The 50 former intelligence officials who signed a letter suggesting Russia was involved with the Hunter Biden laptop saga are now largely silent about why they weighed in on the story weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
Despite offering no proof, Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, along with many in the media, dismissed the October laptop story as being part of a Russian disinformation operation. Concerns about Hunter Biden gained broader attention in late 2020 after multiple outlets reported that he is being federally investigated in connection with his taxes and potentially related to his overseas business with China and other countries.
The October letter, reportedly signed by 51 former intelligence officials plus nine anonymous ones, was even cited by now-President Biden in a presidential debate with former President Donald Trump.
Among those to sign their name to the letter were Obama CIA Director John Brennan, Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former George W. Bush CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Obama CIA Director Leon Panetta, and former Obama acting CIA Director Mike Morell, none of whom responded to the Washington Examiner's questions. Glenn Gerstell, former National Security Agency general counsel, declined to comment. The vast majority of the other signatories did not provide on-the-record responses.
Russ Travers, former acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, did not answer the Washington Examiner's questions but said “the general subject of Russian disinformation is hugely important” and provided a short statement that did not mention Hunter Biden or his laptop.
“As someone who spent 40+ years in intelligence — 20 of which on the Soviet/Russian target — I’ve watched their disinformation efforts and I both was/remain very concerned at how successful they’ve been,” Travers said. "I’d suggest you do three things: read the letter very closely — the author picked his words carefully; consider the bipartisan conclusions of experts regarding exactly what the Russians were doing at the time; and perhaps talk to some former Intel types that worked Russian disinformation. And then draw your own conclusions.”
In questions to the former officials, the Washington Examiner noted that the allegations in their letter were publicly disputed by then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, that an independent forensic analysis has reportedly found no sign the messages and images from the laptop are not real, that the recent intelligence community report on foreign influence in the 2020 election released by Biden’s top spy office made no mention of the laptop story, and that Hunter Biden has never directly disputed the authenticity of a single piece of data from the laptop.
Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior operations officer for the CIA, told the Washington Examiner: “The key point I would clearly reinforce is that we never stated that the laptop issue was a Russian 'disinformation’ operation, but rather that it had all the hallmarks of a Russian ‘information' operation. There is a very big difference in the intelligence world.”
Polymeropoulos added: “I can’t comment on how or why the media characterized the letter, as I was only involved in drafting the letter. I’d also prefer to refrain from comment on how the Biden campaign used the letter, other than point once again to the actual content of the letter as reflecting my professional view.”
Polymeropoulos also referenced an interview he gave to National Review in December, after it was made public that Hunter Biden was under federal investigation. He told that outlet that he and Morell “basically wrote” the letter and that “if I thought I was wrong, I’d say I was wrong.”
Biden was referring to a Politico report about the letter in an article by Natasha Bertrand titled “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.” The title was misleading because the letter never directly called the laptop Russian “disinformation,” though it did allege Russian involvement. Neither Bertrand, now at CNN, nor Politico provided a comment.
The letter cited another article claiming that “federal authorities are investigating whether the material … is part of a smoke bomb of disinformation pushed by Russia” but said that “we do not know whether these press reports are accurate.” The laptop “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation," the officials claimed but admitted that “we do not have evidence of Russian involvement." The letter hedged at various times, but it also referred to “our view that the Russians are involved in the Hunter Biden email issue.”
The laptop was given to a computer shop in Delaware for repair in April 2019, according to John Paul Mac Isaac, the computer store's legally blind owner, who said the hardware was never retrieved by the owner, and the laptop and hard drive were seized by the FBI through a grand jury subpoena in December 2019. One copy of the hardware's contents was obtained by Rudy Giuliani, then a personal lawyer to Trump, and the data were shared with various media outlets. Hunter Biden has never denied the authenticity of the computer materials, and he has never directly addressed what appears to be a computer repair invoice signed by him on April 12, 2019.
Kent Harrington, a former national intelligence officer for the CIA, defended signing the letter to National Review, saying: “The travesty created by [Trump], his enablers at home, and the Russian exploitation of Trump’s venality continue," and people needed to speak out.
Nick Shapiro, a former senior adviser to Brennan, said “the whole point” of the letter “was that the Russians most likely spread the information, whether it was disinformation or accurate information,” and asked the outlet, “Has anyone told you the letter is about disinformation, when it clearly says the opposite?”
Emile Nakhleh, a former CIA strategic analysis program director, said the reportedly Russian-backed SolarWinds hacks “underscore my thinking that the whole Hunter Biden email incident is part and parcel of the Russian disinformation operation and persistent ugly campaign against the United States.” And David Cariens, a former CIA intelligence analyst, told the outlet that “I think the current investigation [into Hunter Biden] is probably bogus, and being pushed by [Trump] as he seeks revenge on Biden.”
Gregory Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, told National Review his name had been added to the letter even though he had never seen it. The Washington Examiner was not able to reach out successfully to four of the former officials — Winston Wiley, David Terry, Andy Liepman, and Greg Tarbell.
A former national security official who was asked to sign the letter but declined to do so told the Washington Examiner that Brennan’s involvement with the letter was problematic because of his anti-Trump commentary and repeated claims of Trump-Russia collusion, and Brennan’s name on the letter made it look like he was running a “rear guard action” as a favor to Biden to push back against a problematic story for the Biden campaign just before an election, saying Brennan was “too political” to be involved with a letter like this. The former official said Brennan “has Biden’s ear” and it looked like Brennan worked to get his favored people in place once Biden won, including Brennan’s former deputies ending up as deputy CIA director and director of national intelligence.
The former official did say there were “legitimate concerns” that Russia’s “agent of influence” Andriy Derkach, sanctioned by the Trump administration, could use Giuliani to spread disinformation and argued there was “zero evidence” that then-Vice President Biden “acted inappropriately” in Ukraine. But he pointed out the letter didn’t include the “full story” about Hunter Biden, including real concerns about his overseas business dealings and there being “no good justification” for his spot on the Burisma board.
Joe Biden ’s son has been on a media blitz to promote his memoir , Beautiful Things, during which he has admitted the laptop allegedly dropped off for repairs at the Delaware repair shop could be his but said that he doesn’t remember and that it could have been stolen, he could have been hacked, or Russian intelligence could have been involved, without providing any evidence.
A report released by Biden's ODNI concluded that “Russian state media, trolls, and online proxies, including those directed by Russian intelligence, published disparaging content about President Biden, his family, and the Democratic Party, and heavily amplified related content circulating in US media, including stories centered on his son.” But it did not reference the Hunter Biden laptop story and reached no public conclusions related to it.