A US government-funded nonprofit known as “the mountain retreat for the liberal elite” sponsored a “tabletop exercise” intended to influence coverage of a leak of documents related to Hunter Biden, the latest installment of Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files” reveals.
In a series of tweets Monday, independent journalist Michael Shellenberger posted confidential documents from the Aspen Institute’s September 2020 event, which he said was attended by Twitter’s then-head of trust and safety, Facebook’s head of security policy and top national security reporters from The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The exercise by the “Aspen Digital Hack-and-Dump Working Group” involved an 11-day scenario in October 2020 that began with the imaginary release of falsified records related to Hunter Biden’s controversial employment by the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which paid him as much as $1 million a year to serve on its board when his father was vice president.
“The goal was to shape how the media covered it — and how social media carried it,” Shellenberger wrote.
But the drill was put into practical use weeks later, when The Post broke the news about Hunter Biden’s infamous laptop — which was either ignored or downplayed by most mainstream news outlets and suppressed by both Twitter and Facebook.
While they derided the reporting as potential disinformation well after the story broke, some two years later major news organizations including the Times and The Washington Post chose to authenticate key emails from the laptop and both Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have since admitted it was wrong to crack down on The Post’s reporting.
In a message sent just three days after The Post’s Oct. 14, 2020, scoop, journalist and author Garrett Graff apparently reached out to fellow participants in the Aspen Institute exercise.
“Stephen was right!” he wrote.
Graff, whose latest book is “Watergate: A New History,” didn’t immediately return a request for comment and it’s unclear who “Stephen” is.
The exercise was organized by Vivian Schiller, a former top executive at National Public Radio, Twitter, The New York Times and NBC News, Shellenberger reported.
Since January 2020, she’s been the executive director of Aspen Digital, which its parent organization says “empowers policymakers, civic organizations, companies, and the public to be responsible stewards of technology and media in the service of an informed, just, and equitable world.”
Neither Schiller nor an institute spokesperson returned The Post’s requests for comment Monday.
A 2019 report by The Economist magazine described the Aspen Institute — which sponsors weeklong seminars and an annual, 10-day “Ideas Festival” favored by celebrities, business leaders and politicians — as “the mountain retreat for the liberal elite” and said that waiting in line for a buffet lunch “felt like being trapped on the front page of the New York Times.”
The US State Department sponsors the Aspen-run “Stevens Initiative” student-exchange program, which in 2020 announced up to $10 million in grants and is named after the late Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, who was killed in the 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi.
A 2020 report by the Center for International Policy ranked the Aspen Institute No. 5 on a list of US think tanks that receive foreign funding, with more than $8 million coming from “primarily Western democracies, as well as “undemocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
But a leaked, 2015 recording of an Aspen Institute speech in which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended racial profiling by cops helped torpedo his 2020 presidential campaign and New York Times columnist David Brooks was forced to resign from a paid position with the organization last year due to a conflict of interest because he wrote about its “Weave Project,” which was initially funded by Facebook and others.
The institute — which reported more than $151 million in revenue in 2020 and had more than $352 million in net assets, according to its latest IRS filing — receives “substantial funding” from groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its top donors include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, a frequent backer of Democratic candidates, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ parents, Jacklyn and Miguel Bezos.
Its list of contributors also features former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who served under then-President Bill Clinton, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, US Ambassador to Norway Marc Nathason, former Biden administration coronavirus czar Jeffrey Zients and ex-US Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.)