A former CIA agent who has led intelligence operations in Eurasia and Latin America for decades suggested on Friday that there is ample opportunity for foreign adversaries to gain access to a treasure trove of classified documents found to be stored in the home of former President Donald Trump.
Stephen L. Hall, a senior intelligence officer who led intelligence operations in the former Soviet Union in the post-Cold War years, pointed to the possibility that Mar-a-Lago may have been infiltrated by foreign agents, including Inna Yaschishin, a Russian-speaking immigrant. who, according to the FBI, gained access to the club using a fake ID.
“The combination of such a person (and she is not the only one) ends up in Mar-a-Lago, and the presence of very important, unsecured documents there, is terrifying,” Hall said Friday.
Numerous commentators have highlighted the apparent lack of security at Mar-a-Lago following the release of heavily redacted affidavits describing a number of classified materials that were improperly secured at the Trump estate. Some of these documents were marked “NOFORN”, meaning that they were clearly not to be accessed by any foreign nationals.
Some commentators have suggested that these documents could have been accessed by virtually anyone, given the numerous security breaches at the location, which former FBI officer Ali Soufan once described in Washington Post as “the worst counterintelligence nightmare the country has faced since the Cold War.”
In one incident in 2019, Yujing Zhang, a 33-year-old businesswoman from Shanghai, was found to be carrying four mobile phones, a laptop and flash drive containing malware, as well as a hidden camera detector and several thousand dollars in cash. Two years earlier, a group of journalists from Gizmodo and ProPublica had exposed significant vulnerabilities in the mansion’s cybersecurity infrastructure, using a 17-foot boat and a 2-foot wireless antenna that allowed easy access to the mansion’s weakly encrypted Wi-Fi networks.
Then there is security in the club itself. An investigation published Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Friday described Yaschishin’s ability to gain access to the territory – and the former president – as a prime example of the “vulnerability of a facility that serves as both the former president’s residence and a private club.” The article said that the secret service assigned to Trump “more than likely” did not conduct a background check on Yaschishin due to the fact that the level of protection drops significantly when the president leaves office.
That, and the presence of highly classified documents, potentially creates a recipe for disaster, Hall said.
“Any hostile foreign intelligence agency worth their money will at least try to get their hands on classified information improperly stored at Trump’s seaside resort.” he added. “Including, but not limited to, the Chinese.”