The National Security Agency warned senior White House officials in classified briefings that improper use of personal cellphones and email could make them vulnerable to espionage by Russia, China, Iran and other adversaries, according to officials familiar with the briefings.
The briefings came soon after President Donald Trump was sworn into office on Jan. 20, and before some top aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, used their personal email and phones to conduct official White House business, as disclosed by POLITICO this week.
The NSA briefers explained that cyberspies could be using sophisticated malware to turn the personal cellphones of White House aides into clandestine listening devices, to take photos and video without the user’s knowledge and to transfer vast amounts of data via Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth, according to one former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefings.
The briefings were held in the White House Situation Room because of the sensitivity of the topics discussed, according to that official and three other former officials familiar with such briefings, which have been given to each incoming administration.
The officials said White House aides also were told they should assume that foreign cyberspies had already penetrated their personal email systems to some degree and used that access to vacuum up everything not just on their own computers and phones but those of their contacts.
The NSA briefers told the Trump aides that using their personal devices for work, including passing files and emails from one system to the other, could give cyberspies access to their work computers and email, too, the officials said.
If Kushner did not adhere to the security precautions, it could lead to a significant security breach, the officials said, given his access to President Donald Trump and unique portfolio of responsibilities.
Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, is the president’s point man on China, Syria, Middle East peace, and Afghanistan, along with innovation, infrastructure and other issues.