How Hunter Biden's Laptop Became a Conspiracy Theory Rosetta Stone
How many people have a copy of Hunter's hard drive? What will they find? Whatever it is they want you to think they’ve found. How the “hard drive” is becoming the Rosetta Stone of conspiracy theories
When the Steele Dossier was released by Buzzfeed in January 2017, it was as if a name was finally given to what many of us were already thinking. We heard Donald Trump ask for Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s missing emails in the summer of 2016. We had seen the Trump tweets lavishing praise on Putin, including the one that asked if Putin would be Don’s best friend. Then there was the release of DNC emails by WikiLeaks, a thinly veiled hack-and-release operation orchestrated by Russia’s intelligence services. There were further causes for concern, if you wished to dig down the rabbit hole. We saw Trump defend Putin even after a UK court said he “probably” ordered the assassination of Russian exile and dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium. We knew about the political advisers who had made weirdly sympathetic statements about Putin and Russian causes. There was the RT gala event in Moscow where Mike Flynn was paid $34,000 to speak and was photographed at the same table as Putin. Then there were the somewhat obscure and difficult to piece together Russian mafia connections, and the trips by Trump and his kids to Moscow over the years. It all added up to something, but we weren’t quite sure what until Christopher Steele’s memo—which we’re now told was never meant to be publicly released—was dumped in our laps days before Donald Trump’s inauguration as President.
But what became of all that? Trump has framed the dossier as a deliberate attempt to sabotage his presidency and agenda. There’s a case to be made for that statement ringing true, but the former president’s detractors would respond that there was more than enough circumstantial evidence to warrant further investigation. The convictions of Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates and Tom Barrack prove this point quite convincingly. There was something worth uncovering. The investigations, ongoing media coverage and convictions along the way connected pieces of a puzzle that we (myself very much included) hoped might one day be completed and show us the obscured image we could only yet guess at. Today, now five and a half years later, is the image any clearer? It’s perhaps more complete, but the interpretation of the image—indeed what people see when they look at it themselves—could not be any more varied, depending on your personal beliefs and, as is so often the case now, your political affiliation. We know so much more about Trump and Putin’s Kremlin today, but what has all that knowledge changed for the better?
On September 14, 2022, the New York Times reported that John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe is in the process of winding down without any real successes. Does that matter? Donald Trump once claimed that, the Durham Report should "reveal corruption at a level never seen before in our country.” It’s quite clear now that isn’t going to happen, and Durham’s quest to link Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the Steele Dossier to the FBI’s Russia probe will end in a whimper. Still, will Durham’s failure to do much of anything convince any of Trump’s diehard supporters to abandon him? Or have they already forgotten Durham existed? Durham’s investigation filled a necessary place in the right-wing imagination for several years, but isn’t the hope for justice now replaced with ever-more resentment towards the media, the FBI and the “globalist elites”? I think perhaps the lesson now is to stop putting our hopes in partisan political stunts dressed up as earth-shattering investigations which will upend the world as we know it. As I type this, the story surrounding Hunter Biden’s laptop is already on its way down this same route. To understand how, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Let’s remember how the discussion about Hunter Biden’s laptop began
If you look back to the starting point of the Hunter Biden laptop story, which took off in September 2020, you quickly realize that everyone involved has a foreign intelligence problem. The three primary architects of the Trumpian smear campaign—Rudy Giuliani, Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon—each have their own problems here. Throughout 2019 and 2020, Rudy Giuliani worked with OANN and a Ukrainian named Andriy Derkach to smear both Joe and Hunter Biden for supposed corrupt dealings in Ukraine. Derkach, his associate Andrii Telizhenko—who himself made multiple appearances on OANN to discuss the Bidens—and two other men were later indicted by the Justice Department for running a Kremlin influence operation intended to affect the outcome of the 2020 election. Guo Wengui—the fake Chinese dissident who admitted to sending a signed letter to Chinese leader Xi Jinping promising not to expose too much dirt on the Chinese Communist Party—was actually the first individual to publicize the upcoming series of stories on Hunter Biden’s laptop through his media company Himalaya Global. In addition to targeting actual dissidents of the Chinese Communist Party, Guo has also been the architect of a sprawling disinformation operation and his media companies were fined $539 million after soliciting donations for unregistered securities in the form of nonexistent digital tokens called G-Coins. At times, Guo has been the primary financier of Steve Bannon’s media operations. Lest we forget that while Steve Bannon was the head of the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, Bannon reportedly, “ordered Cambridge Analytica staff to test messaging around Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian expansion in 2014.”None of this proves Hunter Biden is innocent in all this, nor does it prove Russian or Chinese intelligence had anything to do with releasing his laptop or the information contained within it. In fact, Hunter received at least $4.7 million from individuals associated with Chinese oil and natural gas company CEFC Energy. CEFC maintained partnerships with Chinese military intelligence and a former executive at CEFC named Patrick Ho was indicted in a bribery scheme which was meant to advance the Chinese government’s positions in Africa. Ho worked on the same failed deal in Louisiana which CEFC paid Hunter Biden to work on as well. All of this information was gleaned from Hunter’s laptop hard drive. However, where the facts end in the stories that came from information supposedly obtained from the laptop and where the inauthentic information added on later begins is a matter for debate. In the recent New York Magazine profile, the initial source for the laptop’s hard drive—a computer repairman named John Paul Mac Isaac—said, “his sense of honor compelled him to say that the child-porn rumors were untrue and that some widely circulated images attributed to the laptop were phony: ‘The Lady Gaga foot-massage thing? That’s fake.’” Mac Isaac is also quoted in the piece as saying, “I can’t imagine how many hands and fingers have touched that drive.”
