While Trump’s private club in South Florida has been transformed into a fortress of armed guards, military-grade radar, bomb sniffing dogs and metal-detection checkpoints, there are still notable vulnerabilities, namely the stream of guests who can enter the property without a background check.
And security experts warn that the commander in chief’s frequent visits — four since he took office in January — afford an unprecedented opportunity for eavesdropping and building dossiers on the president’s routines and habits, as well as those of the inner circle around him. They add that with each repeat visit, the security risk escalates.
“The president is the biggest, richest intelligence target in the world, and there is almost no limit to the energy and money an adversary will spend to get at him,” said David Kris, a former Obama-era assistant attorney general for national security.
Former Secret Service agents said the setup at Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other regular clubs presents challenges that their agency wasn’t built to deal with. The Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices — but not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in.
“Whose responsibility is it to prevent foreign intelligence? That’s a very good question that remains unanswered,” said one former Secret Service agent. “Is it the FBI? They’re not involved in protection. It’s not the CIA because they can’t spy on U.S. citizens.”At The Daily Beast, Jana Winter explains the danger of bigmouthed Trumpkins:
Exactly what [Russian Ambassador Sergey] Kislyak and the Trump campaign officials discussed at the edges of the RNC last year is not known, but according to the DHS intelligence bulletin, seemingly innocent conversations could assist Russian intelligence operations. Specifically, the bulletin warned of “elicitation: a commonly used and highly effective intelligence-gathering technique using ordinary conversation to extract targeted information from a person in a manner that does not disclose the true intent of the conversation. It can occur anywhere—at social gatherings, at conferences, on ship/facility tours, on the street, over the phone, in writing, or over the Internet.”
A senior former intelligence official said Kislyak does not work directly for Russian intelligence but is “practiced at the art of elicitation and as a student of the U.S. for many years,” takes advantage of overly talkative U.S. officials and others to gather information. That proves useful to multiple branches of the Russian government, the official said, speaking anonymously to describe interactions with Russian intelligence.