Departing from previous White House protocol, President Trump has rejected security measures which would shield his cellphone use from threats and which would make his Twitter usage and calling friends more difficult.
Unlike President Obama, who turned his White House issued phones in for evaluation once a month, Donald Trump has refused to comply with requests that he do so, saying that doing so is “too inconvenient”. He has gone as long as five months without switching out his phone, administration officials told Politico.
Politico reports that the president uses at least two iPhones issued by the military staffed White House Communications Agency, which oversees White House telecommunications. One phone is capable of making calls, while the other is set up with the Twitter app and gives access to a set of predetermined news sites. While the GPS trackers on the president’s devices have been disabled, thus preventing the president’s movements from being tracked, the call-capable phone has a camera and a microphone, features which inherently makes the President’ phone susceptible to hackers and surveillance.
One White House official told Politico the president’s refusal to switch out his phones monthly, is not a problem.
The White House declined to comment for this story, but a senior West Wing official said the call-capable phones “are seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis through routine support operations. Because of the security controls of the Twitter phone and the Twitter account, it does not necessitate regular change-out.”
Communications experts disagree with that assessment.
“Foreign adversaries seeking intelligence about the U.S. are relentless in their pursuit of vulnerabilities in our government’s communications networks, and there is no more sought-after intelligence target than the president of the United States,” said Nate Jones, former director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council in the Obama administration and the founder of Culper Partners, a consulting firm.
While the president has the authority to override or ignore the advice provided by aides and advisers for reasons of comfort or convenience, Jones said, “doing so could pose significant risks to the country.”
Donald Trump is not the first president to struggle with the desire for access to technology. George W. Bush gave up his personal email communications, knowing it posed a security risk and Barrack Obama was famously attached to his Blackberry. Obama tasked his transition team with creating a phone that would give him both necessary security and access to the world outside the White House.
Andrew McLaughlin, who helped develop President Obama’s secure military grade mobile phone, which had no camera or microphone and could not make or receive calls, says,”This would be the case of a president overruling literally the most rudimentary advice given by the communications agencies.”
Highlighting the danger of unsecured phones, Chief of Staff John Kelly’s personal phone is believed to have been compromised, likely for months before the breach was discovered. The breach was found in October 2017 after he turned his phone in to IT complaining it was not working properly. This raised concerns that foreign governments may have had access to sensitive information while Kelly was secretary of Homeland Security.
Defense Secretary Mattis is considering banning personal phones and exercise trackers at the Pentagon, warning of the threat that unsecured devices pose. His spokeswoman, Dana White, told reporters, “Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us.”
Why It Matters
President Donald Trump is using the same excuse for ignoring security protocols that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used when it was revealed that she had used her private email account to conduct State Department business: Convenience. Republicans still chant “Lock Her Up!” at Trump rallies because they believe that her using her private email account and server was criminal. And Republicans shook their heads over Obama’s need to keep his Blackberry, intuitively understanding the security risk it would pose to do so. The importance of the role of president is far more important than convenience and Republicans used to know that.
Beyond the hypocrisy and double standard in play here, Trump’s refusal to comply with basic security protocols makes him an easy target in a world the Russians and China are known to be testing our defenses on a regular basis. Donald Trump is already at risk for blackmail, thanks to his adulterous conduct with porn stars and Playboy bunnies, and when the President of the United States is vulnerable to blackmail, it puts the entire country at risk.
It is a nightmare scenario that Republicans would never tolerate from a Democratic president and one which they will have no grounds to complain about in the future after defending it on behalf of Donald Trump.