What Is the Backstory on the New Ban on Electronic Devices in the West Wing?

Via Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/telephone-mobile-to-call-attainable-586266/

This story originates with Rachel Maddow so it may or may not be true.

The Secret Service has directed its agents protecting the White House to ban personal mobile devices in the West Wing, according to a memo obtained by MSNBC.

The memo, which was reportedly sent out by the Secret Service, was revealed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on her show Thursday evening, but the news outlet was not able to confirm the authenticity of the document with the White House or the Secret Service department, she said.

Secret Service personnel were notified this week that as of Monday there would be a “new restrictive policy” that would prohibit the use of mobile devices, cell phones, tablets and smartwatches within the entire West Wing.

“All personal devices will either be secured and provided lock boxes … or turned off completely prior to entering the West Wing,” the memo said, according to Maddow. There will be a “30-day management period” before policy takes effect and the new rules only apply to personal devices.

Starting Friday, the policy will also apply to tour groups, including pass holders and their guests, according to the memo. 

As you can see, Maddow links this to the recent assertion in an article by Politico that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s personal cell phone had been compromised:

White House officials believe that chief of staff John Kelly’s personal cellphone was compromised, potentially as long ago as December, according to three U.S. government officials.

The discovery raises concerns that hackers or foreign governments may have had access to data on Kelly’s phone while he was secretary of Homeland Security and after he joined the West Wing.

Tech support staff discovered the suspected breach after Kelly turned his phone in to White House tech support this summer complaining that it wasn’t working or updating software properly.

Kelly told the staffers the phone hadn’t been working properly for months, according to the officials.

A White House spokesman said Kelly hadn’t used the personal phone often since joining the administration. This official said Kelly relied on his government-issued phone for official communications.

As has been pointed out over and over again, any smartphone or tablet can be compromised so that it acts as a video and audio recording device without you being aware that it is doing so. We don’t know how or even if Kelly’s phone was compromised but it is highly unlikely that the policy and Kelly’s problems were connected. It is also unlikely that Kelly’s personal smartphone was the only such device owned by a West Wing staffer since those devices came on the market.

The more likely explanation is that the White House is coming to grips with the real security risk smart devices presents both as a tool for foreign intelligence services to potentially eavesdrop on top secret meetings and as a way for disloyal f***s to settle scores by recording meetings and leaking them to the media.

Either way, this is a positive change. The West Wing, to a great extent, should be treated as though it were a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. The conversations that take place there are mostly classified above secret. Allowing people to carry around devices that can compromise that security is just unwise.