CA reader Duke C has some results from his FOI request that look like they bear directly on my longstanding appeal for the Wahl attachments that the UEA purport to be unable to locate on the backup server.
The UEA has a history of wilful obtuseness in carrying out FOI searches. Unfortunately the UK Information Commissioner has weakly and unjustifiably acquiesced in UEA’s obstruction.
Don Keiller has elsewhere recounted his story of UEA’s obtuseness in locating a single covering email. They originally made absurd estimates of the cost; then denied that the email was on the server. Only after Keiller threatened to appeal further was the server searched properly and, needless to say, the email had been there all along. The footdragging cost 7 months and dozens of emails.
My Appeal of 10-051
Duke C’s request touches on my own outstanding appeal to the Tribunal in connection with the Wahl attachments. In August 2012,following the return of the backup server, UEA informed me that they had been unable to locate the long-sought attachment to Wahl’s 2006 email to Briffa on the backup server. Perplexed by this failure, I asked UEA whether they could locate the underlying email on the backup server – as a means of benchmarking whether they were looking in the right place.
They refused to answer this simple question as follows:
You pose a number of queries which relate essentially to whether the emails to which documents 5-8 were attached can be found on the server. We repeat that the issue in the present case is not whether the emails are on the server but whether the attachments can be located following a reasonable and proportionate 2search. We would hope that you would accept that expanding the search for the attachments to the entire server answered any outstanding concerns you may have about the quality of UEA’s searches.
This has led to extended correspondence with the Tribunal about the adequacy of the UEA search. Despite UEA’s pointblank refusal to answer this and other questions relevant to the adequacy of the search, the UEA’s lawyers, Mills and Reeves, falsely told the Tribunal that “the University responded in full to Mr Mclntyre’s additional queries on 25 September 2012”.
The UEA also purported to explain their inability to locate the attachments on the basis that the backup server removed older backups on a rolling basis (seemingly in contradiction to earlier statements by IT personnel to the Muir Russell panel):
It is right to say that the earliest backup that is held for Professor Briffa’s work PC is the 2 August 2009 backup. However, that is not to say that that backup does not store emails dating back to a period before 2 August 2009. It is merely to say that there are no earlier backups. UEA’s position is that the 2 August 2009 backup would have included copies of all emails and attachments stored on Professor Briffa’s PC as at 2 August 2009 and this could easily have included documents and emails dating back to 2005/2006. You should in any event note that the backup server had an automated function that operated so as to remove older backups on a rolling basis.
I reported briefly on these matters a few months ago.
Unknown to me, CA reader Duke C (Patrick Reeves) had submitted his own FOI request for 2006 email correspondence between Wahl and Briffa. UEA answers are online here – see 12-139. In the notes below, I will draw on these answers, together with the original questions provided offline to me by Patrick.
On October 11, 2012, Patrick sent an FOI request to UEA regarding the Wahl-Briffa correspondence asking for 7 emails, 5 from Briffa to Wahl and 2 from Wahl to Briffa. One of the requested emails (Aug 12 – Wahl to Briffa ) was one of the underlying emails in my appeal. Patrick:
I wish to request the complete email documents associated with the following 7 email headers located at the Climatic Research Unit [lists 7 emails] …
I will amend this request to include all emails that include ” Keith Briffa” or “Wahl, Eugene R” in either the “to:” field or the “from” field between the dates of July 1, 2006 through August 31, 2006, if this would simplify the task for your staff
On November 12, not having heard from UEA, Patrick sent a reminder noting the passage of 20 working days, and added an inquiry about attachments:
1. Email correspondence between Prof. Keith Briffa and Eugene R. Wahl that occurred between July 1st, 2006 through August 31st, 2006, located on the CRUBACK3 backup server.
2. Documents/attachments related to the above emails, which my be in the possession of Prof. Keith Briffa and not located on the CRUBACK3 backup server.
