When Trump Talks Privately, Chinese Spies Listen

Politics Features Donald Trump
When Trump Talks Privately, Chinese Spies Listen

What is there even to say anymore? We live in hell. The central Hillary Clinton topic covered by media in 2016 was her e-mails and how supposedly the former Secretary of State’s digital carelessness would put our country at risk. So where are those same security scolds now? This is a ten-alarm fire. Per the New York Times:

When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.

Mr. Trump’s use of his iPhones was detailed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss classified intelligence and sensitive security arrangements. The officials said they were doing so not to undermine Mr. Trump, but out of frustration with what they considered the president’s casual approach to electronic security.

Of course, the dummy came out and pulled his “fake news!” shtick in light of this shocking story.

Here’s the problem: even if Trump is right and he is using a secure line, the random business friends he calls are not. If the Chinese compromise their communications (and given the fact that the Chinese have hacked seemingly every digital inch of this country, that seems highly likely), it doesn’t matter how secure Trump’s line is. Lily Hay Newman did a great job detailing at Wired how bad this could be:

If Russia and China really are surveilling Trump’s mobile calls, one possibility would be that they’re doing it by manipulating an insecure mobile telephony protocol known as SS7. These types of attacks have become an increasing concern around the world; in May, the Department of Homeland Security admitted that hackers may be actively exploiting SS7 against US cellphone users.

But Karsten Nohl, chief scientist at the German firm Security Research Labs, who researches cell network attacks, says the Times report may indicate that surveillance of Trump’s mobile calls go even further. It “suggests a compromise of the telephone company infrastructure on a deeper level than just sending SS7 requests,” Nohl says. He likens it to an incident when unknown parties compromised switches on the Vodafone Greece network without the carrier’s knowledge, and used that access to tap the mobile calls of Greek government officials and other prominent citizens.

A foreign government having comparable access in the United States would be problematic, but unsurprising, given the cat and mouse game of international espionage. Needless to say, making calls on a stock iPhone greatly increases Trump’s vulnerability to that sort of operation.

This is what a crumbling empire looks like. By his own admission, our president is financially tied to the Russians, Saudi Arabians and at least several other foreign powers, and he acts in his own interests before the country’s. He contains some of the most valuable information known to mankind in his bowl of Jello that he calls a brain, and he is almost surely giving much of it away to whomever is listening in to his rantings and ravings to his litany of unofficial cabinet members.

For example, say we have a spy in the Chinese government, all it takes is one acknowledgement by Trump on these private phone calls and that person is dead. Or if we have a program spying on a certain aspect of the Chinese military, if he brought that up, they would then know how to counter it. There are a relative avalanche of problems that extend from this dynamic, and the fact that Trump is basically acting like a scorned child in the face of violating basic security protocols should only exacerbate these issues. One of the biggest dangers to the safety and security of the United States is the President of the United States.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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