Trump White House changed top-secret system to heighten secrecy

Trump White House changed security on the National Security Council's top-secret codeword system in early 2018, two former administration officials tell Politico, in an apparent effort to increase secrecy around Trump calls with foreign leaders.

Politico today reports that the system upgrades put into effect in Spring of last year "included a new log of who accessed specific documents in the NSC's system… and was designed in part to prevent leaks of records of the president's phone calls with foreign leaders and to find out the suspected leaker if transcripts did get disclosed."

We now know that more than one of those calls between Trump and a foreign leader (first Ukraine, now Australia) has become the subject of a whistleblower probe that now threatens to topple the presidency through an impeachment inquiry.

What was contained in the Trump calls with Russian leader Vladimir Putin?

Embarrassing friendly talk.

"They were certainly the type of thing that you would not want in public because they were just really embarrassing from the standpoint of just national pride," said a former Trump NSC official.


While only a certain number of NSC staffers have the codeword system installed on their workstations, only a subset of those staffers, in turn, has access to specific documents on that system. The former official with knowledge of the system added that he had never seen transcripts put on that codeword system during his time in the Obama administration.

The changes came months after entire transcripts of President Trump's calls with the leaders of Australia and Mexico were leaked to the Washington Post, setting off a furious internal search for the source of the unauthorized disclosures and widening the mistrust between the president and his own staff.

Before the upgrade, the White House began restricting the distribution of the transcripts of the president's calls with foreign leaders to a narrower group of officials. Previously, the transcripts had been put on a shared drive that all NSC staffers had access to, which made it easier for leaks to happen, according to a former Trump White House official.

Officials in the NSC's intelligence directorate had to take the matter up to the principals level because "it was a pretty fundamental change to the system." John Kelly and H.R. McMaster, the respective chief of staff and national security adviser at the time, signed off on the change. (…)

Still, intelligence and national security experts called it "highly unusual" for these kinds of routine calls between world leaders to be placed into a system that's intended to be used only for information about the nation's most highly compartmented programs — for instance, covert actions like the secret raid in Pakistan that led to the assassination of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

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White House ordered top-secret system upgraded to prevent leaks [, reporting by DANIEL LIPPMAN and NATASHA BERTRAND, 10/01/2019 03:19 PM EDT]