A high-profile coterie of former US military and intelligence officials who tried to discredit The Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop are now being accused of taking money from Big Tech to spread “misinformation” about antitrust legislation, The Post has learned.
In an open letter circulated to members of Congress last month, former US security brass, including Leon Panetta and James Clapper — who served as defense secretary and director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, respectively — warned that several proposed bills to rein in Big Tech could carry unintended consequences.
The antitrust bills aim to force a revamp of the business models of Google and Meta, the parent company to Facebook and Instagram, and possibly break them up.
But the open letter claims they could “hinder America’s key technology companies in the fight against cyber and national security risks emanating from Russia’s and China’s growing digital authoritarianism.”
Both Panetta and Clapper previously signed a letter portraying The Post’s Hunter Biden reporting as likely Russian “disinformation,” claiming that they were “deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case” and that it could be “Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election.”
Panetta, Clapper and several other ex-national-security officials, including Mike Morell — who served as acting CIA director under President Barack Obama and also signed the Hunter Biden letter — claimed in last month’s letter that the Russian atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine, were evidence that companies such as Google and Meta shouldn’t face greater regulation in the US lest they “enhance our adversaries’ capabilities.”
Outspoken critics of Big Tech, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), note that Clapper, Panetta and several other of the letter’s signatories neglected to mention that they work for groups funded by tech companies, including Google, Meta and Amazon.
“These signers are keen to have Big Tech censor so-called misinformation, yet these letters themselves are full of it,” Grassley told The Post. “They wanted to control the narrative then like they want to control it now: by removing all competition for Big Tech monopolists and censors.”
Buck, who’s pushing a bipartisan bill that would break up Google’s ad business, likewise said observers should follow the money when “formerly important people” defend powerful interests.
“I’m not going to question the integrity of anyone specifically,” Buck said. “But you have to look at funding and how that provides motivation.”
“There is a cottage industry of formerly important people who receive money to take positions on important issues,” he added.
Some critics say it’s actually Big Tech that poses the greatest threat to national security. They note that Google has worked with the Chinese military, that Apple stored data on Chinese servers and shared customer data with the Chinese government and that Facebook has also shared information with the Chinese government.
According to a study published Friday, Google, YouTube and Microsoft’s Bing highly rank Chinese propaganda outlets in search results.
“Any attempt for these companies to act like they are concerned about national security while attempting to do business with China is utterly laughable,” Garrett Ventry, a former aide to Grassley, told The Post. “Antitrust reform is all about creating competition which would encourage companies like Google and Apple to step up their privacy and security features to compete for consumers’ business.”
While Clapper and Panetta are the biggest names on the letter, other signatories include Jeh Johnson, Jane Harman, Michael Rogers and Frances Townsend.
Panetta and Clapper declined to comment. The other signatories did not respond to requests for comment, except for Morell, who couldn’t be reached.
As intelligence director under Obama, Clapper developed a close relationship with tech companies including Google and Facebook, which turned over user data to the FBI under his watch.
He’s now a “distinguished senior fellow for intelligence and national security” at the Center for New American Security, a think tank that has received six figures’ worth of donations from Google, Facebook and Amazon.
Panetta, who was CIA director under Obama and White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, is a senior counsel at Beacon Global Strategies, a firm that serves numerous Big Tech clients including Google.
Morell is a senior counsel at Beacon. Prior to working for Obama, Morell worked for the CIA under President George W. Bush and wrote a book defending the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other torture techniques used by the agency under Bush.
Panetta, Townsend and Morrell also sent a separate antitrust letter that circulated about six months ago.
Buck dismissed the letters as a feeble attempt to clamp down on legislation.
“It’s Big Tech’s last gasp at trying to change a few votes,” he said, “and they’re gonna lose.”