Trump’s White House Is a Security Nightmare

Donald Trump often refers to Mar-a-Lago as the “Southern White House.” As such, a story like this is rather alarming.

Federal authorities are investigating possible Chinese intelligence operations targeting President Donald Trump and his private Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, sources familiar with the never-before-reported investigation told the Miami Herald Wednesday.

The federal counter-intelligence probe was turbo-charged on Saturday when U.S. Secret Service agents arrested a Chinese woman, Yujing Zhang, after they said she tried to enter the club with a bevy of electronic devices, including a thumb drive infected with “malicious malware.”

The ongoing investigation has also recently focused on Li “Cindy” Yang, the sources told the Miami Herald. Yang is a South Florida massage parlor entrepreneur who has promoted events at Mar-a-Lago with ads targeting Chinese business executives hoping to gain access to Trump and his family. The investigation began before the Herald revealed Yang’s business of selling access last month and focused on other people.

Back in Washington D.C., home of the actual White House, a whistleblower has been talking.

A White House Personnel Security Office employee is alleging that senior Trump administration officials often rebuffed national security concerns to grant high-level security clearances to people who initially were denied access to top-secret information, a pattern she described as troubling and one she said continued for months.

That employee, Tricia Newbold, laid out a series of explosive allegations, often implicating Carl Kline, the former White House personnel security chief. She kept a list of White House officials whose clearance applications initially were denied but eventually overruled, and said the list includes as many as 25 people, some of whom had daily access to the president.

Newbold has now provided testimony about one of those White House officials.

The senior White House official whose security clearance was denied last year because of concerns about foreign influence, private business interests and personal conduct is presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with documents and testimony provided to the House Oversight Committee.

Kushner was identified only as “Senior White House Official 1” in committee documents released this week describing the testimony of Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower in the White House’s personnel security office who said she and another career employee determined that Kushner had too many “significant disqualifying factors” to receive a clearance.

While the specific issues that led to those conclusions haven’t been revealed, the Washington Post had previously identified these concerns from the intelligence community:

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.

Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.

Of course, no one poses a bigger security threat than the president himself.

When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.

This is the guy who wanted to lock Hillary Clinton up for using a private email server when she was Secretary of State. Now people in his administration can only hope that he doesn’t discuss classified information when talking to his buddies on an unsecure cell phone.

When I read all of this, the image that comes to mind is of reams of intelligence professionals tearing their hair out. It is likely that many of their concerns are steeped in a cultural history of secrecy that has outlived its usefulness. But for adversaries—both at home and abroad—who want to take advantage of the situation, Trump and his family present a goldmine of opportunities.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.