Special Agent Erika Jensen Did Not Look, and Did Not Find, Evidence of Tampering with the Laptop

The frothy right has gone nuts today because they took a quote out of context and believed it meant that the FBI had validated the content of the laptop.

That quote they’re using was actually a response to a colloquy between Abbe Lowell and FBI Agent Erika Jensen — who is a summary agent, and who testified she’s not a cybersecurity expert — in which she said she had not done anything to validate the laptop.

It’s not her job to validate laptops.

So she didn’t try to validate it. And having not tried, she did not find evidence of tampering.

As I noted here, it remains the case that this laptop came into evidence relying on less evidence than Lesley Wolf cited to in October 2020, just the serial number proving it had been associated with Hunter Biden’s iCloud account and an email sent to that publicly listed email.

Here’s the exchange between Lowell and Jensen.

Q. You have no reason to believe the time the FBI acquired the data from Apple, or what you just described, they changed any part of it, right?

A. Forensic examiners?

Q. Yes, the FBI, they didn’t change anything that you know of, did they?

A. No, I have a small basis of my understanding of how they work, I know they do a lot — they create images files of what would be considered the original data, so it doesn’t change the original data, but beyond that, I’m providing what I know.

Q. And the material that came into evidence that you discussed with Mr. Hines yesterday, as far as you know is the way the FBI obtained it?

A. Yes.

Q. And you indicated what you know about what they did with it, but you have no reason to believe the material that you just described yesterday, and I asked you about today, had been changed, altered, it was authentic as you understood it?

A. What I can speak to is when we obtain the data.

Q. Yes?

A. It was authentic from that point forward.

Q. And then when you provided it to us in discovery, discovery meaning you provided material to the defense, that’s the way it was sent, in the same way that you retrieved it?

A. My understanding is you received copies both of our extraction reports and of the full forensic images of the original data.

Q. I think you said, I don’t know that you identified, that as to the device, the laptop, it came into the possession of the government in December of 2019?

A. Yes.

Q. You understand that from the invoice that you showed about a repair shop that it was brought, according to the owner, in April of that year?

A. Yes. The invoice is dated in April.

Q. So can you tell what happened between the time the invoice indicates that device was brought to the shop and when the FBI acquired it six months later?

A. No.

Q. You are aware from your investigation that the person who claims to have gotten it in April indicates he made copies —

MR. HINES: Objection.

MR. LOWELL: I’ll withdraw the question.

THE COURT: Sustained.

BY MR. LOWELL: Q. Will you put up government Exhibit 40? So this is an invoice you identified yesterday, and I referred to, dated the 17th; right?

A. Yes.

Q. And you indicated that that’s one of the things you obtained from the data that was recovered and that was extracted and that you had reviewed?

A. Yes.

Q. And the date of this is the 17th; right?

A. The date of the e-mail is the 17th.

Q. But you know from your investigation that the person who sent this indicates that he got this device five days before?

A. I know from the investigation that yes, it was reported that it was April 12th.

Q. Do you have any notion of what happened in that device between April he 12th, where your investigation indicates that’s when the person acquired it, and April 17th when he sent the invoice?

A. I have some knowledge, but it’s through somebody else’s statements.

Q. So no firsthand knowledge?

A. No firsthand knowledge.

Q. Now, the last point on this. If the person acquired it in April, and the FBI says it acquired that in December, six months later, did your investigation indicate whether what was put on that machine in April was the way it was originally done by Hunter before then?

A. I’m sorry, ask that one more time.

Q. I didn’t say that right. Benchmarks. April 2019, the person says “I got the device.” Right?

A. Yes.

Q. December of 2019, the FBI acquires it?

A. Yes.

Q. What I’m asking is, did you do an analysis to determine whether on the date that this person says he got it, the data he got was in the format, content, or in any way what had originally been put there by Mr. Biden?

A. You’re asking if on the 12th the person that received it?

Q. I’m asking whatever that person got on the 12th, was the way it was originally put, do you know? Did you do an analysis? Did you find out whether any of the files had been tampered with, added to, or subtracted?

A. I did not. Right, I did not. [my emphasis]

Derek Hines then responded by getting Jensen to testify that, having not checked, she did not find whether any files had been added or tampered with.

BY MR. HINES: Q. Agent Jensen, picking up where Mr. Lowell left off, yesterday you introduced Government Exhibit 16, the laptop; correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And Mr. Lowell was asking you some questions there about whether you knew anything about tampering or something like that, for all his questions just now?

A. Yes.

Q. Have you seen any evidence whatsoever from the data you reviewed from this laptop to suggest that there was tampering?

A. No.

Q. Does the serial number on the laptop, as you discussed in your testimony yesterday, match the serial number registered with Mr. Biden’s iCloud account?

