Mar-A-Lago Is A Counterintelligence Nightmare

Recent security breaches at Mar-a-Lago have highlighted the fact President Trump's visits to his properties pose a national security risk.
Marine One lifts-off after returning President Donald J. Trump to Mar-a-Lago Friday, March 29, 2019. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Marine One lifts-off after returning President Donald J. Trump to Mar-a-Lago Friday, March 29, 2019. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

While most presidents spent time away from Washington at Camp David or their private residences, President Trump opts for his own businesses. This past weekend, President Trump was once again at Mar-a-Lago, his golf club in Palm Beach, Florida. This trip marked his 177th day at a Trump golf club and his 236th day at a Trump property since becoming president. Not only do Trump’s trips to his own properties cost taxpayer dollars while profiting his own business, they pose a national security risk that appears to be growing by the week.

Golfing wasn’t the only thing that happened at Mar-a-Lago this past weekend. A Chinese national named Yujing Zhang was arrested at Mar-a-Lago with several cell phones, a laptop, and a thumb drive that had “malicious malware” on it. While Trump was out golfing, Zhang gained access to the club after a Mar-a-Lago staffer thought she was a relative of one of the guests. After Zhang entered the main building, a club receptionist managed to figure out Zhang was claiming to be there for an event that wasn’t taking place. The receptionist flagged Secret Service agents who then arrested her after she got “verbally aggressive.”

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This comes after another Mar-a-Lago guest, Cindy Yang, was reportedly selling Chinese nationals access to President Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Yang is the same woman who owned the massage parlor where Robert Kraft is being charged with soliciting prostitution.

Li ‘Cindy’ Yang posted a card on Facebook sent to her by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, above left. Yang’s Super Bowl selfie with Trump, above right. (Miami Herald)

Li ‘Cindy’ Yang posted a card on Facebook sent to her by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, above left. Yang’s Super Bowl selfie with Trump, above right. (Miami Herald)

According to the Miami Herald, the FBI has launched a counterintelligence investigation into whether China is waging intelligence operations targeting Mar-a-Lago and President Trump. It includes Zhang and Yang’s conduct. The probe comes amid fears that if an operative gains access to Trump associates and the Mar-a-Lago property itself, they could not only glean insight into the President’s thinking, they could plant recording devices or conduct other spying activities. There are major espionage risks.

A Secret Service official told CNN that when it comes to Mar-a-Lago, “Access remains an issue. It continues to be an issue.” Secret Service agents are stuck between a rock and a Trump place when it comes to Trump properties. While their main objective is to protect the President, they also have to abide by the private property owner’s rules. Which means hundreds of Mar-a-Lago members are able to pay to gain access to the President. And as we’ve seen in the past, that has caused some problematic national security risks.

In February of 2017, President Trump coordinated his response to a North Korean missile test in open view at an unsecured dinner table in Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This all occurred in clear view of resort guests, with staff using the flashlights on their phones to help illuminate the sensitive documents. Pictures of the episode popped up on Facebook. After the ordeal, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer said those discussions occurred in a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility). This was clearly not the case:

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray this week, Senate Democrats rang the alarm: “As the White House Communications Agency and Secret Service continue to establish several secure areas at Mar-a-Lago for handling classified information when the president travels there, these potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications.”

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News // Counterintelligence / Donald Trump / National Security