The firing of former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman last December made for a dramatic tale worthy of reality TV, but the subsequent revelation this weekend that she recorded the firing while sitting in the Situation Room with Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly and a pair of attorneys raised serious concerns about safeguards at the White House as well as broader questions of security.
"We should be concerned about the ability and readiness of this Administration to defend our country when it seems to have had problems securing even the White House," said Fortalice CEO Theresa Payton, former White House CIO under President George W. Bush.
“When walking into any secured facility, it is an obvious process to turn in all personal and work devices into lockers and storage compartments,” said Payton, noting that if Omarosa's “recording device was compromised we have no idea who else was listening or other issues that could have been introduced into a pristinely secured environment.”
It's unclear what security procedures the White House has in place to secure the Situation Room and other sensitive areas of the Oval Office, but just about a month after the former reality star contestant was fired, the White House banned staffers from using their personal cellphones as it had earlier promised to do.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time since the "security and integrity of the technology systems at the White House is a top priority for the Trump administration” that all personal devices belonging to “guests and staff will no longer be allowed in the West Wing." Kelly reportedly expressed support for the ban.
Before that, after it had come to light that Kelly's smartphone was hacked by potentially by foreign operatives, the Secret Service reportedly put the kibosh on personal devices in the West Wing.
The president's use of mobile devices also has raised security red flags. While Barack Obama's Blackberry use was restricted during his presidency and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was pilloried for using her private smart device for work, President Trump still wields at least two devices issued to him by the government – one for phone calls and the other that lets him access Twitter and some news sites.
Officials reportedly said the smartphone had a camera and mic – which could be vulnerable to surveillance – and the “Twitter” phone isn't swapped out regularly. Obama's phone was swapped out monthly on the insistence of his security team.
The controversial Omarosa could face some legal woes for her actions. While Payton said it's “up to legal teams to determine now what the next steps are,” she noted that “while whistleblower laws exist in this country, the idea that someone would deliberately take a recording device into a secured facility creates a threat and a vulnerability to the fundamental operations.”