Gleick Outs Himself As (Intermediate) Source of Leaked Heartland Memos

Whoa. From climate scientist Peter Gleick, whose writing on water issues I’ve been following for a while, comes this bombshell: The Origin of the Heartland Documents.

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute’s climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute’s apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

This is kind of huge, at least for me personally as a follower of gossipy climate-change science-vs.-denialism stuff. And it’s a fascinating twist on the previous speculation regarding the two sets of documents. If I’m following this correctly, the alleged sequence of events went like this:

  • Someone sends Gleick a document purporting to be a Heartland strategy memo. It contains a number of facts that turn out to be correct, though it also has some things that look indicative of a fake.
  • Gleick, attempting to get confirmation, tricks Heartland into sending him a batch of real documents.
  • Gleick anonymously releases both sets of documents.
  • Hilarity ensues.
  • Gleick comes clean.

It’s that last “comes clean” part that really sets me back on my heels. I’m used to these sorts of things just sputtering out into claims and counter-claims, with no real certainty as to what actually happened. (Think the O.J. trial aftermath.) But this sounds like the real deal.

It’s also kind of shocking, and I’m sure will be complete catnip for all the spy-vs.-spy conspirators on both sides of the issue. Yee ha.

The question I can’t stop wondering about is this: Who sent Gleick the original memo? Whoever it was apparently had at least some degree of access to confidential information at Heartland. So, a disgruntled former employee? But why send Gleick the deniable (and apparently fake) strategy document? Why not send him the real stuff (i.e., the stuff he obtained later)?

Some people are speculating that Gleick may have faked the strategy document himself. (See Andy Revkin doing so here, for example: Peter Gleick Admits to Deception in Obtaining Heartland Climate Files.) But why release it, once he had the legitimate documents? The strategy memo doesn’t really have anything significant that isn’t in the legitimate ones. If Gleick faked the strategy document, why would he risk including it along with the legitimate documents that he actually got from Heartland? The risk-reward ratio doesn’t make sense.

Consider this alternate scenario: Maybe the folks at Heartland themselves sent Gleick the strategy document, on purpose, hoping he would publish it. Then they could deny it as fake and discredit him. I confess that this was one of the first things I wondered when the story first broke (see the mention in this comment I made on Michael Tobis’ Planet 3.0 blog last Tuesday). But I abandoned the idea because it didn’t seem to make sense: The real documents in the larger batch were the sort of thing Heartland would never have released on purpose.

But the timeline according to Gleick makes the “Heartland dirty trick” theory seem more credible. Heartland could have faked the strategy memo, including enough true-ish information to be credible, but not so much detail as to be actually damaging to them. They could have sent it to Gleick, hoping he would publish it, after which they could discredit him for releasing the fake. But they didn’t count on his being crafty enough to get the other documents via the social-engineering attack. Confronted by the release of the full batch, they scratch their heads a bit, then settle on attacking the leak of the faked memo, as per the original plan, while blustering and hand-waving as to the other documents.

One thing I like about this scenario is that it provides an explanation for Gleick’s now coming clean: Heartland would have actually known he was the source (since they provided him the memo). So they could have been pressuring him with being exposed as the source (which in this scenario would have been their real objective all along). So Gleick was left between a rock and a hard place: be exposed by Heartland, or just admit what he’d done and take the heat.

And here I thought the best soap opera I’d see this week would be Downton.

Update: See this item by Heartland boardmember Ross Kaminsky from last Friday in The American Spectator: Theft and Apparent Forgery of Heartland Institute Documents:

One obvious suspect in the Heartland document theft — and this is just my speculation — is Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security and a true enemy of the Heartland Institute. Gleick is a committed alarmist rent-seeker who seems quite bitter that he shares Forbes magazine’s pages with Heartland’s James Taylor.

The document which the alarmists have been trying to make the most of is called “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.” It appears to be of a similar nature to the forged “Rathergate” documents which ended Dan Rather’s long career promoting leftist views disguised as news.

I hadn’t previously seen this posting, but now that I have, it contributes to my sense that Heartland could have been responsible for leaking the fake strategy memo to Gleick. In that scenario, this posting by Kaminsky was part of ramping up the pressure on Gleick, leading to the (planned) eventual revelation of him as the source of the leak. Reading it after the fact, Kaminsky’s post certainly sounds prescient. It’s a remarkably strong statement (and again, a bit of a head-scratcher from a risk-reward standpoint) for someone to be making if he doesn’t already know that Gleick is the leaker.

Kaminsky is definitely right about the similarity of this case to that of the Killian documents that ended Dan Rather’s career. In that case, as in this one, you had an enemy of political conservatives receiving a really juicy document (in hindsight, one too good to be true). In each case, when the liberal recipient took the bait and publicized the document, he was quickly exposed, with resulting damage to his reputation.

Clever stuff.

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