February 13, 2017

Udall questions security at Mar-a-Lago after weekend incident

New York, NY USA - July 16, 2016: Donald Trump speaks during introduction Governor Mike Pence as running for vice president at Hilton hotel Midtown Manhattan

President Donald Trump’s actions after North Korea launched a ballistic missile caught the attention of U.S. Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

This weekend, a member at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club post a photo on Facebook of the president and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe looking at documents in a club dining terrace shortly after North Korea launched a ballistic missile. Staffers held up cell camera lights to help the two world leaders read the documents.

A number of experts noted this is “a really bad idea,” as a reporter at The Verge wrote Monday.

Why? It could allow hackers to gain access to the camera’s microphones and listen into a conversation—or to turn on the camera to allow hackers to see what the camera sees.

From The Verge (emphasis in the original).

We’ve written before about how Trump’s lingering Android habit makes him vulnerable to hacking, and this is the perfect example. The concern is a hot mic attack, in which a hacker uses the compromised phone to record private conversations. But as our demo showed, it’s just as easy to compromise the camera, allowing the attacker to see whatever is in front of the phone. That’s usually not as useful, provided the target doesn’t physically hold up the phone and point it at sensitive intelligence documents, but here we are.

The member, Richard DeAgazio, described to the Washington Post that the Japanese prime minister’s staff “sort of surrounded him, and they had a little pow-wow.”

The “open-air situation room,” as described by the paper, that impressed DeAgazio raised flags for Udall and Whitehouse.

“During the campaign, we listened to month upon month of Donald Trump complaining about the handling of important national security information,” Udall and Whitehouse said in a joint statement released Monday. “We’ve had years of inconclusive investigations by House Republicans over emails and classified documents. Now we have unknown and unvetted Mar-a-Lago members looking over the President’s shoulder as he conducts our foreign policy.”

The White House said later Monday there was no discussions of classified material.

The two senators wrote a letter to the Trump administration criticizing Trump’s use of the club and the recent increase in fees to enter to become a member to $200,000 in early February. They asked for the list of Mar-a-Lago members to be made public and to ask what screening would be done “to determine whether any have ties to foreign governments or other entities that seek to influence you or United States policy.”

“Mar-a-Lago members are the same class of ultra-rich that you’ve nominated to your Cabinet and surrounded yourself with at the White House,” the two Senators wrote earlier this month. “Your Winter White House will provide an audience with you for those who can afford it, not to mention an increasing cash-flow into your family-run organization. Instead of draining the swamp, it appears you’re bringing Washington right to the swamps at Mar-a-Lago.”

Last week, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich criticized Trump for his security practices in the oval office.

Heinrich’s tweet was retweeted over 12,000 times.

Monday, the New Mexico Democrat again criticized Trump’s administration.

He tweeted later, “Help wanted: White House Security Director.”

In the statement on Monday, Udall and Whitehouse added more security questions to their criticism.

“This weekend, CNN reported that the President was ‘swarmed’ with club guests. We saw pictures strewn about social media by Mar-a-Lago guests mugging for the camera with the nuclear football,” they wrote. “Worst of all, we learned that guests in the Winter White House dining room were treated to the President’s discussion of a North Korean missile launch with a foreign head of state, replete with sensitive documents strewn about the dinner table.”

While Richard DeAgazio, a member of the club who since deleted his Facebook account, posted a photo of himself with the military aide who carries the “nuclear football,” this did not break any protocol.

The Los Angeles Times wrote U.S. military officials, however, admitted it was “strange.”

So did a nuclear weapons policy expert.

The photo of the aide doesn’t pose any immediate security risk, but it’s illustrative of another problem, said Stephen Schwartz, a nuclear weapons policy expert and the coauthor of “Atomic Audit,” which assesses the costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

“The idea that a rich guy could walk up to one of them and snap a photo with them to brag to his friends strikes me as flat-out wrong,” he said.

The Washington Post reported that “Defense officials declined Monday afternoon to discuss the photos on the record. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, they described reaction to the incident as exaggerated.”

Still, Udall and Whitehouse were not impressed and invoked one of Trump’s nemeses.

“This is America’s foreign policy, not this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live,” they said. “We urge our Republican colleagues to start taking this Administration’s rash and unprofessional conduct seriously before there are consequences we all regret.”