The seizure of classified US government documents from former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort highlights the former president’s persistent national security concerns, several security experts said.
Trump is the subject of a federal investigation into potential violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to provide information to another country or mishandle or share US defense information with unauthorized persons, according to an inspection order.
When he was president, Trump sometimes disclosed information regardless of its sensitivity. Early in his term, he spontaneously provided top-secret information to the Russian foreign minister about a planned operation against the Islamic State terrorist group while in the Oval Office, US officials said at the time.
But at Mar-a-Lago, whose clubhouse sees members of the elite attend merry weddings and dinners, US intelligence appears particularly vulnerable. While the Secret Service provided physical security at the venue during Trump’s presidency and continues that role to date, it is not responsible for screening these guests.
Mary McCord, a former Justice Department official, said the Justice Department’s search warrant raises national security concerns.
“Obviously they thought that getting this material back to a safe space was very important… Even just keeping top secret documents in improper storage creates a major threat to national security, especially given Mar-a-Lago, which is frequented by foreign visitors and others who may have connections,” she said. with foreign governments and foreign agents.
In a statement on his social media platform, Trump said the records had been “declassified” and placed in a “secure storage”.
McCord, however, said she did not see “a reasonable justification for his conscious decision to declassify each individual document prior to his departure.” She added that, after his departure from the position, he no longer had the ability to declassify the information.
Monday’s seizure by FBI agents of multiple sets of documents and dozens of boxes, including information on US defense affairs and a reference to the “French president”, is a frightening scenario for the intelligence community.
“The environment for careful handling of top-secret information is very frightening,” said a former US intelligence officer. “It’s a nightmare.”
The Department of Justice did not provide specific information about how and where the documents and photos were stored, but the resort’s general weaknesses are well documented.
In one notable incident, in 2017, Trump met then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an outdoor dinner table while guests moved nearby, hearing and snapping photos, which they later posted on Twitter.
The dinner featured a North Korean missile test, and the guests overheard as Trump and Abe thought about what to say in response. After issuing a statement, Trump attended a wedding at the resort club.
“What we saw was that Trump was so lax on security that he was having a sensitive meeting on a potential war issue in a place where non-US government officials could watch and film … It was easy for someone to have them,” said Mark Zeid, a lawyer who specializes in national security issues. It is also a device that listens to what Trump was saying and also records it.”
White House aides set up a safe room in Mar-a-Lago for sensitive discussions. This was where Trump decided to launch airstrikes on Syria for its use of chemical weapons in April 2017.
The decision was made while Trump was preparing for dinner with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. When he was eating a piece of chocolate cake, Trump informed Xi of the air strikes.
In 2019, authorities said they arrested a Chinese woman who passed security checkpoints at the resort while in possession of a memory unit with “malicious” software and accused her of entering prohibited private property and giving false information to officials.
John Kelly, the White House chief of staff at the time, attempted to place restrictions on who could enter Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but his efforts were unsuccessful because Trump refused to cooperate in this matter.
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