Members Only | December 6, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
House Republicans poised to launder Russian disinfo again
A skeptic’s guide to “Hunter Biden’s Laptop.”
We’ve been warned.
When the Republicans take control of the House, it’s going to be all Hunter’s laptop, all the time.
Despite haughty GOP denials, the laptop story is probably a cover for another Russian hack and leak operation, and the Republicans are gleefully laundering it.
Republicans have browbeaten various social media execs – who are surely nervous about being called before GOP committees – into saying they were wrong to throttle access to what everyone correctly assumed was foreign election interference laundered through Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and election interference go-to-guy Rudy Giuliani.
Various major media outlets have authenticated a small percentage of the data dump as having belonged to Hunter Biden. But that’s exactly what you’d expect in a hack and leak operation. The question is whether the data were really abandoned by Hunter Biden or whether they were uploaded to that laptop as a pretext for trafficking in stolen secrets.
In October 2020, weeks before the general election, the New York Post ran a story about what Rudy Giuliani claimed was a hard drive abandoned by Hunter Biden at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware.
Over 50 retired intelligence pros signed an open letter arguing that L’Affaire MacBook bore all the hallmarks of Russian disinfo. Twitter’s former head of safety said this week that the story set off “every single one of my finely tuned [Russian intelligence] hack and leak campaign alarm bells.”
Conveniently, the former shop owner who gave the data to Giuliani is legally blind, so he can’t say whether the man who dropped off the machines was Hunter Biden. He’s also a frothing conspiracy theorist who was unable to tell a straight story about the provenance of the laptop.
We know Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign of interference in the 2020 elections that focused on feeding anti-Biden propaganda to influential Americans, including members of Trump’s inner circle, according to a 2021 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The report doesn’t name names, but contains enough clues to identify Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, as the useful idiot in chief.
SUBSCRIBE FOR THE YEAR TO SAVE 17 PERCENT!
This time, the collusion between Trump and the Russians was right out in the open. With Trump’s support, Giuliani spent much of 2019 ostentatiously shuttling to Ukraine and huddling with Kremlin-linked oligarchs, including an active Russian agent who was later sanctioned by Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury Department for interference in the 2020 election.
Data from Hunter Biden’s computer were on the market in Kyiv around the time Giuliani went disinfo-shopping. As you recall, Giuliani was searching for dirt in Ukraine because Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, which, according to that ODNI report, was hacked by the Russian spy service known as the GRU in late 2019.
Multiple US intelligence agencies repeatedly and explicitly warned Donald Trump in 2019 that Giuliani’s bottomless thirst for dirt on the Bidens made him the target of a Russian intelligence operation. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien warned Trump that any information Giuliani brought back from his Ukraine junket should be considered “contaminated” by the Russians. Trump reportedly shrugged and said, “That’s Rudy.”
Stolen and dumped
Let’s not forget Trump’s first impeachment was the result of a desperate bid to wring dirt out of the Ukrainians. Trump froze congressionally authorized defense aid to Ukraine in order to strong-arm the country’s new president into announcing a bogus investigation into Hunter Biden.
Republicans have falsely claimed that forensic analyses have proven that the data was found on a laptop that Hunter Biden abandoned at a repair shop in Delaware. These analyses have shown that some of the materials were produced by Hunter Biden. But that’s how hack and leak attacks work.
In a hack and leak, data is stolen and dumped.
A largely genuine trove of stolen data is also the perfect place to hide forged or stolen elements, which enjoy unearned credibility because they’re packaged with real stuff. That’s why the victims of hack and leaks are advised never to confirm the authenticity of anything.
The attackers are counting on the public to draw the erroneous conclusion that, because some things are genuine, the whole package is real, and – most importantly – that it came from where the cover story says it came from, be that an imaginary collective of good-hearted “hacktivists” or a computer repair shop in Delaware. Anywhere but the GRU.
The GRU is notorious for hacking and leaking.
A GRU unit known as FancyBear or APT128 famously deployed this tactic against the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. They also targeted George Soros, the World Anti-Doping Agency, scientists investigating the poisoning of a former Russian agent, and countless others. For particularly high-value targets, GRU combines hacking with good-old-fashioned stalking, following their targets around, hoping to catch them using insecure hotel wifi.
Isn’t it a crazy coincidence that a disk image of “Hunter Biden’s laptop” was revealed to the world by the same guy who we know was the main conduit for Russian disinformation about the Bidens? A guy who has also been investigated for other kinds of election interference on behalf of Trump.
If you believe that, I’ve got an extended warranty to sell you.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.