During an Oct. 13 Fox News interview, former CIA Director Leon Panetta tried to play the game of plausible deniability regarding his role in a disinformation effort relating to the infamous laptop belonging to Hunter Biden. When asked if he regretted signing the now-discredited letter claiming that the material recovered from the laptop bore “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation,” Panetta ducked and dodged. He was one of 51 Intelligence Community (IC) officials and former officials who signed that letter. The man who helped bring them together has since admitted they had no proof the laptop was a Russian operation and that his intention was to help elect Joe Biden to the White House. Panetta remains unrepentant even though he is now unable to defend the false claim under which he put his name.
The letter in question contained nothing to support its central premise that the Russians had likely planted the laptop or had somehow manipulated or falsified information contained on it. In fact, the IC officials even stated that “we do not have evidence of Russian involvement.” The signatories were presumably relying on the idea that their collective decades of experience in the intelligence business would place their allegation beyond dispute. Thus, they would have successfully discredited a story that may very well have altered the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The Hunter Biden Disinformation Campaign
Not too long after the disputed election, the Russian disinformation story fell apart. Several left-leaning media outlets eventually verified that the Hunter Biden laptop was the genuine article, containing real and incriminating evidence of his questionable overseas business activities.
While giving testimony on Capitol Hill, one of the letter’s architects, former CIA officer Michael Morell, revealed that his primary aim was “to help” Vice President Biden “because I wanted him to win the election.”
Panetta, who is also a former secretary of defense, told Fox’s Bret Baier that he had been concerned about Russia’s efforts to influence a US election. “Frankly,” Panetta told Baier, “I haven’t seen any evidence from any intelligence agency that that was not the case.” The Intelligence Community has produced no evidence that Russia’s relatively insignificant efforts to interfere in US elections have yielded any measurable results. If he was being honest, this veteran of Democrat administrations would have also noted this fact.
Intelligence agencies did not even find evidence that Russian disinformation had any effect on American voters in 2016.
Russia Derangement Syndrome?
This is where the plausible deniability came in. Panetta was not about to admit he signed that letter knowing that the claim it made was unfounded. “You don’t think that [the laptop] was real?” Baier asked him. “I think that disinformation is involved here,” Panetta evaded. “I think Russian disinformation is part of what we’re seeing everywhere.” He went on, “No, I don’t have any regrets about not trusting the Russians.” It was a cop-out, so to speak. Rather than implicate himself in the plot to discredit the Hunter Biden laptop story – and rather than admit that he shouldn’t have put his name to that letter – Panetta merely made some vague claims about Russian activities that cannot be quantified in any way. His hands are clean, he implied, because the Russians have been known to do this kind of thing, we believe.
The governments of several First World countries, along with the United Nations, have made a big deal about disinformation and how it poses a practically existential threat to democracy. Yet, some of these same governments have been the chief purveyors. The letter signed by many of the most senior IC officials like Panetta was disinformation, clearly. It contained an allegation about the Hunter Biden laptop that was based on no evidence and that later turned out to be untrue. Surely, that would fall under the heading of textbook disinformation. While politicians and intelligence officials bemoan the dire consequences of foreign disinformation efforts on American elections, voters might want to consider the deceptive influence those same people are wielding with their own disinformation campaigns.