In truth, the laptop’s hard drive has changed hands so many times—and an unknown number of copies exist in the world—that simply seeing an image or a document claiming to have been taken directly from the hard drive may lead to as many questions as answers. Some of the material on the hard drive of data once resided on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Perhaps most or nearly all of the material on there is real and legitimate, but at this point, any investigator or prosecutor looking at the hard drive would need independent corroboration from another source or a forensic examination of each individual item to be able to verify its authenticity and thus use it as evidence. Was the legally blind computer repairman really the first person to receive the information on the laptop? Did Hunter Biden really leave his laptops at Mac Isaac’s shop, only to forget about them later in a haze of alcohol and crack cocaine? Probably. That is the most likely explanation, and that’s probably what happened. As it stands today, that’s as certain was we can be.
As Olivia Nuzzi and Andrew Rice outlined in the New York Magazine piece, Hunter’s lawyers are pursuing all possible angles to discredit the origins of the laptop story and any information contained therein. This includes a theory involving Hunter’s therapist, Keith Ablow, who is himself a known associate of Roger Stone (Stone worked on Ablow’s political campaign years ago and wrote the foreword for Ablow’s recent book titled Trump Your Life). Is such a series of events possible? Sure, it’s possible, and Stone has shown us that he’s not above being involved in an operation like this. However, this theory contains only flimsy circumstantial evidence. I find it more likely Stone wants credit for something he didn’t do, or he’s intentionally muddying the waters for the hell of it. It’s not impossible Stone played some kind of background role in the laptop story—his protégé Jack Posobiec was very busy in October 2020 hyping this information on OANN and his Twitter account—but the current evidence points back to Giuliani, Guo and Bannon. After all, Posobiec has become a semi-regular on Bannon’s network over the last few years, so even if he came up with Stone, he didn’t need Roger to carry any of this out.
What’s the point of this obsession over Hunter Biden’s laptop? What are they trying to get you to believe?
Even if Hunter Biden gets indicted—and let’s be honest, he really might be—the likelihood is the charges are going to stem from the parameters of the current investigation CNN has outlined, the one that’s real and that we actually know exists. That investigation started in 2018 and is focused on potential tax violations and Hunter making false statements related to a gun purchase. To be clear, crimes may have been committed here, and the tax violations, according to an earlier CNN article have led investigators to look into, “whether Hunter Biden and his associates violated tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries, principally China”. Hunter admits to accepting a 2.8-carat diamond from the head of CEFC, Ye Jianming, which his ex-wife estimated was worth $80,000 (though Hunter claimed its value was around $10,000). This is corruption and influence peddling at best, and Hunter might have to plead guilty or face a conviction. If that happens, try to picture Steve Bannon’s show the next day. Recent posts on Bannon’s America’s Voice feature titles such as 'Is Joe Biden Compromised By China From Hunter's Influence Peddling?' and 'Do You Need Anymore Proof that Biden is Controlled By China?' Now imagine what those headlines would look like if Hunter is indicted for anything. HUNTER BIDEN INDICTED, DOES JOE BIDEN FEAR HE’LL BE REVEALED AS A CHINESE AGENT NEXT? Because of course, Bannon needs his audience to believe his anti-China crusades financed by the fake Chinese dissident Guo Wengui are very real and totally legitimate. As CNN and every other reputable outlet has stated, Joe Biden is not implicated in any current investigation into Hunter Biden, and while Joe could absolutely be tougher on China and Xi Jinping, the same can be said for several previous administrations. Remember, Trump talked tough on China but was soft in practice. The latest stirrings related to the laptop are the machinations of a shit peddler who was indicted for defrauding his MAGA donors who wanted to build a wall. Bannon was pardoned for this by Trump and then recently indicted for the same scheme again, this time at the state level. To put it bluntly, Hunter Biden is under investigation for money laundering, but Steve Bannon has already been indicted for money laundering. Aren’t distractions fun?
