FBI shocker: Agent told boss Biden laptop could be Russian disinformation, but team knew otherwise

House Judiciary interviews reveal that the FBI knew Hunter Biden's laptop was "real" for a long time before it was portrayed by Biden camp and mainstream media as "Russian disinformation."

Published: December 26, 2023 11:00pm

The FBI agent who ran the bureau’s Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) during the 2020 election admitted in Congressional testimony that he advised his leadership that Hunter Biden’s laptop could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign, apparently unaware his team already knew that the FBI had obtained and corroborated the computer as “real,” according to interview transcripts reviewed by Just the News.

Retired FBI Special Agent Bradley Benavides' account to the House Judiciary Committee comes as congressional investigators gather mounting evidence that the government's early efforts to identify and block alleged misinformation in politics have been so haphazard as to inject inaccurate, speculative, or incomplete information themselves into the public domain.

Benavides served as the very first FBI section chief for the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), a new entity created during the 2020 election to issue warnings to other bodies in government and the private sector about possible foreign misinformation or disinformation.

“I remember a question being posed broadly if there was a laptop purported to be attributed to Hunter Biden, is it possible that a foreign adversary, like the Russians, could be using that as a way to insert into the U.S. political system false information, bad information, corrupted information, all kinds of things that could be on the laptop? Is it possible, FITF, that the Russians are capable of doing this? And my response would have been yes,” Benavides told the House Judiciary Committee in a Sept. 28 transcribed interview reviewed by Just the News.

The FBI effort has drawn increased scrutiny because its work often was cited as a basis for censorship of news and opinion content on social media during the election. The New York Times, for example, did not acknowledge the existence of the laptop or its contents until more than a year after the 2020 election.

The task force was one of the bodies cited by a federal appellate court for banning federal agencies from having censorship-related contacts with Big Tech platforms ahead of the 2024 election. The federal government continues to deny any collaboration with media in papers filed to the United States Supreme Court last week.

Benavides said he received a request for his input on the Hunter Biden laptop before the November 2020 election from Executive Assistant Director John Brown, then the No. 3 national security official at the bureau behind the Director and Deputy Director.

“It was broad,” Benavides said of the question Brown asked. “It would have been, is it possible that the Russians had the sophistication, the capabilities to potentially insert a laptop purported to be associated with Hunter Biden? It would have been a broad question based on my recollection.”

Benavides told the committee he had not done any research on the laptop beforehand and never looked further into whether the laptop was real after giving Brown his answer.

“Did you have to take anything back to your team or conduct your own analysis, or you just were able to provide an answer immediately?” the retired agent was asked.

“I would have provided the answer immediately based on my understanding of sophisticated Russian operations,” Benavides answered.

“Did you do anything else after this conversation with him?” he was pressed.

“Not that I immediately recall. Not that I recall,” he answered.

His answer has caught lawmakers’ attention, in part because a fellow FBI agent named Laura Dehmlow, who succeeded Benavides as the FITF section chief, told the same committee in her interview that task force members, including herself, already knew by fall 2020 – before the election – that Hunter Biden’s laptop had been corroborated and even told social media companies during one of the task force’s meetings in October 2020 with social media companies' executives.

“I remember having a conversation with or being involved in a conversation with Twitter, and I honestly can’t recall if this was repeated to me – I might have been a few minutes late to the meeting – or if – or if I was – I actually overheard it,” Dehmlow said in her interview. “But it was – it was relayed to me later that somebody from Twitter – I don’t recall who. I’m not sure who. Somebody from Twitter essentially asked whether the laptop was real. And one of the FBI folks who was on the call did confirm that, ‘yes, it was,’ before another participant jumped in and said, ‘no further comment.’”

“When the information was relayed to you following the Twitter call, the first agent had said the laptop was real. Just to clarify, you knew prior to that conversation that the laptop was real. Is that correct?” she was asked.

"I did, yes,” she answered.

