Heartland Institute: Hoist With its Own Petard

It was not a happy Valentine's Day for the Heartland Institute's climate change denial campaigns. First, Heartland's plans for a $75,000 K-12 reeducation curriculum to turn America's children into climate change deniers was leaked to the DeSmog Blog along with Heartland's fundraising plan, which reveals support from the Charles G. Koch Foundation and a "free Koch summer intern."

Then, the story jumped to the New York Times, which raised serious questions about whether the group has undertaken partisan political activities, a possible violation of federal tax law governing nonprofit groups. The fundraising plan outlines "Operation Angry Badger," a proposal to spend $612,000 to influence the outcome of recall elections in Wisconsin.

Finally, Heartland's heavy-handed attempts to threaten bloggers and environmental organizations that published the leaks took a bad turn. Heartland's General Counsel Maureen Martin emailed or Fed Exed legal threats to half a dozen bloggers or environmental organizations. Not surprisingly, the bloggers published the letters and wrote about the threats, supercharging the controversy. "Climate Denial Gate!" blared the blogosphere.

Given that Heartland gained a global reputation for publishing hacked email exchanges between climate scientists, many find their moral outrage over the release is a bit hard to swallow.

Heartland's History of Exploiting Stolen Documents

Heartland has not always been so interested in the legalities. The environmentalists' resentment of Heartland dates to a 2009 episode when a still-unknown hacker—believed by many to be an activist climate change denier— heisted hundreds of emails from climate change experts at the University of East Anglia in the lead up to the Copenhagen global climate change meetings. The documents cast several scientists in a bad light for advocacy tactics but, after various peer reviews, did not change any of the scientific conclusions that the planet continues to heat up due to human patterns of energy consumption. Heartland published the illegally hacked documents in an attempt to discredit the theory of climate change. They succeeded in generating an international media storm.

In their satirical response to nemesis Heartland, the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility wrote a letter to Heartland's lawyer:

As a community that has been through similar invasions of our privacy, we understand what you are going through. We were struck by the eloquence of your words in describing your situation. We could not think of a better way to describe our feelings than with the words you've crafted. Forgive us for taking the following paragraphs from your website and recent letters to members of the blogger and journalistic community, but as it is often said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The authors then mockingly "threatened" Heartland with a lawsuit for having "obtained, disseminated or blogged" about the stolen university documents three years ago and called upon Heartland to erase from their servers thousands of documents and publish retractions—about as likely as Heartland sending Valentines to the scientists.

Role of Climate Scientist Peter Glieck

Heartland Co-founder Joseph Bast charged fraud, defamation, theft and forgery. This prompted climate scientist Peter Glieck to come forward to explain how the documents were obtained and his role in the process.

Gleick is President of the 25-year old environmental research group, the Pacific Institute. He is one of the world's leading authorities on water and hydrologic impacts of climate change. He explained in the Huffington Post:

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 ... 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 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.

Once upon a time, this type of thing used to be called intrepid reporting. Gleick has publicly apologized for this misstep.

Heartland does not deny that certain documents are theirs. For instance, they don't say that the fundraising plan which reveals that they are considering developing a climate change curriculum with part-time Department of Energy consultant, David Wojick, is a fake. The New York Times take down of Wojick's scientific acumen is worth a read.

But Heartland argues that the cover document Gleick released, which indicates they were hoping to get $200,000 more out of the Charles G, Koch Foundation is a fake. DeSmogBlog.com, however, maintains that the document is authentic. The Foundation has now weighed in with a clarification that the $200,000 was never paid out.

Glass Houses

Heartland even contacted the FBI and a "forensic team" to complain that a 71 year old veteran criminally threatened the organization over its education agenda. After learning about Heartland's plans for educational programming on benefits of global warming, blogger and veteran Gary Wamsley wrote a private email to Heartland board members, "You should be ashamed of yourself. The United States already has a problem in keeping up with the rest of the world in science education and now you want to play a role in further destroying our nation as well as our planet. I did not spend 30 years in the military to protect the likes of you."

While Heartland is wavering on whether they should jail the vet they are still demanding that news outlets take down the materials. Jeff Ruch, an attorney and executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told CMD that the moral of this story is "that people in glass institutes shouldn't throw stones."