A. Yes. [my emphasis]

The exchange is useless for the purpose people want to use it.

A summary witness who is not a cybersecurity expert, who “I have a small basis of my understanding of how they work,” who was specifically directed what to look at and what not, did not “do an analysis [to] find out whether any of the files had been tampered with, added to, or subtracted?”

And having not looked, she had not, “seen any evidence whatsoever from the data you reviewed from this laptop to suggest that there was tampering.”

She didn’t look for tampering before the FBI got the laptop, and having not looked, didn’t find any tampering.

Update: Okay, this is crazypants. Remember that Jensen did less validation that Lesley Wolf did in 2020. She cited only the emailed invoice from John Paul Mac Isaac sent to Hunter Biden’s iCloud email, which is something JPMI could have sent without ever speaking to Hunter.

The invoice, as released, has no metadata.

Q. So when you looked through the materials that you just reviewed — just described, do you recall that, for example, you see an entry to an Airbnb? Did you see e-mails which reflected the rental of an Airbnb, or a rental house in that period of time, did you look at that?

A. I did not review e-mails, but beyond that —


Q. Agent, I’m going to do better starting right now. To be clear, if — you didn’t see any e-mails?

A. I did not review e-mails, beyond the few that we discussed yesterday.

Q. Okay. I’m sorry. So you did review — where did those e-mails come from?

A. So the e-mails that I — from The View, came from the Cloud. There were e-mails from the Cloud. I did not review the entire set of e-mails.

Q. So meaning you were looking for e-mails from the Cloud that said The View?

A. No. I didn’t review the full set that would have been provided to investigators after the forensic analysis.

Q. So you got from somebody else the e-mails that 102, which you identified yesterday?

A. Yes.

That emailed invoice would have been utterly useless to validate the laptop without metadata, without reviewing his emails generally.

26 replies
  1. Clare Kelly says:

    Having just witnessed Republican Senators blocking mere discussion of a bill to codify the right to contraception per Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, I desperately needed the guffaw your lede brought.

    Thank you for that, and as always, your coverage.

  2. zscoreUSA says:

    Can Hunter subpoena the actual tech FBI agents that worked on the laptop? This testimony seems ridiculous.

    • emptywheel says:

      There’s a kind of process you have to go through before you can subpoena LE. Hunter has those reports, as I think you know.

      My SUSPICION is Lowell is considering a witness or two who will raise questions. Or maybe an exhibit to show one of the government’s upcoming witnesses.

      • Shadowalker says:

        It could have something to do with this

        Rule 901. Authenticating or Identifying Evidence

        Committee Notes on Rules—2017 Amendment

        “ A proponent establishing authenticity under this Rule must present a certification containing information that would be sufficient to establish authenticity were that information provided by a witness at trial. If the certification provides information that would be insufficient to authenticate the record if the certifying person testified, then authenticity is not established under this Rule.

        The reference to the “certification requirements of Rule 902(11) or (12)” is only to the procedural requirements for a valid certification. There is no intent to require, or permit, a certification under this Rule to prove the requirements of Rule 803(6). Rule 902(14) is solely limited to authentication, and any attempt to satisfy a hearsay exception must be made independently.

        A certification under this Rule can only establish that the proffered item is authentic. The opponent remains free to object to admissibility of the proffered item on other grounds—including hearsay, relevance, or in criminal cases the right to confrontation. For example, in a criminal case in which data copied from a hard drive is proffered, the defendant can still challenge hearsay found in the hard drive, and can still challenge whether the information on the hard drive was placed there by the defendant.

        A challenge to the authenticity of electronic evidence may require technical information about the system or process at issue, including possibly retaining a forensic technical expert; such factors will affect whether the opponent has a fair opportunity to challenge the evidence given the notice provided.”

  3. Upisdown says:

    As for the frothy right, there is “the content of the laptop”, and then there is the Murdoch media version of the content of the laptop. Although there are drug and dik pix, Murdoch billed the laptop as smoking gun evidence of Biden business corruption because of this email:

    “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,”

    In no reality grounded universe is that email evidence of corruption on its own. It only survives when linked to the debunked accusations of Hunter being unqualified and Burisma trying to shut down the non-existent Shokin investigation. Both of those are lies.

    • zscoreUSA says:

      Speaking of Shokin, Hannity failed to get that interview as Parnas was being arrested while working on a project for Rudy.

      What are the odds that one of Hannity’s producers, who was probably part of coordinating with Shokin, would 1 year later pen the NY Post article (her 1st ever!) putting the laptop into the public domain?

        • zscoreUSA says:

          Tie that in with Mac Isaac. What are the odds that Mac Isaac Sr. visits the FBI in Albuquerque a couple of hours before the failed attempt to launder Hunter’s digital material falls apart with Parnas and Fruman arrest?

