How the Heartland Institute Deceived Me with Underhanded Tactics

by Connor Gibson

March 15, 2012

PolluterWatch: Greenpeace Investigates Heartland Institute Leaked Documents— click to see investigation and ongoing updates.

Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from

4 a.m. Bali, December 2007, the first Tuesday of the two-week United Nations climate talks. My phone rings, waking me up. Blearily, and a little crossly, I answer it.

I was in Bali to run Greenpeace Internationals media for the meeting. The caller was someone called John who said he was an intern for a US NGO that I had never heard of. It was a small NGO, he said, who couldnt come to the meeting, but john asked me for a copy of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Changes media list for the meeting.

I confirmed I had a copy but refused to give it to him he appeared a little suspect. The conversation ended when I put the phone down the caller clearly wasnt bothered that he had woken me at 4 am, which was odd, as an NGO colleague would have apologized and hung up immediately.

Flotilla of Fishing Boats Greets the Rainbow Warrior II as it arrives in Bali, Indonesia for the 2007 UN Climate Conference

Three days later I was again woken by the phone, with the information that the right wing think tank the Heartland Institute had just issued a press release slamming the UN for working with environmental NGOs. Heartlands press release posted a link to a recording of the 4 a.m. conversation earlier in the week.

Hang on, lets get this clear:

Someone from the Heartland Institute: called me at 4 am, lied to me saying they were an intern for a US environmental NGO – recorded that conversation without my knowledge or my permission, and released the audio of the telephone conversation to the media, again without my permission.

Sound familiar?

This calls into question Heartlands bleatings about being misled by climate scientist Peter Gleick, and its threats to sue him for using false credentials to obtain information. They seem happy to use underhand tactics to get information for themselves, yet slam Gleick for doing similar. CEO Joseph Bast called it a serious crime.

So Ive written to Joseph Bast reminding him of this incident:

To recap, the Heartland Institute used a false organizational identity in order to obtain an internal document. It also surreptitiously recorded a telephone conversation (illegally, I believe, if it was done from your home state of Illinois) then posted it online to attack me in the same sort of privacy invasion youve been complaining about.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should, not only because your organization did all this, but it recorded itself doing exactly what youve been howling about was done to you. Im calling on you to show the same level of post-action forthrightness of Dr. Gleick, admit what you did, and re-post the audiotape of the full conversation.

I havent yet heard back from Bast.

DeSmogBlog has more examples of Heartlands history of deception, including leading someone to believe that a video they were being interviewed for was for the Discovery Channel rather than a climate denial video.

Given my first-hand experience of Heartland, and having also witnessed the theft of thousands of emails between climate scientists and Heartlands thousands of words about them (often willfully taking them out of context) in Climategate, I find it breathtaking that Heartland has suddenly become all ethical about the leaks of its documents.

These are documents that show plans to mislead children about the science of one of the most important issues in their future: climate change.

Also attending the Bali meeting was the right wing think tank, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), that had brought its crack team of climate deniers, including Lord Christopher Monckton, whom Id seen hectoring journalists in the media center.

Monckon was registered on the CFACT delegation but the UN media list itself confirms Moncktons attempts to register himself as a journalist, listing his email contact as Tom Swiss (Heartlands PR man), as with another denier, Will Alexander, whose email contact was another Heartland email address.

CFACT has received a total of $2,509,285 from fossil fuel funders ExxonMobil, the Koch Foundations and the Scaife Foundations since 1998.

We now know that Heartland had paid for a number of the deniers who were part of the CFACT team. Heartland money went to the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition that year, and NZCSC members, Owen McShane, Bryan Leyland and Vincent Gray were also on the CFACT team, along with a number of Australian deniers, Prof Robert (Bob) Carter, David Evans and Joanne Nova.

Desperate for the attention they werent getting, CFACT even offered free Balinese massages to people who attended their event.

Why didnt I sue Heartland at the time? Simple: they would have loved the attention and I had better things to do with my time, as the 192 governments who had already accepted the science of climate change worked towards agreeing the Bali Mandate.

As it was, no media covered Heartlands outraged press release and the whole incident served as an opportunity for me to talk in detail to a number of journalists about the climate denial industry and its funding by the fossil fuel industry.

My one failing is that I cannot recall the name of the NGO that the caller pretended to be an intern for. I didnt write it down at 4 am and, given that Im not from the US, I didnt recognize the name the caller gave me. But he definitely didnt tell me he was from or acting on behalf of – the Heartland Institute.

And given that I am one of the co-founders of Greenpeaces Exxonsecrets website, launched in 2004 to track money going from ExxonMobil to think tanks including the Heartland Institute for their campaign to promote climate denial, every alarm bell would have gone off if Id received a telephone call from The Heartland Institute, no matter what time of day or night it was. I knew this organization and its peddling of climate denial very well.

I would certainly have remembered if they said they were taping the call, let alone agreed to that and its subsequent broadcast.

Cindy Baxter is a Greenpeace researcher and co-founder of based in New Zealand.

Ongoing investigations into the Heartland Institute’s leaked documents can be found on

Connor Gibson

By Connor Gibson

Connor Gibson does research for Greenpeace's Investigations team. He focuses on polluting industries, their front groups and PR operatives, particularly focusing on the Koch Brothers.

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