Climategate fallout: Sebastian Nokes, a fisher for scandals?

As we noted, the fallout of the Climategate “scandal” will not end with the various government reports. There is still the ongoing investigation by the UK’s National Domestic Extremism Team.

However, we have been digging for information on Sebastian Nokes, the individual at the centre of recent media reporting. Here are some pertinent facts in relation to Sebastian Nokes and the following:

  • His interest in Freedom of Information (FoI) laws
  • His apparent fetish for fishing for scandals using FoI laws

Let me state for the record, FoI is a valuble tool for keeping government agencies honest and improves transperency wihtin democracies.

The question is, can FoI be used for malacious purposes?

Sebastian Nokes: teaching people how to use the UK FoI laws

It would seem Nokes is very keen on using FoI to obtain data from public institutions. The UK Information of Freedom Blog (2003-present) provides additional details on Nokes interest in FoI laws. They reproduce his 2005 Financial Times letter in full: 7th February – Demand information audit copy if FOI request is not being met

Letter from Sebastian Nokes, Partner, Aldersgate Partners – advises what steps should be taken by the public if freedom of information requests are not being met.

We recommend that anyone who is not getting a proper reply to their FOI request should submit a further request to the authority asking for a copy of its information audit. If the authority does not have one, or if it is incomplete, the inquirer will be able to show that it has not prepared properly for the act. If it does have one, the inquirer will be able to see where the information sought is likely to be held.”

A link is provided to the a text that gives you a step-by-step guide to using the UK’s FoI laws.

There is nothing sinister in people using FoI laws in order to get information from government agencies: it improves the democratic process by enhancing transparency. However there is a difference between legitimate usage of FoI and vexatious behaviour.

Nokes as an “expert author ” on FoI requests and project management

A search of Amazon reveals Mr. Nokes co-authored a book on the use of Freedom of Information laws, see book description:

The Freedom of Information Act requires all UK public authorities to carry our an information audit. This book describes the Melbourne information audit methodology, which was specially designed both to enable the simplest possible compliance with the UK’s FOI Act but also to provide a useful tool for day to day management of an organization. The Melbourne information audit has been tried and tested throughout 2004 with many UK public authorities – central government departments, Scottish Executive departments, local authorities, agencies and other public authorities. Besides being a practical guide the book also gives a practical description of the role information assets in the modern organization, to enable senior managers to use the output of the information audit, the information asset register, to make better policy decisions.

He is also the author on a number of other books on project management.

Nokes history with using FoI: fishing for scandals?

It would appear the CRU is not the only public agency Mr. Nokes has requested information from. A 2003 newsletter from his company, Aldersgate Partners reveals a history of using FoI to “dig” for scandals:

Sebastian Nokes, when not beavering away on FoI consulting, is writing a book on basic financial literacy, for those of us who have decided that we perhaps should not trust our IFAs or our insurance companies (don’t mention Equitable Life to him) or perhaps even our government quite as much in matters of personal finance as we used to…

…But somewhere there must be records. Sebastian did what many journalists and research-driven authors do in that situation. He turned to the most likely source of official records for the period. He contacted the Debt Management Office, an executive agency of HM Treasury, and two other public authorities, to request any information they might have on the subject. Although FoI is not yet in force, he asked these three bodies if they would treat it as an FoI request. The Debt Management Office shone. “If the way they manage FoI type requests is anything to go by,” said Sebastian “then we know that our national debt is being managed very well indeed.”

And the information given by the Debt Management Office? Well, it turns out that the whole thing wasn’t obviously such a massive scandal after all. A nice example of how revealing full and factual information reasonably promptly is one of the best antidotes to rumour and misunderstanding…”

What does this mean? Is Nokes a serial “fisher” for scandals?

Several things come to mind:

  • Nokes has been interested in this FoI for some time
  • It would appear that Mr. Nokes is very keen to “teach” people how to use the UK’s FoI laws
  • Mr. Nokes has a history of using FoI laws to “fish for scandals”
  • Mr. Nokes has an interest in the CRU’

What does this mean in relation to the “denial of service” attacks the large volume of FoI requests the CRU was reportedly flooded with?

Opinions differ on just how onerous the volume of FoI requests where, however Nokes did lodge a request with the CRU.

Using FoI is a known tactic of the denial movement used to int imitate and harass scientists working. Perhaps it means nothing the activities of Nokes outlined above mean nothing?

However, what we see seems to be evidence of an individual using FoI laws to look for “smoking guns” on a range of issues. Does Nokes have an inherent distrust of public institutions?

Of course, we can’t answer all these questions but further digging is required.


One thought on “Climategate fallout: Sebastian Nokes, a fisher for scandals?

  1. manuelg says:

    Currently lives in Dubai.

    I would have guessed the hack to have taken place in Australia, because of coal mining.

    [Noted: residential address checks out. Re the source of the hack? Lot’s of speculation out there… if they do find the hackers, and determine any – if any – relationships with prominent members of the denial movement we will have a new scandal to not only match Climategate, but surpass it it scope. ~ WTD]

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