President Trump began his Thursday morning by blaming the attempted assassination of his political adversaries on the media. He’d said as much the night before at a rally in Wisconsin, but his early-morning tweet seems to be inspired by a New York Times report about the president’s careless cell phone use, which has allowed China and Russia to listen in on his calls.
Less than half-an-hour before he attributed the “Anger we see today in our society” to the “Fake News,” Trump railed against the story in the Times.
Trump followed up his capitalized show of reverence to “Government Phones” by noting that he rarely even uses cell phones, preferring the far more dignified “Hard Lines.”
In April, CNN reported that Trump was beginning to use his cell phone with increasing frequency, and that, according to a senior White House official, he “is talking to all sorts of people on it.” The tweets he wrote Thursday morning refuting the story in the Times were sent using an iPhone.
Trump’s refusal to abandon his personal phone has been well documented, but this latest report from the Times delves into the implications of the president’s indifference to securing his communications. The report notes that U.S. intelligence has found that the Chinese are often listening when Trump rings up his friends, “putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy.”
In May, Politico reported that the president uses an unsecured cell phone that is susceptible to hacking and surveillance, and that he has ignored staffers who have insisted he strengthen the security of his communications. According to administration officials, Trump has two cell phones, one for Twitter and one for making calls, and has gone as long as five months without having the latter checked by security experts. The report notes that President Obama swapped out his phone every 30 days. Both Politico and now the Times reported that Trump has refused to do the same, calling the practice too “inconvenient.” The Times also noted that in addition to the two White House cell phones, Trump also maintains a personal iPhone with no security protections because he is able to store his contacts in it.
Though a White House official assured Politico that Trump’s “devices are more secure than any Obama-era devices,” not everyone agrees. “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, who served as a counterterrorism director on the National Security Council under President Obama. The Times report from Wednesday notes that intercepting calls is “a relatively easy skill for governments,” which is why most heads of state refrain from using cell phones.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that both China and Russia have been listening in on the president’s calls. The Times reports that China in particular is using the calls to determine how to influence the president, especially as the trade war between the two superpowers intensifies. Because some of the business magnates with whom the president regularly speaks have interests in China, the nation’s government is attempting to use other business figures to lobby them to nudge the president in a direction they deem beneficial to China. “The strategy is that those people will pass on what they are hearing, and that Beijing’s views will eventually be delivered to the president by trusted voices,” officials told the Times, noting that “they can only hope” the president doesn’t divulge any sensitive information.
The president has reportedly been warned that the adversaries are listening to his phone calls, but has refused refused to change his practices. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters continue to call for Hillary Clinton to be jailed over her use of an unsecured private email server. Questions surrounding Clinton’s emails served as the foundation of Trump’s attacks against her during the 2016 campaign. “We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies,” Trump said that June.
Use Twitter’s TweeDesk service, do a search for @realDonaldTrump, find the tweet.