Situation Room: Mar-a-Lago
An opportunity for the president to schmooze and socialise with an international ally turned into a crisis management exercise on news of Pyongyang’s latest show of strength. The clearly unexpected test prompted the two premiers to strategise amidst guests attending a wedding at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, who posted images of the bizarre event on social media.
The peculiar decision to remain in public to discuss their response has baffled former White House officials.
- Kim Jong-Un continues to ignore international pressure.
- Trump and Abe’s unconventional response.
- Democrats and security experts incredulous.
The surreal turn of events, even by Trump’s standards, could not have been predicted. Yet, it was caused by the least predictable of international players – North Korea. Officials have confirmed that a Musudan-level, intermediate-range ballistic missile flew 310 miles off North Korea’s east coast before crashing into the Sea of Japan.
Trump is acutely aware of the threat that the leadership in Pyongyang presents. He regularly requested additional information on the activity North Korea during intelligence briefings he was provided while campaigning.
His Friday had been spent welcoming Prime Minister Abe on an official visit to the White House. During the talks that took place, North Korea’s threat to Japan and the wider region was discussed at length. During a news conference after the talks, Abe said that the president and he had agreed to “strongly demand” that Pyongyang “abandon (its) nuclear and ballistic missile program.”
Hor d’oeuvres and diplomacy
Trump had invited Abe to Mar-a-Lago following the talks, and the two spent most of Saturday golfing. As Abe and Trump sat down to dinner on a terrace at the resort surrounded by members of the club, the news of the missile test came in and Trump could be seen talking on his mobile phone.
Trump’s now resigned national security adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon joined the president’s table as documents were provided and numerous phone calls, presumably to Washington and Tokyo, took place. The lighting was low, meaning aides were required to offer the camera lights of their phones to help the leaders read the documents.
Eventually Trump and Abe, and their sizable delegations, moved from the dining terrace and to an adjoining ballroom offering a more concealed working area. It was shortly after this that they issued their condemnatory remarks about the test. “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%,” Trump said. His Japanese counterpart was more stern describing the launch as “absolutely intolerable.”
Perceived hypocrisy of security situation brings criticism
Given Trump’s campaign promise to lock up Hillary Clinton for using an insecure email server, claims of hypocrisy about the Mar-a-Lago events were quick to emerge. The strange circumstances were not lost on Minority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi. “There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater,” she said in a tweet.
Indeed Presidents are known to travel with secure communications equipment at all times A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIFF, also comes along. The tent-like structure can remove the risk of any phone calls being recorded by hidden devices.
Sean Spiced confirmed that the President had been briefed in a SCIFF at Mar-a-Lago, but did not elaborate on why it was not used instead of the dinner table. “The President was briefed in a SCIFF prior to dinner … They were reviewing the logistics for the press conference … President was subsequently briefed in a classified setting.”
Trump has also come under fire for continuing to use his old Android smartphone, which many security experts believe could be vulnerable to to hacking. “The national security risks of compromising a smartphone used by [the president] are considerable,” commented two Senate Democrats from the Homeland Security Committee, Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Thomas R. Carper (Del.)
This all happened amid the continuing scandal surrounding discussions between Michael Flynn and Russia, and the potential for sensitive information to be compromised. The way intelligence is being handled by this administration is being scrutinised more and more. If this kind of activity becomes the norm, Trump and his team should get used to this state of continuing scandal.