12.06.2022 0

Taibbi: Twitter Files show ‘no evidence… of any government involvement in the [Hunter Biden] laptop story’

By Robert Romano

“Although several sources recalled hearing about a ‘general’ warning from federal law enforcement that summer about possible foreign hacks, there’s no evidence – that I’ve seen – of any government involvement in the [Hunter Biden] laptop story. In fact, that might have been the problem…”

That was journalist Matt Taibbi on Twitter on Dec. 2 releasing the first batch of the so-called Twitter Files about the Oct. 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story by the New York Post that was suppressed and labeled as being potentially hacked materials by social media companies like Twitter and Facebook before the 2020 presidential election.

On the Joe Rogan Show on Aug. 25, Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the FBI had approached Facebook with a similar general warning but not about that specific New York Post story.

Pay attention to what Zuckerberg actually said: “The background here is that the FBI came to us – some folks on our team – and was like ‘hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert. We thought there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election, we have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump that’s similar to that’. So just be vigilant.”

But when specifically asked if they told him to be on guard about that story, Zuckerberg replied, “No, I don’t remember if it was that specifically but it was – it basically fit the pattern.”

Zuckerberg added, “if the the FBI which I still view is as a legitimate institution in this country — it’s a very, very professional law enforcement — they come to us and tell us that we need to be on guard about something then I want to take that seriously.”

To review: Zuckerberg doesn’t recall if the government specifically told him to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story. But an Oct. 10 filing by Missouri Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt office notes that section chief of the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force Laura Dehmlow and cyber branch head of the San Francisco FBI field office Elvis Chan were “involved in the communications between the FBI and Meta that led to Facebook’s suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story.”

On Nov. 29, Schmitt’s office, and also the office of Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry deposed Chan in a federal suit brought by both states against the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security. Schmitt told Fox News Digital, “Since filing our lawsuit, we’ve uncovered troves of discovery that show a massive ‘censorship enterprise.’ … Now, we’re deposing top government officials, and we’re one of the first to get a look under the hood — the information we’ve uncovered through those depositions has been shocking to say the least. It’s clear from Tuesday’s deposition that the FBI has an extremely close role in working to censor freedom of speech.”

And now Matt Taibbi is reporting that he’s looked through Twitter’s internal communications, and while he can find direct requests from the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations about the New York Post’s reporting of the Hunter Biden laptop, which shows details of Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China, but, Taiibi writes, “there’s no evidence – that I’ve seen – of any government involvement in the laptop story.”

So, neither Facebook nor Twitter have attested that the government had approached it specifically with censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Instead, Big Tech companies were cheap dates.

All they needed were generalized warnings from the government about potential Russian disinformation in the 2020 election, and then as it related to the Hunter Biden laptop story, that would be enough to allow the political censorship of the story to begin.

To seal the deal, on Oct. 19, 2020, a letter signed by 50 former U.S. intelligence officials including former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan said the New York Post story was Russian disinformation, stating, “the arrival on the U.S. political scene of emails purportedly belonging to Vice President Biden’s son Hunter, much of it related to his time serving on the Board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

But it added, “we do not have evidence of Russian involvement — just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.”

And Twitter and Facebook both fell for it. The government may not have specifically directed these companies to censor the laptop story, because it didn’t need to.

Twitter and Facebook, based on general warnings from the government, were perfectly willing left-wing partisan executives at both companies who were willing to assume without a shred of evidence that the materials were either hacked or a product of Russian intelligence services and suppress a story that was harmful to then-Democratic candidate for President Joe Biden.

Because they’ve done it before.

In 2018, Congress unanimously passed legislation in the closing days of the Republican-controlled House on unanimous consent, H.R. 3359, that authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to disseminate information to the private sector including Big Tech social media companies in a bid to combat potential foreign and domestic terrorists.

The law authorizes CISA to “disseminate, as appropriate, information analyzed by the Department within the Department, to other agencies of the Federal Government with responsibilities relating to homeland security, and to agencies of State and local governments and private sector entities with such responsibilities in order to assist in the deterrence, prevention, preemption of, or response to, terrorist attacks against the United States.”

With that authority, CISA says it “rout[es] disinformation concerns” to “appropriate social media platforms”: “The [Mis, Dis, Malinformation] MDM team serves as a switchboard for routing disinformation concerns to appropriate social media platforms and law enforcement,” according to the agency’s website.

This has been going on since 2018: “This activity began in 2018, supporting state and local election officials to mitigate disinformation about the time, place, and manner of voting.”

And it was expanded in 2020: “For the 2020 election, CISA expanded the breadth of reporting to include other state and local officials and more social media platforms.”

The agency still brags about its “rapport” with Big Tech firms in censoring speech so they’re on the same page: “This activity leverages the rapport the MDM team has with the social media platforms to enable shared situational awareness.”

During the pandemic, CISA also targeted Covid “disinformation” too: “COVID-19…create[d] opportunities for adversaries to act maliciously. The MDM team supports…private sector partners’ COVID-19 response…via regular reporting and analysis of key pandemic-related MDM trends.”

In early May 2020 the agency issued a disinformation warning against “potentially extremely harmful suggestions to drink bleach” after a controversial April 23, 2020 press conference by former President Donald Trump about the use of solar light and other disinfectants to kill Covid on surfaces when Trump proposed using solar light to treat the virus.

