Security breach in the White House’s Situation Room

Covert recordings allegedly made on banned smartphone.

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Security breach in the White House's Situation Room

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former arch-villain of US TV’s “The Apprentice” and estranged aide to President Donald Trump, claims to have made secret audio recordings of her White House colleagues that she is using to pump up interest in her tell-all book, “Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House”.

Omarosa bookOmarosa – who like Cher, Adele, and Madonna always seems to be referred to by her first name – has even released what claims to be a recording made in the White House’s famous Situation Room, where chief of staff John Kelly tells Omarosa that she is being fired.

All juicy stuff I’m sure, and great fodder for rolling news TV channels who will spend hours debating who is more trustworthy: Omarosa or Donald Trump.

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But what I’m more interested in are the security implications.

In January, the White House announced – in an attempt to stem damaging leaks – that personal smartphones were now banned from the West Wing.

And yet a former reality TV star was able to sneak in her smartphone and record secret conversations in the Situation Room, supposedly the most secure place in the White House.

If that’s possible, then it’s easy to imagine that it would also be possible for a malicious hacker or foreign intelligence agency to compromise a member of staff’s personal smartphone, and use it to bug Trump’s White House.

It’s easy to be distracted by the Omarosa soap opera. The real story here is one of a security breach.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

5 comments on “Security breach in the White House’s Situation Room”

  1. RCF

    No kidding – that was my first thought as well. I would think they would have something in place to detect unauthorized electronics. "The honor system" doesn't cut it for national security.

    Hopefully the "in the situation room" descriptor of the recording was just added to hype it up.

  2. Stan

    As far as I have understood, it is not clear whether the recording was made using a cell phone. It may be so, or perhaps a different means of recording was used (e.g. some fancy spy keychain recording device, recording pen, or wearing a nice "fu2-Kelly" broche?) Who knows.

    1. Jan · in reply to Stan

      It’s been reported in U.S media that the device used was a spy pen. These devices are used by more people than you may think.

  3. Robert Thornton

    Definitely bigger implications here that go way beyond this situation. The funny thing is if this had of been a plot in "The Westwing" TV series people would have thought it would have been unlikely and yet here we are in real (scripted reality) life!

  4. Beggar Midas

    The Situation room has been Faradin's EM caged since 1957(roughly). Even the light admitting glass is a four layer glass sandwich with three distinct seperations by vacuume, and the raw glass was seeded with thinmesh wire throughout to continue the EM cage. While hypothetically vulnerable if laser was tunable to micrometer sensitivities, would require 45-90 degree visual access to roof. Immediately sublayered is the oval office start of nuclear bunker built in '62, beneath that the dedicated elevator to private rail half a klick down that runs all the way to andrews at 90 Kilometers an hour that was installed by '68-71.

    SS has a standing SoP to only physical/EM frisk irregulars and unvetted, but to leave alone regulars or those with strict written approval from pres, vice pres, JCS. or SS signoff.

    Translation for the uninitiated to SIGINT: It was a device that recorded locally, stored locally on device. Student recorder, laptop, cell phone, tablet, you name it has a standalone record audio function.

    But to be in the room requires written approval of both person, AND device. Anyone violating protocols can be charged with a class three felony. Or as a capital offense if during a time of war.

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