NASA Administrator Mike Griffin is standing behind his press secretary, David Mould, in the face of renewed allegations the space agency’s top spokesman sought to rein in outspoken climatologist James Hansen and then misled investigators about the now two-year
-old incident.


“David has my full confidence,” Griffin said June 4. “I do not credit the unsupported allegations which have been made against him.”


Two days earlier, the NASA
Inspector General (IG) released a report detailing the findings of
an 18-month investigation that concluded
political appointees
in NASA public affairs downplayed or suppressed climate change news that was out of sync with their perceptions of the Bush administration’s policy


Most of these charges –
involving the re
writing or withholding of climate change news releases and one example of denying a National Public Radio request to interview Hansen –
reported prominently in 2006, hashed over during congressional hearings and detailed in a 2007 book, “Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth about Global Warming.”


The NASA IG found no evidence senior NASA leaders or White House officials were involved in suppressing
climate change information between late 2004 and early 2006, when a New York Times story on efforts to muzzle Hansen, the longtime director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York
, prompted Griffin to order a review of public affairs policies.

However, after interviewing 59 witnesses, reviewing
thousands of documents
and seizing computers, the NASA IG sided with civil servants who believe the political appointees running public affairs downplayed climate change findings in order to “systematically portray NASA in a light most favorable to [Bush] Administration policies at the expense of reporting unfiltered research results.”


In one previously undisclosed example, Glenn Mahone, NASA’s public affairs chief at the time,

postponed a routine press conference on the newly launched Aura satellite until after the 2004 presidential elections – allegedly in order to keep out of the news its findings about how pollution contributes to global warming. Mahone, now Aerojet’s Washington-based
in a June 6 e-mail denied playing politics with NASA climate change news.


Mould, a former reporter who worked for
the U.S Department of Energy
before being named NASA’s assistant administrator for public affairs in 2005, received less criticism in the IG’s report than Mahone or his successor, Dean Acosta, identified in the report as “one of the central figures.”


Mould, in contrast, was described in the report as “a relatively minor participant in these matters” and is praised for taking corrective policy actions that have been hailed as a model for other agencies. “Nevertheless, he was in charge (and therefore responsible) during some of the instances
,” the report continued. “Further, on discrete occasions, he was a participant.”

One such occasion followed Hansen’s appearance on ABC to discuss findings showing 2005 had been the warmest year on record. The appearance caught NASA
by surprise. Mould and Acosta called Hansen’s public affairs coordinator and the news chief at Goddard Space Flight Center on consecutive days to express their frustration with the lack of a “heads up” and, according to the report,
outline new restrictions for Hansen.


Uncomfortable with the new restrictions, Goddard’s news chief, Mark Hess,
sent an e-mail to Mould and Acosta
a few days later recapping the teleconference in an attempt to get written confirmation of their directives. Mould and Acosta have long maintained
they never got the e-mail and did not see it until congressional staffers the following February gave them a retyped copy of it. Mould and Acosta denied the Hess e-mail accurately captured the teleconference, which they said was held solely to reiterate a standing policy to give headquarters a “heads up” when issuing a release or giving an interview likely to garner national media attention. Mould
also has said he believed the e-mail to be a fake.


The NASA IG, however, confirmed the e-mail was genuine and that it was sent to Acosta, Mould and others. The IG could not find proof that the e-mail reached Mould’s mailbox, but did confirm it had been
delivered successfully to Acosta’s e-mail address and that he –
or someone using his equipment –
reviewed the e-mail on his Blackberry and then forwarded it to Jason Sharp, his deputy and one of the telecom participants, requesting comment.
Sharp replied to Acosta’s e-mail
suggesting some rewording of the original e-mail.


According to the IG report, Sharp told investigators the e-mail accurately depicted the telecom, which is why he made only minor changes.

The IG concluded that even if Mould never received the e-mail, investigators found it hard to believe Acosta
would never have discussed the e-mail with Mould.


The IG also found it odd
that six months after first being interviewed, Mould produced a Dec. 15, 2005 memorandum he said he wrote on his home computer
and later transferred to his work computer. The memo supported Mould and Acosta’s depiction of the telecon. When Mould was asked why he had not revealed the memo sooner, he provided no explanation, the report said.


Mould said June 3 the Hess e-mail never reached his in-box. “Had I received it the day it was written, I would have immediately corrected its significant error to everyone involved.”


Acosta, currently a spokesman for Boeing Space Exploration in Houston, did not respond to Space News’ request for comment, but told the New York Times the IG’s allegations “are patently false.” Joseph Tedino, a spokesman for Boeing Network and Space Systems, called Acosta “a valuable member of our team” and declined comment on the report or NASA public affairs processes.

Comments: bberger@space.com