Comment: Did Russian Intelligence Hack Climate-Change Emails?
December 7, 2009 16 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
For over a fortnight, the world’s news services have focused on the so-called ‘Climategate’, the hundreds of University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit emails that were hacked from the university’s server and leaked onto the Internet. The stolen emails, some of which date back to 1996, have reignited conspiracy theories about the role of human activity in climate change. But there is surprisingly little discussion about who hacked into the university’s server and stole the personal emails.
British newspaper The Daily Mail says it has information that points to a server in the Siberian city of Tomsk as the originating mainline point of the hack attack. The paper alleges that the cyber attack has been traced to Tomcity, a high-speed Internet server in downtown Tomsk, belonging to Siberian Internet service provider Tomline.
What is interesting about The Daily Mail’s allegations is that Tomsk, located near Siberian metropolis Novosibirsk, was until recently a closed city, or what the Russian government calls a “closed administrative-territorial formation”. It is a complex of scientific research centers, including the Tomsk State University and a host of uranium and plutonium plants, which remained closed to foreigners until the early 1990s. Some of it, such as Seversk (also known as Pyaty Pochtovy until Stalin’s death, and Tomsk-7) with a population of 109,106, remain closed to outsiders even today. As a result, large parts of Tomsk’s Internet infrastructure are administered by the Russian military and, as The Daily Mail correctly notes, the entire Tomsk Oblast (administrative division) is “closely monitored by the FSB”, the successor agency to the Soviet KGB.
The investigation into the hack attack is ongoing, and some cyberespionage experts suggest there is no “hard evidence” that the hacking was carried out from within Tomsk. But there is no denying that, in the words of a Russian hacking expert, the cyber attack was “a sophisticated and well-run operation that had a political motive, given the timing in relation to [the United Nations Climate Change Conference in] Copenhagen”, Denmark.
It is worth noting that the world’s intelligence agencies have recently begun to display substantial interest in climate change and the energy politics associated with it. In October, the CIA announced the establishment of its Center on Climate Change and National Security, despite fierce opposition by Republican lawmakers.
* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.