The same day (Nov 12), UEA official David Palmer replied, noting that attachments had not been requested in the original request and that a separate search would be required for the attachments. Palmer told Patrick that UEA would be replying very soon on his request for emails. Palmer confirmed that UEA had “searched all possible locations” for the requested information:
I can also assure you that, as per our statutory obligation, we have searched all possible locations for the requested information including material on networked resources, and also on stand-alone resources such as the holdings of Dr Briffa himself and the contents of the server from which the emails now publicly available apparently originated.…
Later on the 12th, UEA responded stating that they had located the 5 requested emails from Briffa to Wahl (which were provided in an Appendix), but stated that the two listed emails from Wahl to Briffa had not been located despite their search (previously said to have been of “all possible” locations:
It is, however, not possible to satisfy all elements of your request. Pursuant to your rights under section 1(1)(a) of Freedom of Information Act 2000 to be informed whether information is held, I confirm that the University does not hold some of the requested information. Specifically, we do not possess two of the requested emails, both from Dr Wahl to Dr Briffa, one on 21 July 2006 and the other on 12 August 2006
This failure was also reported as follows:
On November 20, Patrick sent a follow-up email to UEA deferring the request for attachments, but questioning the UEA’s failure to locate the Wahl-to-Briffa emails located in the threads. Patrick then described how Eudora handled backup and directly asked whether UEA had searched “all themed inboxes with consecutively numbered mbox”. Read this carefully:
… it is somewhat perplexing that two of the emails are not held, when segments of these emails are contained within the threads of the emails that were released.
After familiarizing myself with the Eudora file management system, these emails should reside in the \Eudora directory within files named in.mbx or out.mbx. However, when a user deletes and/or empties his Trash folder, a new iteration of the in.mbx or out.mbx is created which contain the deleted items, and each is consecutively numbered.
11/16/2012 04:44 PM 0 In.mbx
11/16/2012 04:29 PM 845,516 In.mbx.001
10/15/2012 06:33 PM 481,012 In.mbx.002
11/19/2012 06:37 PM 517 Out.mbx
11/19/2012 06:19 PM 769 Out.mbx.001
10/08/2012 04:33 PM 0 Out.mbx.002
I would ask, were all themed inboxes with consecutively numbered mbox files searched, including email or document resources that may have been transferred to portable media by Prof. Briffa?
Palmer acknowledged Patrick’s request on November 22, noting that the UEA’s inability to locate some emails “may be perplexing” but was still the result of the searches. Nonetheless, Palmer passed Patrick’s query on to UEA technical staff:
As to emails that are not held, whilst it may be perplexing, this is the result of the searches we carried out. I am not technically proficient enough in Eudora to address your comments regarding Eudora file organisation or the searching techniques employed but I have forwarded your concerns to the appropriate technical staff within the University and I will pass along any comments they have in response to your concerns.
A week later, on November 30, following Patrick’s procedures, the UEA were suddenly able to locate the Wahl correspondence that they had only a few days earlier been unable to locate. Although they had claimed to have searched “all possible locations”, their search did not include a search of the “numbered mbx backup files.”
As noted in my email of 22 November, I have forwarded your concerns regarding the extent of our searching to the appropriate technical staff within the University and can report that in response to your question; no, we did not initially search the numbered mbx backup files.
Palmer reported that they were now able to locate three files that had not been previously retrieved or searched.
Having concluded that the requested information could, in fact, be held within these files, we conducted further searches late last week. Specifically, we identified three files which were not previously retrieved or searched: In.mbx.001, In.mbx.002 and Out.mbx.001. There was no Out.mbx.002 file.
They then searched the three files and found the two requested emails from Wahl to Briffa, together with nine others. These were all included in an attachment to the November 30 response.
All three files were decompressed and searched for any references to ‘wahl’ and all search matches were checked to determine whether they related to emails exchanged between Keith Briffa and Eugene Wahl between 1 July 2006 and 31 August 2006.
As a result of this revised search, we not only discovered the two emails previously reported as ‘not held’ but nine (9) other emails that fall within the scope of your request of 11 October 2012. These are contained within the attached document entitled ‘Appendix A_Additional material. pdf’.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for not providing this information at first instance. We do take our obligations under the Act very seriously and are very sorry that our original search strategy overlooked this information. I would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention so that we can fulfil your request in its entirety.
There is an obvious knock-on impact on my case: were the numbered mbx files decompressed and searched in the previous unsuccessful UEA search for the Wahl attachments? If they were searched, why wouldn’t the UEA have searched them in response to Patrick’s 12-139 request?
If they weren’t searched, then they should obviously be searched for the Wahl attachments, now that UEA is aware that the underlying Wahl emails are located in the numbered mbx files. On December 20, I had a Case Management meeting, much of which was devoted to the adequacy of UEA’s search of the backup server. However, none of these new developments were disclosed by UEA at that meeting.