Mar-a-Lago — security ‘nightmare’ that housed classified documents

Published August 14, 2022
An aerial view of former US president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.—Reuters
An aerial view of former US president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: The seizure of classified US government documents from Donald Trump’s sprawling Mar-a-Lago retreat spotlights the ongoing national security concerns presented by the former president, and the home he dubbed the Winter White House, some security experts say.

Trump is under federal investigation for possible violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it unlawful to spy for another country or mishandle US defence information, including sharing it with people not authorised to receive it, a search warrant shows.

As president, Trump sometimes shared information, regardless of its sensitivity. Early in his presidency, he spontaneously gave highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister about a planned operation by the militant Islamic State group while he was in the Oval Office, US officials said at the time.

But it was at Mar-a-Lago, where well-heeled members and people attended weddings and fundraising dinners frolic on a breezy ocean patio, that US intelligence seemed especially at risk. While Secret Service provided physical security for the venue while Trump was president and afterward, they are not responsible for vetting guests or members.

The Justice Department’s search warrant raises concerns about national security, said former DOJ official Mary McCord. Clearly they thought it was very serious to get these materials back into secured space, McCord said.

“Even just retention of highly classified documents in improper storage — particularly given Mar-a-Lago, the foreign visitors there and others who might have connections with foreign governments and foreign agents — creates a significant national security threat.”

Trump, in a statement on his social media platform, said the records were “all declassified” and placed in “secure storage.” McCord said, however, she saw no “plausible argument that he had made a conscious decision about each one of these to declassify them before he left. After leaving office, she said, he did not have the power to declassify information.

Monday’s seizure by FBI agents of multiple sets of documents and dozens of boxes, including information about US defence and a reference to the “French President,” poses a frightening scenario for intelligence professionals.

“It’s a nightmarish environment for a careful handling of highly classified information,” said a former US intelligence officer. “It’s just a nightmare.”

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022

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