Ex-top Twitter executive Yoel Roth revealed key new information about the Big Tech company’s Hunter Biden laptop censorship in 2020 came from another tech company, not the FBI.
The New York Post reported in October 2020 that emails from the laptop showed evidence of shady business dealings by the son of President Joe Biden tied to Ukraine and China. When the publication attempted to post the articles on its Twitter account, the social media company said doing so violated its rule against sharing “hacked” materials.
Roth, the former Twitter global head of trust and safety, was among a trio of former Twitter executives involved in the decision-making surrounding Twitter’s laptop censorship who testified in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday.
In December 2020, Roth detailed meetings he had with the FBI and the intelligence community in the lead-up to the 2020 election, and he had claimed he learned in those “meetings” about “rumors” that a “hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.” But on Wednesday, Roth said the rumor had not originated with the intelligence community but from some other yet-unnamed company at one of the meetings.
“Since 2018, I have had regular meetings with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and industry peers regarding election security,” Roth said in a December 2020 declaration to the Federal Election Commission. “During these weekly meetings, the federal law enforcement agencies communicated that they expected ‘hack-and-leak operations’ by state actors might occur in the period shortly before the 2020 presidential election, likely in October.”
Roth added in late 2020: “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. … I also learned in these meetings that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”
Despite the clear implication by Roth in 2020 that the source of these “rumors” in multiple “meetings” was the intelligence community, he said Wednesday that the rumors only came up in one meeting and that the source of the rumor was not federal law enforcement.
“I want to clarify that sentence slightly. … It is true that in meetings between industry and law enforcement, law enforcement discussed the possibility of a hack-and-leak campaign in the lead-up to the election, and in one of those meetings, it was discussed, I believe by another company, that there was a possibility that that hack-and-leak could relate to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” Roth testified Wednesday. “I don’t believe that perspective was shared by law enforcement — they didn’t endorse it, they didn’t provide that information in that meeting.”
Roth added later in the hearing that “a representative of another tech company may have mentioned it” but “I truly don’t recall.”
Roth repeatedly said on Wednesday that “one of the animating concerns for us” during the 2020 election generally, and specifically related to the Hunter Biden laptop stories by the New York Post in October 2020, was his belief that Twitter had not properly responded to Russian disinformation efforts on Twitter in 2016, and a desire not to make the same alleged mistake in 2020.
The former official said that “Twitter and other tech companies worked to build closer information-sharing relationships with law enforcement such as the FBI” to deal with “threats” posed by Russian disinformation efforts similar to those in 2016.
“For nearly two years, we had engaged in scenario planning exercises for potential risks tied to the elections, and one of them appeared to be happening that day,” Roth testified. “Now, again, I think the facts were complicated, and I do believe Twitter made a mistake then, but our judgment was colored by the experience of 2016 and by the very real Russian activities that we saw play out that year.”
Roth said Twitter “erred in this case” related to Hunter Biden “because we wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016.”
“In 2020, the Trust and Safety team noticed activity related to the laptop popping up on Twitter, and that activity, at first glance, bore a lot of similarities to the 2016 Russian hack and leak operation,” Roth testified. “The company’s initial assessment was that the activity bore enough similarities to the 2016 hack-and-leak that it warranted enforcement.”
Roth also told Jordan the FBI didn’t tell him the Hunter Biden information was fake nor the result of a hack. Roth testified later in the day that he never reached out to the FBI to see if the Hunter Biden stories by the New York Post were related to what the FBI and the intelligence community had been warning Twitter about in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
“I think you guys wanted to take it down,” Jordan told Roth. “I think you guys got played by the FBI. And that’s the scary part.”
Konstantinos “Gus” Dimitrelos, a cyber forensics expert and former Secret Service agent, conducted an examination of the laptop for the Washington Examiner in 2022, concluding that “there is a 100% certainty that Robert Hunter Biden was the only person responsible for the activity on this hard drive” and “the hard drive is authentic.”