Between General Michael Flynn’s questionable behavior regarding communications with the Russian ambassador and being called out for exposing access to classified intelligence to press photographers, Donald Trump’s first few weeks as president aren’t going so well in terms of national security. And considering what happened over the weekend at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the president and his staff’s inability to keep a lid on otherwise sensitive things is becoming more apparent.
In the heat of North Korea’s first missile test since Trump’s election victory, the president and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were dining at Mar-a-Lago when they first heard the news. The pair went on to deliver an unplanned press conference responding to the matter, but not before private patrons dining in their vicinity witnessed them and their staff’s impromptu national security meeting. The session was so public that diners were able to “[describe] it in detail” to CNN:
Even as a flurry of advisers and translators descended upon the table carrying papers and phones for their bosses to consult, dinner itself proceeded apace. Waiters cleared the wedge salads and brought along the main course as Trump and Abe continued consulting with aides.
First lady Melania Trump and Abe’s wife, Akie, remained seated across from their husbands, speaking quietly through a translator amid the activity.
The precise nature of said “detail” has less to do with what Trump, Abe, and their aides discussed and more to do with the flurry of activity the missile test’s news generated at Mar-a-Lago. Even so, as the Washington Post pointed out, the contrast between the very public national security meeting and Trump’s campaign comments regarding Hillary Clinton’s supposed security missteps was telling. Especially since patrons like Richard DeAgazio, a retired Boston-area investor interviewed by the Post‘s David Farhenthold, was able to snap several photos of the session and post them to Facebook.
The Post referenced DeAgazio’s above post as photographic evidence of the CNN report’s claim regarding the dimly-lit atmosphere of the room. “The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight,” it read, “So aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents.” Not good, says Post writer Philip Bump, who references an account of Edward Snowden’s infamous hotel room meeting with reporters in Hong Kong to make a point about the perilous nature of the Trump team’s apparent lack of care for tight security.
Phones — especially phones with their flashes turned on for improved visibility — are portable television satellite trucks and, if compromised, can be used to get a great deal of information about what’s happening nearby, unless precautions are taken.
Snowden’s well-founded paranoia notwithstanding, Bump concludes “precautions weren’t taken” based on DeAgazio’s numerous Facebook posts from Mar-a-Lago over the weekend. Like the businessman and occasional actor‘s photo with the military aide then serving as the president’s “nuclear football,” whom he identified by name. “This is Rick,” DeAgazio explained before copying and pasting the opening paragraph from Wikipedia’s “Nuclear Football” entry into his post. “Rick is the man.”
When asked about what he saw, and why he posted everything to his since-made-private Facebook account, DeAgazio told the Post he was “impressed” by Trump’s decision not to seek out a more private setting for the exchange. “He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members. It just shows that he’s a man of the people,” said the retired businessman and Mar-a-Lago club member — entry to which costs a minimum of $200,000.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Clinton took notice of the situation on Twitter and asked a valid question.