Oct 25, 2019

Scoop: New cyber memo warns of security risks, exposes leak hunt details

President Trump. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A second internal memo on White House cybersecurity, obtained by Axios, reveals new details about how IT officials inside the Trump administration were dispatched to investigate leaks embarrassing to President Trump.

Where it stands: The memo, dated June 1, has surfaced only now amid controversy over a different memo explaining the concerns surrounding an exodus of cybersecurity staff brought in under the Obama administration to protect the White House from Russian hacking.

Why it matters: The latest memo underscores how seriously Trump's team took their efforts to figure out who inside their own walls might be releasing unauthorized information about the president.

Details: Members of the White House cybersecurity and IT teams were responsible for “proactively identifying and investigating leaks of sensitive information, such as the President’s movements and schedule, which have a direct impact on his physical security,” the memo said.

  • Two former White House officials and one current official confirmed to Axios that staff assigned to cybersecurity and IT teams, including the author of the memo, were empowered to take actions such as "investigating user activity" by looking at computer browsing history, and using software that tracks which employees open certain links or documents, like Trump's private daily schedule.
  • After a White House insider leaked three months of Trump’s private daily schedules to Axios, which we published in February, the cyber officials were tasked with implementing a new way to share these schedules electronically with staff.
  • One former White House official said these schedules were previously sent as PDF documents attached in an email.
  • Another official said they're now sent via a SharePoint document, a Microsoft product installed on everyone’s computer, that allows the sender to track who has viewed the documents.
  • Politico previously reported that West Wing officials leading the leak hunt about POTUS' schedules "enlisted the help of the White House IT office."

Between the lines: Those staff departures may have an unintended consequence of, at least temporarily, hindering Trump’s efforts to smoke out leakers.

  • Some people familiar with the departures believe the president's team was seeking to push out staff that were holdovers from the previous administration - because of Trump's concerns about not being able to trust people who worked for him.

The White House declined to comment.

What we're hearing: Some cybersecurity officials are experiencing a "turbulent" and "toxic" environment at the White House, according to one source familiar with the situation, including concerns that the president is more concerned with partisan politics than security.

Read the memo

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