Later Dehmlow was pressed for more details. “Do you know who else at FITF knew that the laptop was real?” a committee lawyer asked.

"I don’t actually. I would assume both my – yes, I would certainly say that Brad Benavides was aware,” she answered.

“What about the individuals on the Russia unit?” she was asked.

“I would assume the unit chief was also aware. I’m pretty certain of that fact,” she added.

Documents recently released by Congress from two IRS whistleblowers show the FBI had determined that a laptop Hunter Biden abandoned at a Delaware repair shop that was handed over to agents under a federal grand jury subpoena had been authenticated by the FBI as early as 2019 and that the possibility of Russian disinformation on it was already ruled out by early 2020.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan is pressing FBI Director Christopher Wray on the work of the FITF and other bodies created by the federal government in the name of fighting disinformation, citing testimony and documents showing federal disinformation hunters sometimes created their own false impression by making proclamations without full evidence to back it up.

For instance, 51 intelligence officials signed a letter in October 2020 claiming the Biden laptop could be Russian disinformation without citing any evidence, and memos dug up by Jordan evidence that the letter was instigated by now-Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, then a staffer with Joe Biden’s campaign, to create a “talking point” at the last presidential debate.

“The refusal of FBI officials—the very officials who knew the laptop was real—to verify the authenticity of the laptop allowed widespread censorship about an otherwise accurate news story,” Jordan wrote Wray in a letter earlier this year.

In his historic ruling in July banning federal agencies from further censorship activities with Big Tech firms, Judge Terry Doughty of the United States District Court of Louisiana singled out the FBI Foreign Influence Task Force for behavior that chilled the First Amendment’s guarantee to free speech. “A significant number of FBI officials from the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force also participate in regular meetings with social-media platforms about disinformation,” the judge noted.

He added: “The FBI was included in Industry meetings and bilateral meetings, received and forwarded alleged misinformation to social-media companies, and actually mislead social-media companies in regard to the Hunter Biden laptop story. The Court finds this evidence demonstrative of significant encouragement by the FBI Defendant.”

Benavides was asked about Dehmlow’s claims and insisted he did not know the laptop was “real” and that he did not try to determine if it was in the FBI’s hands after he gave his answer to the executive assistant director.

“I don't know what 'real' means, and I would need context for that,” he told the committee. “And I can't put myself in Laura's testimony to understand what she might have been trying to convey based on the question that was asked to her.”

Committee lawyers pressed further: “Did you have any knowledge of the FBI's possession of any laptop, regardless of whether the laptop had been authenticated, determined to be Hunter Biden's laptop, determined to be a version of Hunter Biden's laptop possibly corrupted, possession of any 24 laptop whatsoever connected to this issue?

“I was aware of a public narrative around this generally. I assessed, based on John's question, that the FBI might be in possession of the laptop. I was never told, nor would I have asked, ‘Does the FBI have this laptop?’ I would not have done that,” he answered.

Benavides also confirmed to Congress that he was part of a briefing to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson in summer 2020 that warned some of the information they were collecting in their probe of Biden family influence peddling and the millions in foreign dollars it collected might have been fanned by Russia through a Ukrainian lawmaker aligned with Putin.

“I would have been in the room for that. I would not have delivered the defensive brief,” he explained, identifying his boss, Nikki Floris, as the agent which gave the briefing.

Though an FBI agent gave the briefing, Benavides said the information in it was not derived from bureau sources or corroborated by the FBI. Rather it came from other intelligence agencies and forwarded to the FBI through an interagency body known as the Credibility Assessment Group. As such, the FBI agents simply read material unverified by the FBI to the senators. That material was provided to the FBI by other intelligence agency components through the the Office of Director of National Intelligence, he said.

“She would have read verbatim the contents of the script,” he said.

Benavides said the FBI would not authenticate the information itself but instead rely on its credibility because other agencies had vetted it.

“You cannot definitely say in this particular instance, you cannot vouch for the veracity of the intelligence,” he was asked.

“I cannot,” he answered.

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