- US intelligence analysts suspected at least as far back as last month that a mixture of hacked and forged emails from the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings might be dumped online as an “October surprise,” The New York Times reported Wednesday.
- Russian military-intelligence hackers successfully breached Burisma’s servers in January, The Times reported earlier this year.
- Wednesday’s report said analysts contacted people with knowledge of the hack because they were concerned “the Burisma material would be leaked alongside forged materials in an attempt to hurt” the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden.
- Earlier Wednesday, the New York Post published an article purporting to feature a “smoking-gun email” between a Burisma executive and Biden’s son Hunter.
- As Business Insider reported, the authenticity of the Post article is highly questionable, and its sourcing raises numerous red flags.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
US intelligence analysts suspected at least as far back as last month that a mixture of hacked and forged emails from the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings might be leaked online as an “October surprise” in the 2020 US election, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
News that Burisma had been hacked first surfaced in January. The Times reported then that the GRU, Russia’s main military-intelligence agency, was responsible for the breach and that its hackers had been trying to access Burisma’s servers since at least November.
After US intelligence identified plans to dump stolen emails, analysts contacted “several people with knowledge” of the Burisma hack, The Times reported.
The paper said the analysts were concerned “Burisma material would be leaked alongside forged materials in an attempt to hurt” the candidacy of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden.
Earlier Wednesday — the month after US intelligence was said to be aware of plans to release the hacked and forged material — the New York Post published a dubious story about a “smoking-gun email” between Biden’s son Hunter and a top Burisma executive.
It said the email dated from when the elder Biden was vice president and Hunter Biden was serving on the board of Burisma.
Though the authenticity of the email remains unverified, Trump and his allies have seized on the report as proof of their allegations of corruption against the Bidens, Burisma, and the Ukrainian government.
But as Business Insider reported, the story featured numerous holes and red flags:
- The Post learned of the purported emails from the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and obtained them from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
- The story cited an unidentified computer-repair-shop owner as originally obtaining the emails last year after an unidentified person dropped off a water-damaged laptop with a Beau Biden Foundation sticker on it but never picked it up.
- The shop owner is said to have made a copy of the hard drive and given it to Giuliani’s lawyer in December before turning the material over to federal authorities, the article said.
- Business Insider identified the owner as John Paul Mac Isaac, an avid Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist who could not recall the timeline of events laid out in the Post’s story, for which he was a primary source.
- The Post recycled numerous false claims about the Bidens’ connection to Burisma that have been amplified by Trump and those around him, despite their being debunked.
Trump, Giuliani, and their backers have repeatedly claimed that Joe Biden improperly used his power as vice president in 2016 to remove from his position Viktor Shokin, the Ukrainian prosecutor general.
They say Shokin was conducting a criminal investigation into Burisma while Hunter was on its board. In other words, they claimed Biden used his office to protect his family’s personal interests.
As Business Insider reported last year, that theory has some significant issues, not the least of which is the fact that Biden was representing the same position held by the US government, most of the West, and institutions like the International Monetary Fund in calling for Shokin’s firing.
The criticism of Shokin was that he wasn’t going after corruption hard enough, rather than the reverse.
Also, the Burisma investigation was also largely dormant at the time of Shokin’s ouster, as Bloomberg reported.
And, according to The Wall Street Journal, government officials and Ukrainian anticorruption advocates said Shokin had actually hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Biden entered the picture.
Per these reports, by calling for Shokin’s firing, Biden was doing the opposite of what Trump has implied: He was increasing rather than decreasing the likelihood of an investigation into Burisma.
The sequence of events around the Burisma hack resembles the Russian government’s hack-and-dump operation during the 2016 election. At the time, the GRU breached the servers of the Democratic National Committee and took thousands of emails that were damaging to then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Russian hackers then leaked the emails via the fake personas Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, as well as through WikiLeaks, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who previously served as CIA director — once described as a “tool” of the Russian government.
A US security official told The Times in January that Russian hacking attempts against Burisma “appear to be running parallel” to efforts by Russian spies in Ukraine to obtain material that might embarrass the Bidens.
Area 1, the cybersecurity firm that uncovered the Burisma attacks, said in a report that Russia’s hacking technique then bore significant parallels to the 2016 DNC hack.
Oren Falkowitz, a cofounder of Area 1 who was previously a National Security Agency employee, told The Times that the hack looked like “a repeat of Russian interference in the last election.”
The US intelligence community concluded over the summer that the Russian government was again meddling in the 2020 election in an effort to hurt the Biden campaign and boost Trump.