Despite constant warnings from his aides, President Donald Trump continues to talk on an unsecured iPhone, and Russian and Chinese security services are listening to his conversations, the New York Times reports.
Of course, Trump has secure cellphones but he refuses to use them; his aides can only hope he is not discussing classified information on his unsecured phone. American intelligence agencies learned of Russia and China’s eavesdropping via human sources in foreign governments and intercepted communications. Beijing, in particular, is hoping to gather information on how Trump thinks, what arguments can win him over and who he listens to. Consequently, Chinese spies have pieced together a list of people Trump respects in order to use them to influence the president.
Here is more from the Times:
The Chinese have identified friends of both men and others among the president’s regulars, and are now relying on Chinese businessmen and others with ties to Beijing to feed arguments to the friends of the Trump friends. The strategy is that those people will pass on what they are hearing, and that Beijing’s views will eventually be delivered to the president by trusted voices, the officials said. They added that the Trump friends were most likely unaware of any Chinese effort.
Russia is not conducting as sophisticated a spy campaign because of Trump’s fawning admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, officials told the Times.
The Trump administration has been hostile towards China over trade and spies in Beijing hope that his personal friends can get the president to dial down his rhetoric. The Chinese understand that Trump places a far higher value on personal relationships and one-on-one meetings to produce results over regular contacts between Chinese and American officials.
Past American presidents were careful not to use cellphones regularly because of how easy it is to hack them:
Intercepting calls is a relatively easy skill for governments. American intelligence agencies consider it an essential tool of spycraft, and they routinely try to tap the phones of important foreign leaders. In a diplomatic blowup during the Obama administration, documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, showed that the American government had tapped the phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
Foreign governments are well aware of the risk, and so leaders like Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin avoid using cellphones when possible.
President Barack Obama was careful with cellphones, too. He used an iPhone in his second term, but it could not make calls and could receive email only from a special address that was given to a select group of staff members and intimates. It had no camera or microphone and could not be used to download apps at will. Texting was forbidden because there was no way to collect and store the messages, as required by the Presidential Records Act.
Trump doesn’t like using government-issued phones because he cannot store his contacts in them.