henever Donald Trump calls an old friend on one of his personal iPhones to chat, gossip, rant, or rave, Chinese spies are most likely listening in and learning.
Both current and former officials have told the New York Times that American intelligence agencies have determined that spies from both China and Russia have managed to tap the US president’s cell phone calls. According to the report, Chinese spies are particularly fond of this practice, hoping to glean information from the calls about Trump’s thinking which can help avoid further trade conflict.
While this plan certainly doesn’t seem to be working so hot so far, listening to the calls is at least presumably giving Beijing some important info about what makes Trump tick, what kind of arguments can work on him, and who are the people that carry the most influence with him.
The Times report explains:
In what amounts to a marriage of lobbying and espionage, the Chinese have pieced together a list of the people with whom Mr. Trump regularly speaks in hopes of using them to influence the president, the officials said.
Among those on the list are Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group chief executive who has endowed a master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Steve Wynn, the former Las Vegas casino magnate who used to own a lucrative property in Macau.
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.
Trump reportedly has three iPhones, two official ones that have been made more secure by the National Security Agency and a third personal one that’s no different from your own iPhone. The president prefers to use this third one since he can store his own contacts. All of the phones are vulnerable to hacking, which is why previous presidents have not used cell phones to make calls during their time in office. While aides have warned Trump about the likelihood that his calls are being monitored by Chinese spies that fact hasn’t made him switch to more secure landlines.
The silver lining in all of this for intelligence officials is that Trump is comparatively guarded on the phone and doesn’t pay much attention to national security briefings anyway, telling the Times that the president “rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities,” so there’s little risk that he will disclose any sensitive information while chatting with friends.