On Wednesday, the New York Times published an article detailing the claims of former and current anonymous White House officials that when the president uses his unsecure iPhone to chat with friends, China, and Russia to a lesser extent, is eavesdropping on his private conversations.
These sources say that US intelligence reports indicate that China is listening and learning from his private gossip and gripe sessions and that the president has been warned that his personal phone is unsecure but continues to use it anyway. The Times sources say officials “can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.”
The White House sources told the Times that they are not trying to undermine President Trump, but rather spoke up out of worry for the president’s lack of concern for security during his cell phone use.
Russia, per the Times, has less of a need to spy on Trump’s personal calls, given his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, than China does.
US intelligence agencies learned that the two foreign nations were listening in on Trump’s calls via human sources within the foreign governments and from intercepted communications, according to the Times. They not only learned about the bugged conversations but also how the Chinese intends to use what they learn.
China is using Trump’s conversations to understand how to descalate the trade war between the US and China. They glean from his discussions what his thought processes are, what arguments sway him, how easily he can be talked out of a position and who has clout with him. From that, they have made a list of his friends, in particular friends who have connections with China, that they hope can be used to influence him.
White House officials told the Times that the Chinese are essentially lobbying friends of friends of the president hoping the Chinese arguments for free trade eventually reaches the White House. The Chinese, understanding President Trump’s appreciation for personal relationships, are particularly pushing for sit-downs between Trump and President Xi with the belief that face-to-face meetings could yield desired results.
Today, President Trump called the “long and boring” Times report “Fake News!” and denied using anything other than government issued phones in a pair of tweets. Notably, he did not deny the salient point of the article, which was that China and Russia are listening to his personal calls.
USA Today reports that China and Russia both have responded to the Times’ cell phone story jokingly, but did not deny it.
“In general, we already treat such publications with humor,” Russia spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said, “Seeing this report, I feel there are those in America who are working all-out to win the Oscar for best screenplay.”USA Today
Hua went on to say that US officials could switch to Chinese Huawei phones if there is concern about iPhones security.
President Trump’s cellphone usage described in the Times article lines up with what has previously been reported by The News Blender in May. CNN points out Trump’s cell phone usage has been an ongoing problem. When John Kelly came on as chief of staff and encouraged Trump to use the White House switchboard, Trump ended up making more calls on his personal phone. White House switchboard calls are logged for senior aides to see, personal cell phone calls are not.
The Times notes that aides are hopeful the president does not disclose classified information in these personal calls because he is generally uninformed about the details of covert operations or the intelligence he is given.
While Trump is protected from some potential attacks because he does not email, the texting capabilities on his official phones are disabled, and his phone is rarely on an unsecured WiFi network, security for his phone is still a serious issue.
Last year, his phone was left in a golf cart at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, causing a commotion in the efforts to find it, the Times reports. Trump also refuses to switch out his official phones (he has two: one for calls and one for tweeting) every month like he is supposed to do because doing so is inconvenient. Previous reports stated that Trump has gone as long as five months between swapping out his official phones.