Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and a number of other senior White House officials who used their personal emails for work purposes were expressly warned by the National Security Agency not to do so, Politico reported on Friday.
Per Politico, Kushner and other staffers (including former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus) all continued to use their private emails despite the NSA warning 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.”
The NSA told the officials to assume their phones were already compromised, as well as their personal computers and contact lists on all such devices. The agency added any cross-use of personal and work devices could enable hackers to gain entry to the official systems.
Kushner and other White House officials’ use of the personal email accounts was first flagged as gross and hypocritical, given that Trump relentlessly criticized Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s extensive use of a private email server while running the State Department. The Senate Intelligence Committee raised further concerns Kushner failed to disclose his personal email amid their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
But the NSA’s concern is that without being able to closely control the access points between the personal devices and the outside world, security agencies cannot guarantee foreign espionage services have not broken into them. Similar concerns have dogged every administration in recent years, and incoming personnel sometimes underestimate the risks that come with their position.
Even if Kushner used the personal account for mostly incidental items, as his lawyer insists, simply by virtue of being so close to the president everything he says and does is of interest to other parties.
“Jared is probably one of the top five or 10 targets in the U.S. government because of his access to the president and because of the portfolios he’s been given,” former cybsersecurity adviser Richard Clarke told Politico. “It’s a pretty safe bet that his personal devices have been compromised by foreign intelligence services. And therefore there is some risk that meetings he attends are compromised too.”
“You should just assume we wouldn’t make this big a deal about it unless it was a serious threat,” an anonymous former intelligence official added.