Norfolk police close case and confirm the hack came from ‘sophisticated’ outsiders – not a University of East Anglia leak.
Norfolk police on Wednesday formally closed the two-and-a-half-year investigation into the hacking of emails from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and confirmed the hack was the work of “sophisticated” outsiders, not a whistleblower at the university.
The breach – dubbed “climategate” – led to thousands of private emails exchanged between climate scientists over the previous decade being dumped online in November 2009. A second tranche of emails was uploaded onto the internet late last year.
The incident led to numerous inquiries into the practices of the scientists, all of which cleared the scientists of wrongdoing. The university, however, was criticized for its data handling and response to freedom of information requests.
Detective chief superintendent Julian Gregory, the senior investigating officer, said: “Despite detailed and comprehensive inquiries, supported by experts in this field, the complex nature of this investigation means that we do not have a realistic prospect of identifying the offender or offenders and launching criminal proceedings within the time constraints imposed by law. The international dimension of investigating the world wide web especially has proved extremely challenging.”
He added: “However, as a result of our inquiries, we can say that the data breach was the result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s data files, carried out remotely via the internet. The offenders used methods common in unlawful internet activity to obstruct inquiries. There is no evidence to suggest that anyone working at or associated with the University of East Anglia was involved in the crime.”
Despite the involvement of the Metropolitan police’s counter terrorism command, the National Domestic Extremism Team and the Police Central e-crime Unit, along with consultants in online security and investigation, Norfolk police said the decision to close “Operation Cabin” was “informed by a statutory deadline on criminal proceedings”.
Prof Edward Acton, UEA’s vice chancellor, said: “We are naturally disappointed that those responsible for this crime have not been caught and brought to justice. Clearly the perpetrators were highly sophisticated and covered their tracks extremely carefully. The misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating following the publication of the stolen emails – including the theory that the hacker was a disgruntled UEA employee – did real harm to public perceptions about the dangers of climate change. The results of the independent inquiries and recent scientific studies have vindicated our scientists, who have returned to their important task of providing the best possible scientific information on this globally critical issue.”
Prof Phil Jones, the climate scientist whose emails became the focal point of international scrutiny, said: “I would like to thank the police for their work on this difficult investigation and also for the personal support they offered me. I am obviously disappointed that no one has been prosecuted for this crime but hope today’s announcement will draw a line under the stressful events of the last two and half years. My colleagues and I remain committed to the research CRU undertakes to illuminate the globally important issue of climate change.”