"Heartlandgate" Takes a Turn for the Surreal

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 4:09 PM EST

The case of the stolen documents from the climate deniers at Heartland Institute continues to get weirder. On Monday evening, scientist and cofounder of the California-based environmental group Pacific Institute Peter H. Gleick announced to the world that he was behind the acquisition and dissemination of the Heartland documents that drew so much attention last week.

In a piece published on the Huffington Post, Gleick said he received the "strategy memo" (which Heartland says is fake, while admitting that the rest of the docs are legitimate) in the mail from an anonymous source. He then posed as someone else to solicit additional information from Heartland, which he says was a "serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics." He also offered his apologies, attributing it to his exhaustion at the ongoing battles over climate science:

My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts—often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated—to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

Calling what Gleick did a poor choice would be an understatement, of course, and he's been condemned by others in the environmental world for it already. Stealing or acquiring people's email by deceit is illegal and unethical, no matter who's doing it. 

And it's not going to please Heartland, which was already raising money to sue the pants off anyone and everyone who had written about the documents. Over the weekend, Heartland issued "cease and desist" letters to a number of parties that had posted the documents online, seeming to miss the irony inherent in that, given its own role in promoting emails pilfered from climate scientists. Heartland put out a statement Monday night pledging to seek legal enforcement against Gleick and accusing him of having authored the memo that it says is fake. From Heartland president Joseph L. Bast:

We are consulting with legal counsel to determine our next steps and plan to release a more complete statement about the situation tomorrow. In the meantime, we ask again that publishers, bloggers, and Web site hosts take the stolen and fraudulent documents off their sites, remove defamatory commentary based on them, and issue retractions.

Needless to say, this is getting ugly. And it's not likely to end well for anyone, considering that a drawn-out legal process would mean that both the plaintiff and the defendant will have access to all kinds of information through the discovery process. And as Heartland has made abundantly clear, it has a lot of internal stuff it doesn't want getting out there in the public eye.