          Mac Isaac drafts the letter to Rudy in October 2018 and is wishy washy on when he sent it.

          In an interview with the Daily Caller Rudy says October/November 2018 that Costello went down to Mac Isaac in Delaware to check out the situation, roughly “six months” after Mac Isaac came into possession of the laptop.

          There’s a lot of coincidences and stories not jiving. Or syncing, maybe syncing is a better word, given the context.

        • zscoreUSA says:

          And also tie in the reporter who would go on to print the book Laptop From Hell, and be one of, if not the most, authoritative face of Hunter Biden narratives.

          What are the odds that she would be imported to NY Post from Australia in July 2019 to “cover the 2020 election” for 18 months, would then bring in the Hannity producer to join her in April 2020; as Mac Isaac’s family pitches of the laptop to Solomon and others is fizzling, then later becomes the bridge between Rudy and the NY Post editor to approve the story, but leaves her name off the article due to “trepidations” and concerns her communications with Rudy have been swept up in warrants, but luckily has the young Hannity producer ready to report and put her name on the article?

  4. Fancy Chicken says:

    Held my nose and watched a Faux segment from this afternoon claiming it was now proven Hunter’s laptop was authentic.

    Guessing that was just spin and now reading this post I have a terrible fear that Faux is ginning up their base to expect a conviction. Should Hunter not be convicted it will be hammered by Faux, the GQP and Trump that this proves (that word again) that the justice system is irreparably rigged for Biden and against Trump.

    That would have some real power to push people towards violence. I hope I am wrong.

    • dopefish says:

      Of course they are, but why would you expect anything else? The RWNM is so firmly within their own bubble of reality that they believe their own bullshit. And unfortunately, people like Justice Alito seem to imbibe enough of it that over time they also start to believe that bullshit.

      There has always been yellow journalism, but the current moment with everyone self-selecting the media that tells them what they want to hear, feels like something else. Its not just on the right, although I think its much more obvious there. This lack of a common grounding in the actual reality we all live in, is a really big problem. And the lack of political incentives to centrism and compromise is also a big problem.

      • David Masterson says:

        The basic reason is the Joseph Goebbels principle of repeating a lie often enough will make it the truth. Everybody pulls victim to it from time to time. It takes a lot a lot of willpower to continually look for the truth.

  5. thebutlerjay says:

    Was the laptop ever connected to the internet? It sounds like the invoice was taken from cloud data, based on the update. But I’m curious if it was also on the laptop – meaning someone connected it to the internet. Do we know if JPMI did that? I just checked on my apple laptop and it has a record of every network (secure and not) that I’ve connected to using any device connected to my icloud account over the last 10 years (well, it doesn’t anymore…cleared the history… because…well…wow), so there could potentially be a record if anyone connected a device to suspect networks, not just on the laptop, but any device signed into hunters iCloud. Admittedly with the mess of Hunter’s digital life, it might be hard to sort through and figure out what might be valid.

  6. wa_rickf says:

    What’s happening within our federal court system – at least in the prominent court cases – these days is just sickening. Then there are the lies and the Rwing media spin promoting false realities and false hope – it’s all getting to be too much.

    Perhaps we as a country are destined to be a failed democratic republic of We The People; and instead, a country run by corrupt, rich authoritarian fascists. That certainly seems to be where we are headed.

    • Krisy Gosney says:

      I think this country has most always been a mix of both. The plan and power of the current Christian Fascists is making us Fascist heavy right now.

      • Harry Eagar says:

        I can see why younger people would think that, but when I was young, coerced Christian prayers were recited in many public school classroom. Nowadays, the coerced religion faction is trying to smuggle copies of the Ten Commandments onto the classroom wall next to the antidrug messages that no kid pays any attention to. Pretty small beer.

        While I am not very optimistic about the future of democracy, when I grew up we had hardly any. That Overton window got moved far to the left (if pro-democracy is a left idea, which it used to be.)

        • wa_rickf says:

          @ Harry Eagar | The founding fathers were students of the Age of Enlightenment – hardly a conservative “maintain the status quo” philosophy. In other words, our country was founded on progressive principles.

          Why conservatives are trying to make the United States of America something that it did not start out to be, is beyond me.

          If conservatives don’t like the United States being a progressive country, then they should move somewhere else, and quit bastardizing our country with regressive politicians and regressive judges trying to make our country into something that it was not intended to be.

  7. Peterr says:

    I am not qualified to forensically examine a computer, either. I also did not examine this computer, and I also did not personally find any evidence of tampering.

  8. EuroTark says:

    It feels like the correct question on cross-examination would be “Would you have recognized signs of tampering if they were present?”

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