors in the UK to be unresponsive to David Holland’s UK FOI requests.
IPCC regulations required that IPCC provide review comments to reviewers and to maintain an archive of review comments for 5 years. My efforts to obtain review comments earlier in 2007 had been rebuffed. In May 2007, they told me (see CA post here on May 27, 2007) that I could attend at a library at Harvard University during restricted hours. Harvard said that copying would be limited due to copyright restrictions.
This was not a reasonable fulfilment of IPCC obligations – a point on which even CA critics agreed.
A few days later (May 31, 2007) – see CA post here, I sent an FOI request to NOAA (WG1 Co-Chair Solomon and TSU Secretary Martin Manning were both NOAA employees and both had used NOAA emails for their IPCC duties) as follows:
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.
Three other CA readers sent in similar FOI requests.
On this occasion, IPCC quickly caved in to this peaceful demonstration against their authoritarian policies, now stating that they would place the review comments online – see CA post here – (which they did.)
Nonetheless, 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 request:
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…”
At the time, I observed the absurdity of NOAA’s reply (later even calling it “mendacious”), but, since IPCC had relented, the issue appeared to be mostly moot and I didn’t bother trying to overturn NOAA’s refusal.
The OIG Report
There, matters rested until a few days ago.
The FOI refusal was one of several issues considered in detail by the Inspector General, whose attention had been drawn to this incident by Climategate email 1182255717 which referred to two NOAA employees as follows:
3. CA is in dispute with IPCC (Susan Solomon and Martin Manning) about the availability of the responses to reviewer’s at the various stages of the AR4 drafts. They are most interested here re Ch 6 on paleo.
As part of their assessment of NOAA’s involvement, the Inspector General examined the disposition of this FOI request (and the three similar requests) and concluded that NOAA did not discharge its legal obligation:
Apparently, the only NOAA scientist informed of the request was Susan Solomon (referred to in the OIG report as the Co-Chair of the IPCC AR4 WG1). Solomon told them that she didn’t carry out a search because she understood that her “IPCC-related work product was the property of IPCC”, stating that she had received “verbal guidance” from a NOAA OGC attorney that the IPCC-related documents weren’t “NOAA records.”
The Inspector General then considered the definition of “agency record”, observing that “none of the NOAA employees” with whom they spoke could recall explicit IPCC policies on confidentiality, concluding that IPCC had not “demonstrated a clear intent to retain control over the records created or obtained by NOAA employees”:
They reported that Solomon told them that she had been “detailed” from NOAA to IPCC from 2002 to 2007 and that she (and her supervisor) had been told by a NOAA attorney that her IPCC-related documents were not “NOAA records”:
Unlike the UK and Penn State inquiries who accepted the evidence of Climategate correspondents without any attempt at corooboration, the Inspector General interviewed the two NOAA attorneys to verify Solomon’s assertion that they had advised her that her IPCC-related work product were not NOAA records.
Their evidence contradicted Solomon’s. The first attorney denied ever speaking to Solomon about the issue, while the second attorney said that he was consulted only after the fact and denied that he had provided her such guidance:
The Inspector General returned to Solomon and sought documentation on their discussion with the attorneys -“which they were unable to provide”. They dryly observed that they were “unable to reconcile the divergent accounts”.
They then re-examined the case referenced by one of the NOAA attorneys, finding that the circumstances were distinguishable. They concluded that that Solomon’s IPCC-related work product were “NOAA records” after all and should have been processed under FOI:
All in all, an interesting investigation.