White House

Former Trump administration staffer and former reality television star Omarosa Manigault Newman is releasing clips of secret recordings she allegedly made in the most sensitive areas of the White House, and a former White House information official says that could mean big trouble.

Manigault Newman is publicizing the conversations she had with President Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly from around the time she was fired from the administration. She says the discussion with Kelly took place in the White House Situation Room, which is designated as a “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility,” or SCIF, pronounced “skiff.”

“If this turns out to be true that a recording device was in the White House Situation Room, of all places, that would be an incredibly serious breach of not only trust but a breach of a classified facility on a level that is very, very serious,” said Theresa Payton, who served as White House Chief Information Officer in the George W. Bush administration. She is now CEO at Fortalice Solutions, a cybersecurity consulting firm.

Payton says, in the interview with Radio America, there are severe consequences for flouting protocol in these facilities.

“This is considered a grave security breach so there’s a lot of different actions that could choose to take. Some of those actions that they could entertain are revoking a security clearance, recommending an individual to not clear again.

“They could take legal action. That’s typically rare unless secrets were sold to the adversary or a real grave breach happened,” said Payton.

She says it is understood by anyone with security clearance that electronic devices have no place in a SCIF.

“Classified conversations, classified phone calls, classified documents are handled within that facility. Often times, that facility has no windows. There’s a series of doors that you have to punch in codes and slide cards into. There’s a whole sense of protocol. You can’t accidentally trip into a conference room that’s a SCIF,” said Payton.

Outside the SCIF are usually a series of lockers or storage boxes for people entering the SCIF to leave all electronic devices.

“You never know if those devices are compromised and could be turned into listening and recording devices that could be used by the adversary and/or if they would potentially be connecting to other devices that could be in the room that have been cleared to be in the room for phone calls or video conferences,” said Payton.

The list of banned items includes smartphones, laptops, and tablets but also items like fitness trackers.

There are signs posted prominently outside the SCIF for people to unload their devices but for staff there is frisking or wanding involved. They are given multiple classes on the proper handling of classified information and are expected to honor their promises to follow protocols.

“You’re somewhat on the honor system because you are a trained individual and you signed a document saying, ‘I understand the training. I understand the law and I will follow it.’ Nobody’s frisking you because they expect you to implement the training you were given and to honor the agreement that you signed,” said Payton.

Payton adds that guests to the White House and other sensitive facilities are put through a number of detectors and instructed to hand over their electronic devices before entering a SCIF but she says there are rarely pat downs for those people either.

She says the fight against cybercrime is far more complicated than when she served in the White House and says it is a constant challenge to stay ahead of people who wish to do far more harm than Omarosa.

“As we improve the defenses at the White House, the adversary realized, ‘This is getting hard.’ And they don’t suddenly say, ‘This is so hard, I should just go be a good person and bake pies for my neighbor.’ They up their game.

“It’s almost like an arms race if you will on the cybersecurity side to stay one step ahead of the adversary,” said Payton.

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