Most of the early talk about impeaching Donald Trump has focused on his decision to keep letting proceeds from foreign real estate deals flow into his pocket in violation of the Emoluments Clause. But Trump may be committing another impeachable offense in plain sight. It was confirmed earlier this week that he is still using his trusty Samsung Galaxy, rather than an encrypted phone approved by the Secret Service. Never mind that in doing so, he is recklessly exposing his communications to domestic and foreign hostile actors. And he is doing so in a way that makes his yearlong kneecapping of Hillary Clinton’s email server look outrageously hypocritical.
Well, it turns out that Trump’s decision to keep using his old Galaxy is even more reckless than first thought. It’s not only unsecured, it’s also obsolete. The folks at Android Central examined pictures of Trump using his phone, and determined that in all likelihood, he’s using a Galaxy S3. That phone that hasn’t received any major software or security updates since 2015–an eternity in smartphone terms.
When veteran cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier saw those images, his jaw hit the floor. Schneier pointed out that a hacker could turn the S3’s microphone into “a room bug” that could allow someone to listen in on classified conversations. According to mobile security expert Mike Murray, a hostile hacker could easily take over Trump’s phone by sending him an angry tweet with a link. If Trump tapped on that link, it would open an exploit that allows the listening software to be installed. In a colossal understatement, Murray said that “knowing where the U. S. president is at any moment is a pretty significant thing.”
Nicholas Weaver of national security blog Lawfare believes that if Trump is using an S3–which he describes as inadequate for “the security requirements of the average teenager, let alone the purported leader of the free world”–then we have to assume that a rogue state has already hacked it and that it is “actively being exploited.” If that’s the case, then Weaver thinks anyone in contact with Trump should assume that (s)he is being “actively recorded by hostile powers.”
It goes without saying that this is an assumption no one should have to make. CNBC’s Steve Kopack, one of the first to notice that Trump was tweeting from his Galaxy, tells us why.
When Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, heard about this, he declared that it would be “irresponsible in the extreme” for a president to use an unsecure device that could so easily be exploited. I’d go further than that. By continuing to use that phone after being told–not asked–to give it up for security reasons, Trump is willfully and recklessly putting national security at risk. That’s not just irresponsible. It’s an impeachable offense. If reckless endangerment of this magnitude isn’t a high crime, what is?
Most of the talk about White House cybersecurity on Thursday centered around press secretary Sean Spicer possibly tweeting his password. But this is a thousand times more serious. It cannot be stated enough–we have a president who is willfully using a phone that is not only unsecured, but is so outdated that it can’t receive even rudimentary security updates. As Nancy Pelosi once said about another president who had his head in the sand, “Oblivious, in denial, dangerous.”
(featured image: photo art courtesy Ben Park, Vanity Fair)