The Democratic impeachment inquiry has resurrected concerns about the security and potential vulnerability of the President’s communications. Witness testimony revealed some top officials repeatedly failed to follow protocol intended to prevent sensitive phone conversations, including those involving the President, from being intercepted by foreign intelligence services.
Normally, a US ambassador talking to the President would do so from the embassy using a secure line, one former intelligence official told CNN. Cell phones, the former official said, were much more vulnerable than calls made at secure communications facilities.
The lapse was only amplified by the fact that Sondland made the call in public, where it could have been easily overheard and in a foreign country that is already being targeted by foreign adversaries of the US, including Russia, current and former officials said.
Congress’ ability to subpoena Giuliani’s call logs from cell phone companies suggests that the calls were not encrypted through an application service like Signal or Whatsapp, nor were the calls were made on a secure line.
It’s unlikely that Giuliani’s mobile phone was specially encrypted, and the logs indicate that the calls were not made via a secure line from an embassy. Even if the President was using a secured cell phone to call the former New York mayor, Giuliani’s unsecured line exacerbates security concerns.
“All communications devices of all senior government officials are targeted by foreign governments. This is not new,” Bryan Cunningham, executive director of the Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute at the University of California-Irvine, told CNN last year.
“What is new in the cell phone age is the ease of intercepting them,” Cunningham added. “Of course, calls are only secure if both parties use a secure device.”
Since taking office, Trump has been cautioned against unsecured lines multiple times. But he has continued to call people on a number he held since before his time in the White House, including making calls from that number in the last several weeks, people familiar with those calls say. He also has a second number he uses, which is government-issued.
On Friday evening, the President denied CNN’s report, saying he hasn’t used his personal cellphone in years.
“I haven’t had a personal cell phone for years. Only use government approved and issued phones,” Trump tweeted.
CNN stands by its reporting.
These are cell phones Trump has personally been issued. They are considered to be less secure than landline White House phones presidents typically use, and he has been cautioned against using them to make secure calls, sources tell CNN.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with more information about the cell phones the President uses.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.