I want to take a slightly different tack on what Anne Laurie posted about earlier this morning. Specifically, the lack of situational awareness, operations, and information security practiced by the President’s senior advisors, both the National Security Advisor and the Chief Strategist, when briefing him on the reported launch of the North Korean missile launch. CNN reported:
Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he’d spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club’s dining area.
As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.
Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo.
The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents.
Even as a flurry of advisers and translators descended upon the table carrying papers and phones for their bosses to consult, dinner itself proceeded apace. Waiters cleared the wedge salads and brought along the main course as Trump and Abe continued consulting with aides.
Here’s what some of this looked like thanks to a picture from Univision reporter Enrique Acevedo and his Instagram timeline:
— Enrique Acevedo (@Enrique_Acevedo) February 13, 2017
And from a Mar a Lago member:
— Tom Herron (@gifuoh) February 13, 2017
What we get a glimpse of here, in real time, is a major breakdown in Operations and Information Security protocols. While the former, Operations Security, often refers to the handling and dissemination of open source, unclassified information that can be bundled together to create a security problem, it is not limited to just unclassified information. The latter, Information Security, refers to the handling of both unclassified and classified information.
Operations Security (OPSEC) is a systematic method used to identify, control, and protect critical information and subsequently analyze friendly actions associated with military operations and other activities. Ultimately, OPSEC is protecting your information and activities from your adversaries.
The system of policies, procedures, and requirements established in accordance with Reference (d) to protect information that, if subjected to unauthorized disclosure, could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security. The term also applies to policies, procedures, and requirements established to protect CUI, which may be withheld from release to the public in accordance with statute, regulation, or policy.
As I’ve stated here before: the President has the final say on classification/declassification and who can and cannot access classified information. If he decides that classified information needs to be shared with an allied head of state, then that information will be shared. That is not necessarily what is at issue here. Rather it is the manner in which this was done. No one, not the National Security Advisor who spent his career as a Military Intelligence officer, nor the Chief Strategist who served in the US Navy through the rank of lieutenant (O3), nor any other official with the President yesterday did anything to safeguard critical information – classified or unclassified. Rather they used their unclassified and unsecured cell phones/smart phones to illuminate the documents that the President and Prime Minister Abe were reviewing because there was insufficient lighting in the Mar a Lago dining room. Moreover, this was in full view of members of the club and their guests who were dining at Mar a Lago on Saturday night, as well as the Mar a Lago dining room staff.
Had the North Korean government conducted a missile launch/missile test while the President was hosting Prime Minister Abe at Camp David, and should the President have decided that Prime Minister Abe should be read on to the information that US intelligence had gathered on the launch, there are appropriate facilities – a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) – on site. This is not the case at Mar a Lago. And while there may be plans to install one at Mar a Lago, what was observed Saturday night shows that Information and Operations Security are not being observed by the President and his senior advisors.