People outside Mar-a-Lago in March 2017.Darren Samuelsohn

  • Experts weighed in on the difficulties of keeping top-secret information safe at Mar-a-Lago.

  • The club has seen big security breaches, which perhaps boosted the urgency of the FBI’s search.

  • A former US intelligence officer told Reuters that securing Mar-a-Lago was a “nightmare.”

Mar-a-Lago is a “nightmare” for keeping state secrets, a former US intelligence officer said amid the political storm sparked by the FBI raiding the Florida resort to seize sensitive documents.

The search was part of an FBI investigation into whether former President Donald Trump violated three federal laws, including the Espionage Act, by moving boxes of materials, some top secret, from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.

In a raid on August 8, FBI agents recovered much of those materials, saying in a legal filing that there was a mixture of confidential, secret, and top-secret records there.

Trump supporters and activists have claimed the unprecedented FBI search was politically motivated.

But the location of the materials at the Palm Beach home was a clear concern to intelligence officials — a place where Trump has racked up a number of eyebrow-raising national security incidents.

Weeks before the raid, investigators told Trump to add a lock to the basement room where the documents were kept, CNN reported.

“It’s a nightmarish environment for a careful handling of highly classified information,” an unnamed former US intelligence officer told Reuters. “It’s just a nightmare.”

Another expert, the former CIA counterterrorism analyst Aki Peritz, characterized the sprawling 126-room club as an obvious target.

Speaking with CNN, Peritz said: “Mar-a-Lago has been a porous place ever since Trump declared his candidacy and started winning primaries several years ago.

“If you were any intelligence service, friendly or unfriendly, worth their salt, they would be concentrating their efforts on this incredibly porous place.”

Throughout his presidency, Mar-a-Lago was home to security breaches — some breezily committed by Trump himself.

Then-US President Donald Trump and Melania Trump greet then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, at Mar-a-Lago on April 17, 2018.MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

In 2017, when Trump was hosting then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the club, he shocked security officials by casually discussing news of a North Korean missile test in front of awed guests.

A defense-policy expert told Insider at the time that the incident signaled to spies that it would be “much easier” to eavesdrop on the president.

At Mar-a-Lago, the Secret Service would physically screen visitors but had no control over who could visit — a fact the agency had to clarify in a rare public statement after a 2019 trespassing incident.

In March that year, a Chinese woman trespassed into the club carrying a USB drive and a device for detecting hidden cameras, among other tech that raised concerns she was a spy. She had managed to get in after a Secret Service search found the name on her passport partially matched that of a club member.

On Friday, Trump said all the documents at Mar-a-Lago were “declassified” — a claim that Rep. Jim Himes, a House Intelligence Committee member, said was “baloney.” Declassification of documents is a complex process that can take months, Himes said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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