To be clear, there are real counterintelligence questions which should be asked of Hunter Biden’s influence operation posing as consulting work. Did Joe Biden take money from a Chinese intelligence cut-out? Maybe (but there’s no evidence of this). Did Joe know about it? Maybe (but there’s no evidence of this). There’s nothing that’s verified as authentic in the laptop (or anywhere else) to say one way or another what the final story is going to be here. It really is possible there’s something to all this, and if these facts are proven in the future, obviously that’s very bad and deeply concerning!
The point I’m trying to get across here is the main architects of the Hunter Biden laptop story do not actually care about these real and legitimate concerns. They have found a narrative they can use to grow their audience and solicit more donations. If the official investigations of Hunter end without any charges being brought, Bannon and friends will cover the unofficial, dubiously valid subsequent investigations coming out of various factions on social media. In addition to these unofficial investigations, they’ll bang their audience over the head with another point. It’ll go something like this, “we all know Hunter Biden is guilty, but the Deep State is protecting Joe in collaboration with the Dems, the globalist corporate elite and the mainstream media.” Essentially, there is going to no real resolution to the laptop-related stories. If Hunter is indicted, they’ll draw conclusions far beyond what the indictment reads, make promises about what’s coming next far beyond the scope of reality. If Hunter isn’t indicted, however, it’s another cover-up by the all-powerful “THEM” who control everything the MAGA crowd does not like about the world. The Hunter Biden saga is whatever the right wants it to be. What matters is people keep talking about it. What matter is what it could uncover. What matters is who else could be implicated. The findings won’t be the end of the story. One investigation will beget another, less credible investigation, and most importantly, donate to Steve Bannon’s outrage machine which the Chinese Communist Party definitely hates because Steve Bannon and the fake Chinese dissident who funds him said so.
Where we may be going from here.
While grifting for donations covers some of the motivation here, I think the chaos and confusion need to be considered as well. Rather than clarifying Trump’s relationship to Russia, the Steele Dossier ended up muddying the waters of any investigations that really could’ve clarified what was going on there. Think about it. How did the Steele Dossier end up helping Bob Mueller or the Senate Intelligence Committee’s much more thorough five-volume report on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election? It’s difficult to argue the Dossier helped clarify anything. What if the same turns out to be true of the MAGA narratives related to Hunter Biden’s laptop? Steve Bannon’s quotes in the New York Magazine profile are illuminating here. Bannon said of the laptop, “It’s got talismanic powers,” he said. “If you really understand what you’ve got, the talisman, you understand that it unlocks everything that you ever wanted. It’s got the answers.” It’s the kind of comment that wouldn’t be out of step with the craziest anti-Trump #Resistance conspiracy theories or the even crazier QAnon pro-Trump posts over the years. The laptop is going to “unlock everything that you ever wanted” just like Trump is going to round up all the pedophiles and send Obama to a holding cell at GITMO (or Steve Bannon’s “espionage” could result in the death penalty). Hunter Biden’s laptop is a prop for Steve Bannon, the “Leninist” who wants to “flood the zone with shit”, so he can do his part to turn up the dial on the chaos we’re already experiencing. He may not be working for the authoritarian states that wish to undermine Western democracies, but he shares the same goals.
Hunter Biden really might be indicted, and if he’s committed crimes, that’s great. I’m glad to hear it. If Joe Biden is somehow proven to have knowingly taken money from foreign governments that influenced his stated positions while Vice-President or President, that’s very bad! We should look into that! Hire a special counsel even!
We know the laptop was real, and we know the information on it—the real, original information—assisted an already (as of 2018) ongoing federal investigation. Could there be more verifiable information on the hard drive that could end up really causing the Bidens grief? Absolutely. But which hard drive? Whose? As New York Magazine hinted at, Bannon, Jack Maxey, Kim DotCom and WikiLeaks all have their own copies of the hard drive.
How many others have it? What will they find? Whatever it is they want you to think they’ve found. The “hard drive” is in the process of becoming the Rosetta Stone of conspiracy theories.
Steve Bannon isn’t selling his audience on a fact-finding mission. He’s telling them he found the Holy Grail. He’s selling them a QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theory complete with months and possibly years of “revelations” and “potential findings” moving forward to a steady drumbeat on a path to nowhere. These fever-dreams will probably one day culminate in another Durham-like special counsel who will give the claims made by right-wing media a whiff of legitimacy with their audience. Forgetting the first Durham’s failure, the new Durham is coming soon. “He’s out there,” the QAnon accounts and the QAnon-adjacent MAGA folks will tell us, “and he’s coming for the truth.” But Durham 1.0 has been a complete bust. His one guilty plea resulted in probation. His lone prosecution so far resulted in an acquittal. He lost, despite years of work, a dedicated team and God-only-knows how much money. Durham was essentially tasked with proving the Steele Dossier was a Deep State machination to sabotage Trump and elect Hillary Clinton. So, why try it all again? Because some people like to watch the world burn.
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