FBI Warned Twitter of Hunter Biden ‘Hack-and-Leak Operation’ Before 2020 Election

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
December 5, 2022Updated: December 5, 2022

The FBI warned Twitter explicitly of a “hack-and-leak operation involving Hunter Biden” ahead of the 2020 presidential election, documents filed with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) show, providing fresh insight around the social media platform’s decision to censor the New York Post’s explosive expose about the contents of a laptop linked to President Joe Biden’s son.

Twitter’s former head of site integrity Yoel Roth made the remarks in a signed declaration (pdf) attached to a Dec. 21, 2020 letter to the FEC’s Office of Complaints Examination and Legal Administration on behalf of Twitter.

That letter came in response to a complaint by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that Twitter had made an “impermissible in-kind contribution” to Biden’s presidential campaign when it removed from its platform articles published by the New York Post about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Roth said in the attached declaration that he was told by the FBI at a series of meetings ahead of the 2020 election that the agency warned of the threat of hacked materials being distributed on social media platforms.

“I was told in these meetings that the intelligence community expected that individuals associated with political campaigns would be subject to hacking attacks and that material obtained through those hacking attacks would likely be disseminated over social media platforms, including Twitter,” Roth stated in the declaration.

“I also learned in these meetings that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden,” Roth added.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. President Joe Biden (L) waves alongside his son Hunter Biden after attending mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Johns Island, South Carolina on Aug. 13, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Twitter ‘Has Interfered in Elections’

In the run-up to the 2020 election, the New York Post published a story about a laptop abandoned at a computer repair shop that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden and contained emails suggesting that then-candidate Joe Biden had knowledge of, and was allegedly involved in, his son’s foreign business dealings.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly insisted he had no knowledge of or involvement in his son’s business operations.

Roth said in the declaration that, after reviewing the New York Post’s articles about the laptop, Twitter’s Site Integrity Team determined that they violated the platform’s policies against the distribution of hacked materials and took action on Oct. 14, 2020, to suppress distribution of the articles.

“Per the procedures and sanctions set out in the policies, the Site Integrity Team blocked Twitter users who had previously sent Tweets sharing those articles from sending new Tweets until they deleted the Tweets violating Twitter’s policies,” Roth said.

Roth later acknowledged that it was a mistake for Twitter to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story.

“We didn’t know what to believe, we didn’t know what was true, there was smoke—and ultimately for me, it didn’t reach a place where I was comfortable removing this content from Twitter,” Roth said during a recent interview at the Knight Foundation conference.

“But it set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 ‘hack and leak campaign’ alarm bells,” Roth added, referring to a Russian cybercrime operation.

Roth was then asked if he thinks that Twitter blocking the Hunter Biden laptop story was a mistake, and he replied: “In my opinion, yes.”

In the interview, Roth was asked whether he thinks safety on Twitter had improved after Elon Musk’s takeover, to which he replied, “no.”

Musk responded to a news article fearing Roth’s remark by saying that Twitter had long failed in its trust and safety operations and interfered in elections.

“The obvious reality, as long-time users know, is that Twitter has failed in trust & safety for a very long time and has interfered in elections,” Musk said in a post on Twitter.

Elon Musk Twitter
Twitter logo and a photo of Elon Musk are displayed through a magnifier in this illustration taken on Oct. 27, 2022. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

‘General Warnings?’

Separately, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that the FBI had also warned Facebook to be on “high alert” for “Russian propaganda” ahead of the 2020 election.

Meta, which is Facebook’s parent company, issued a clarifying statement, saying in a Twitter post that remarks made by Zuckerberg to podcast host Joe Rogan were general in nature.

“The FBI shared general warnings about foreign interference—nothing specific about Hunter Biden,” the company said in the statement.

The FBI said in a statement to media outlets at the time that their warning to Facebook was of a general nature and didn’t include a call to action.

The agency said it “routinely notifies U.S. private sector entities, including social media providers, of potential threat information, so that they can decide how to better defend against threats” and that the agency “has provided companies with foreign threat indicators to help them protect their platforms and customers from abuse by foreign malign influence actors.”

However, the bureau “cannot ask, or direct, companies to take action on information received.”

Akin to Twitter’s censorship of posts sharing the Hunter Biden laptop articles, the story was also suppressed by Facebook in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election.

mark zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg speaks in New York City on Oct. 25, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

‘Incredibly Inappropriate’

Several months before Musk bought the social media platform, he said in a tweet that “suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”

More recently, Musk suggested that Twitter was acting under government orders to suppress free speech.

After earlier teasing the imminent disclosure of Twitter’s internal files on the company’s “free speech suppression,” Musk on Friday shared a thread from independent journalist Matt Taibbi, who detailed a series of internal Twitter communications that give insight into various actions taken by staff at the social media platform, including around suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story.

In one of his posts, Taibbi shared a screengrab of an internal Twitter email dated Oct. 24, 2020, which appears to show a Twitter executive sharing a list of five tweets allegedly identified by people from the campaign of then-candidate Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Taibbi wrote in a comment: “By 2020, requests from connected actors to delete tweets were routine. One executive would write to another: ‘More to review from the Biden team.’ The reply would come back: ‘Handled.’”

Musk replied to Taibbi’s tweet with the word “Handled” followed by three “fire” emojis. He later responded to his own post with the statement: “If this isn’t a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment, what is?”

The Twitter account @hodgetwins, run by a pair of conservative comedians, reacted to Musk’s tweet: “It 100 percent is, collusion between govt. and big tech to violate the First Amendment.”

That prompted Musk to respond and say that Twitter as a private entity acting on its own to suppress free speech isn’t a First Amendment violation, but “acting under orders from the government to suppress free speech, with no judicial review, is.”

The First Amendment guarantees protections for freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the White House for comment on Musk’s remarks about Twitter suppressing free speech under orders from the government.

Musk said that another portion of the so-called “Twitter Files” exposing actions on the part of the social media platform to suppress free speech is coming soon.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have vowed to investigate the president and his alleged involvement in his son’s business dealings.

Epoch Times Photo
Flanked by House Republicans, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 17, 2022. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Hunter Biden Dodges Questions

Hunter Biden was confronted by reporters from the White House press pool while attending an event at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 4, at which the elder Biden gave a speech.

White House pool reporter Geoff Earle, who posted a photo of Hunter Biden from the gathering, asked the younger Biden about the GOP probe and about Musk’s moves around the Twitter free speech suppression disclosures.

Hunter Biden “smiled and walked away” when asked the questions, according to the White House pool report.

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.