The White House has released an April 6 photograph of president Donald Trump and his team, gathered at his private club in Florida, being briefed on the airstrikes launched against Syria. The shot is likely to raise more questions about security at Mar-a-Lago, the seaside resort that Trump has visited for eight of his 11 weekends as president.
Trump and his advisors, at the club for the summit with Chinese leader Xi Jingping, are crammed into a space the size of a small guest room or a large storage closet, with a “Quiet Area” sign taped to the door. They are seated on the type of faux-bamboo gold painted chairs you might see at a tropical-themed wedding. (The second row of advisors are seated in front of either a black curtain or the area behind them has been photoshopped out.)
Mar-a-Lago—open to paying members and ticketed guests, and staffed by workers without the same security clearances as White House staff—is vulnerable to being infiltrated by foreign spies, security experts say. “Hostile intelligence services would love to plant bugs in a place like this,” John McLaughlin, a former acting CIA director, told Politico.
The briefing was held by “@VP , SECDEF, CJCS via secure VTC,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter, which presumably means vice president Mike Pence, secretary of defense Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford, via a secure video teleconference.
Seated in the briefing room, from the left side of the photo, are deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, Trump son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross, president Trump, secretary of state Rex Tillerson, national security advisor H. R. McMaster, and chief of staff Reince Priebus.
On the row of chairs, from the top left, are press secretary Sean Spicer, special advisor Steve Bannon, advisor Steven Miller, national security official Michael Anton, deputy national security advisor Dina Powell, and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.
The White House photo was strikingly similar to the shot released by the Obama administration, showing Barack Obama and his aides gathered around a similarly positioned table as they watched the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011.
But there’s an important difference. The 2011 photo was from the White House Situation Room, the 5,000 sq-ft conference room in the basement of the West Wing, which has secure, advanced communications equipment, especially for sensitive information.
The Government Accountability Office is reviewing the cost of Trump’s travels to the Mar-a-Lago, and the security process for screening guests, after Trump and his advisors held an “open-air situation room” at the club when North Korea fire a missile in February. Guests at the club on Thursday (April 6) were warned not to use cell phones when the president was near, and there were plenty of secret service agents there, according to local news reports.
In response to Quartz’s request for more information about the briefing room and how it was secured, White House spokesman Michael C. Short emailed back “No.”