Mar-A-Lago and National Security

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Feb 14, 2017(San Diego) What happened on Saturday at the Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida was one national security violation after another. The weekend was supposed to be about informal conversations between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald J Trump. During the day some issues had nothing to do with the principals. The traveling press was kept away from the principals and the only photo of them golfing emerged from somebody’s cell phone. These cell phones were to have a critical role later in the day.

The evening was to close with a formal dinner at the dining hall in the estate, and it is in the midst of the Trump wedge salad that things became strange. North Korea launched a missile, another test in a program to develop Intercontinental capacity. They probably did it that day for three reasons:

  • Trump said that they would never do that again.
  • The two principals were together 
  • South Korea is having a crisis in its civilian government.

The first was a strange threat. If there is something Kim Jun Un does not take well to is to be told no. He runs the hermit kingdom with an iron fist, and he does see the United States as an existential threat to his government. We could write large tracts as to whether he is right or paranoid, but this proved that he was going to defy the new president. This has happened like clockwork for many years now, so this should not have come as any surprise. Every new president is tested by the North Koreans. It happens relatively early in their administrations.

The second is also quite transparent. There is no love lost between Pyongyang and Tokyo. So this was also an extended middle finger to the Japanese government, that has brought forces to alert status before when the DPRK tests their military assets. Mostly, they tend to fire at the Sea of Japan. The Japanese are also testing ground to air missiles due to this threat.

Then there is South Korea, which has recently impeached their president. The North Koreans have threatened to invade South Korea many times, and the tension in the demilitarized zone is always high. The US has threatened, in their eyes, to deploy ground to air, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)  missiles,. These are meant to intercept whatever North Korea launches towards the South. The distances are so short that Seul is within long range artillery batteries. In the case of a ground war, that city could potentially be destroyed.

There are procedures for when crisis explode in the middle of polite dinner conversation. The first is that the wedge salad, however delicious it might be, would be packed to go, or left on the plate. The second is that the principals should have walked over to a secured room available on the grounds. Every president will have one of these built at their secondary residence if that is not Camp David. This is part of the standard security package that comes to the taxpayer for any new President. If they chose to take days off at Camp David, designated as a military preserve already, then that is already there. This room will replicate some, if not all, of the capabilities of the situation room in the White House. At the very least it will replicate all of the security features of the situation room. Meaning, they are isolated as far as signals intelligence and other means of spying,

However, this is not what happened. I guess that salad was too good. They literally started bringing out documents and making calls in a dining room full of other diners. There is more. Two aides, Steve Bannon and now former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn used their cell phones to illuminate the scene because they could not bother other diners I suppose with either kicking them out or bringing the lights up.

There are two problems with this. Your cell phone and my cell phone have a camera on it. They can be hacked, and they can be used to take photos of those documents and send them to the hacker. Secondarily, they have both video and audio capability. They can be hacked to listen into some of the most sensitive conversations in the world. When the Barack Obama administration came in, he was forced by national security experts to give up his loved blackberry. Never mind that those were actually encrypted, and are considered among the best encrypted civilian phones in the world. The system is still that good, eight years on. President Trump is still using his Galaxy, which is an Android device. It is an older device as well, and it is not secured. There are problems with this. Having his aides use cell phones in a nonsecured environment while they handled a small crisis is not keeping the country safe.

During the campaign, Trump made a point of reminding all of us that Hillary Clinton had a private server that was likely hacked. He also made a point of telling us that she shared material that was classified with people who should not have access to it, among them Sidney Blumenthal. Those were valid critiques. However, he is not living by those standards. What happened at Mar-A-Lago should be subjected to at the very least an in-depth security review. The president should pack his loved Android device away, and stop putting national security at risk.

We covered the server issue during the campaign. We believed that it was severe enough to warrant attention from the press. It raised red bells in our minds about the commitment to security by a potential Clinton administration. We are now raising the same concerns with the Trump administration. They are showing a lack of understanding of national security, or how important those procedures are to it.

There is another possibility, that would be even more disturbing. They do not care about those procedures, and there are ulterior motives to that.

We must also now add that the Russians have a signals intelligence ship patrolling the East Coast of the United States. This is according to CBS news. This would place the port of call as Havana, which is very near Mar-A-Lago.

Edited to add information relevant to the story.

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