This week, the New York Post published a wildly dubious story, claiming that, as vice president, Joe Biden had met with an adviser at the Ukrainian energy company — Burisma Holdings — where his son Hunter worked. The Post’s story was based on email correspondence that had allegedly been recovered from a computer hard drive that originated at a repair shop in Delaware, whose owner is under the impression that the original device belonged to Hunter Biden himself. The New York Times now reports that U.S. intelligence analysts suspected that emails that had been stolen from Burisma might be released in October alongside outright forgeries meant to influence the election.
Buried lede: US intelligence analysts picked up chatter last month that emails like those revealed yesterday by the NYPost would be leaked in October, having been stolen by the same GRU unit that hacked the DNC. One worry was Russia would mix in forgeries. https://t.co/XqbpIzSvON
— Josh Rudolph (@JoshRudes) October 15, 2020
As of early Thursday, the precise origin of the material that the New York Post shared is unclear — but, based on this New York Times report, the material could have originated with Russian intelligence operatives. Burisma has been hacked by one of the same Russian intelligence units that was responsible for the cyber-attack on the Democratic National Convention during the 2016 cycle.
The emails that formed the foundation for the New York Post story have not been independently verified. The publication received the material from longtime Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, who has been known to push totally unfounded conspiracy theories — and who met with someone (Ukrainian legislator Andrii Derkach) who was later characterized by the U.S. federal government as a Russian agent. Giuliani held this meeting as part of his feverish attempt to find evidence of the Biden wrongdoing that the Trump team seems so desperate to prove. Apparently, the Post was tipped off that Giuliani had the newly released material by fellow Trump ally Steve Bannon, who was recently hit with federal criminal charges for his part in a fraudulent border wall fundraising scheme. These people are not credible.
The shop owner who is the alleged originator of the Hunter Biden material is not credible either. According to the Daily Beast, the shop owner “appeared not to have a grasp on the timeline of the laptop arriving at his shop and its disappearance from it” during a conversation with reporters. At one point, he even claimed, laughably, that the FBI had gotten in touch with him for “help accessing his drive” on the device. Why would the FBI need help operating a laptop from someone who runs a computer shop in Delaware? The shop owner even suggested that he feared for his life and suspected that he could possibly be murdered for sharing the material in question.
Major social media companies took action against the New York Post story. Facebook limited the link’s reach, and Twitter blocked sharing the link altogether, citing its policy against sharing personal contact information (as was included in the report) and hacked materials. The companies may have been cognizant of the spread of foreign disinformation on their platforms in the lead-up to the 2016 election, which Russia attempted to help swing for Donald Trump.
No matter the social media companies’ action, the New York Post story seems to have made a mark — Donald Trump himself spoke about it during a Wednesday night rally in Iowa, which, like numerous other states, is surprisingly close.