As for the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force, according to its website, “The FBI is the lead federal agency responsible for investigating foreign influence operations. In the fall of 2017, Director Christopher Wray established the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States.”

The site warns of foreign disinformation, “Foreign influence operations have taken many forms and used many tactics over the years. Most widely reported these days are attempts by adversaries—hoping to reach a wide swath of Americans covertly from outside the United States—to use false personas and fabricated stories on social media platforms to discredit U.S. individuals and institutions.” And it “provides tools and resources to political campaigns, companies, and individuals to protect against online foreign influence operations and cybersecurity threats,” including on “Disinformation campaigns on social media platforms that confuse, trick, or upset the public”.

The Hunter Biden laptop story might not have been specifically censored in the same manner as Covid, elections and other communications. Maybe these agencies wanted to — internal documents should be examined by the incoming House Republican majority to find out — but it was deemed too risky, because of the context of an October surprise in the presidential election. An overt attempt by government officials to censor this story would have eventually been discovered and found to be a clear, corrupt violation of the First Amendment, thus jeopardizing the wider censorship operation — which it did anyway, by the way — and so instead retired officials made a very similar sounding warning about the story to avoid doing so officially.

The glaring outcome is that the documents currently in the public record don’t prove the case about the Hunter Biden being censored specifically by the government on Twitter, but lots of evidence it was censored by politically motivated organizations.

Either way, the same goal of censorship was achieved, but by different means. More covert means. Think of the large scale manipulation that is taking place here. For years, these social media companies have been conditioned to censor and suppress all sorts of content, that when a big story about Russian disinformation breaks on national news, their knee-jerk reaction is to do the permanent state’s bidding, even when it is absolutely interfering with U.S. presidential elections far more than anything Russia has ever been accused.

Biden won in 2020 by a scant 43,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin over Trump to get a majority in the Electoral College. Could the suppression and mislabeling of the Hunter Biden laptop story as Russian misinformation or being hacked have made the difference in 2020? We’ll never know the counterfactual, but it was so close that it seems a very real possibility.

But it’s easy to get lost in the story and assume there were government agents behind the scenes of every political setback former President Donald Trump experienced while in office, especially after what they did to him by falsely labeling him a Russian agent when he ran for President in 2016, unleashing a top secret investigation of him during the campaign and then carrying that investigation over into 2017 when he assumed office, kept it a secret, lied about it to Congress and then when Trump fired the FBI director leading the investigation, had a special counsel appointed to keep the investigation going for another two years, which ultimately exonerated Trump.

The Mueller report stated, “In particular, the Office did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control or request — during the relevant time period.” As for former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who had been accused of traveling to Prague to meet with Russian intelligence officers about Russia’s alleged hack of the DNC and giving the emails to Wikileaks, per the Mueller report, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague…” And so, he very well could not have been there meeting with Russian intelligence officials. Manafort was brought up on unrelated tax and bank fraud charges. Papadopoulos was hit with a process crime related to his questioning. And Carter Page was not charged with anything. None of it was true.

Because all of that happened, it’s a lot easier to believe that something similar could have been afoot with the Hunter Biden laptop story, especially with the letter by the former intelligence officials once again falsely attributing revelations favorable to the Trump campaign as being tainted as Russian disinformation. Another political hit job for sure.  

Whether it required functional, provable censorship by the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security, or if it instead shows that social media companies have been conditioned by engaging in similar censorship for years, that they are now taking it upon themselves to foster one-party rule is very alarming.

If the problem we had with Big Tech was that it was merely censored by government officials, there’s a solution for that via federal courts and Congress. But when that political oppression extends into the private sector and whether you are allowed to communicate on private websites, it becomes a great deal more insidious.

It invokes wider bodies of regulation including those related to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors in investing.

In 2020, Twitter’s ESG report declared that would not “amplify” the speech of some on their platform: “Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right — but freedom to have that speech amplified by Twitter is not. Our rules exist to promote healthy conversations.” Also, “We aim to strike an appropriate balance between empowering freedom of expression and creating a safe service for participatory, public conversation.” In other words, some users would have more freedom of expression than others.

Twitter has also pursued aggressive Diversity & Inclusion and other politically charged objectives, with internally impact racial and gender hiring quotas in apparent violation of federal civil rights law and diversity sensitivity training in companies.  

That is actually a worse problem to have to deal with. The Twitter Files and what we are learning is just the tip of the iceberg. Republicans don’t merely have to worry about the government potentially censoring their speech, there’s the private sector that favors Democrats, too, that just happens to own the communications devices. They don’t even need the government to tell them what to censor as they’ve devised algorithms to do it for them.

In short, the truth is more dangerous than the fiction.

As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty in 1859, when the society as a whole engages in censorship it can be “more formidable than many kinds of political oppression”. Mill explained, “[W]hen society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

That is even more frightening than merely government censorship as the private sector and the establishment political party are all combining to engage in the censorship against the opposition party relentlessly. It’s one-party rule. And that should alarm us all.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

Updated to include more background on the FBI’s 2017 establishment of the Foreign Influence Task Force. 

Copyright © 2008-2024 Americans for Limited Government