The number of people in this administration who seem to think they’re much smarter than all those nerds warning them about potential security vulnerabilities boggles the mind. So of course President Donald Trump is increasingly ditching government-approved communications methods to instead use his personal device, CNN reported on Monday.
“He uses it a lot more often more recently,” a senior White House official told CNN, adding Trump “is talking to all sorts of people on it.”
According to the report, some in the White House are concerned that it’s an indication the president is sidelining chief of staff John Kelly, who many still credulously believe is able to impose some sort of restraint on Trump’s actions. When the president uses the facility’s switchboard, Kelly is able to monitor his calls. But speculation is running rampant the decision to use the personal phone is specifically designed to keep Kelly (and anyone else who might be interested) out of the loop.
While standard device security might be good enough for the average citizen who does not, say, command the world’s most powerful military, the National Security Agency generally advises high-ranking government officials to use official devices specially designed to make it harder for foreign intelligence services to listen in. For example, the NSA told Jared Kushner and other aides to assume their personal phones were already compromised by the time they would take up their duties. Per Politico:
The NSA briefers explained that cyberspies could be using sophisticated malware to turn the personal cellphones of White House aides into clandestine listening devices, to take photos and video without the user’s knowledge and to transfer vast amounts of data via Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth, according to one former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefings.
It’s unclear from the report whether Trump is using a Secret Service-approved device or has impossibly managed to retain access to his shitty, unsecured Android, but either option is uncomfortable. Earlier this year, Trump’s administration banned the use of personal cell phones for staffers, citing the possibility of security vulnerabilities.
“Use of personal smartphones, which may not have all of the security features of government-issued smartphones or be regularly updated to address newly discovered vulnerabilities, present an obvious potential security risk,” Mary McCord, a former chief of the Department of Justice’s national security branch, told CNN.
“All communications devices of all senior government officials are targeted by foreign governments,” Bryan Cunningham, executive director of the University of California-Irvine’s Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute, added. “This is not new.”
In other words: If Trump is trying to use his personal phone as a clever little way to get around the prying ears of his own aides, there’s a good chance he might as well be dictating a foreign intelligence report. This is a dude already notoriously loose with privileged information, and who booted the White House’s cybersecurity director just weeks after taking office, so that is a real concern!
On the other hand, this is also a dude who allegedly can’t sit through an intelligence briefing without talking points being boiled down to the equivalent of “See Jane run,” so maybe those foreign spies would be better served just watching Fox & Friends and taking the rest of the day off.