The security slip-up that allowed a Russian state photographer to enter a private White House meeting between President Trump and top Kremlin officials was a “disturbing” lapse in protocol that could have been part of a secret spy operation led by Moscow.
“It seems to me that the White House security detail let its guard down — this was a diplomatic meeting,” Jens David Ohlin, a dean at Cornell University Law School, where he teaches and studies international criminal law and security, told the Daily News.
“Diplomatic encounters can sometimes be a cover for covert operations,” explained Ohlin, who cited the Mossad’s 1960 extradition of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina during an official Israeli visit as one of several examples where something extraordinary during what appeared to a regular diplomatic visit.
“It is more than a little bit disturbing that a Russian state photographer gained access to the Oval Office, especially when the U.S. press was barred from the event,” Ohlin said, adding that “the whole point of having established security protocols is that you don’t depart from them.”
Other national security experts weighed in critically on Twitter.
“Deadly serious Q: Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval Office?” wrote Colin Kahl, who served as former Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.
“No, it was not,” David S. Cohen, the former deputy director of the CIA, replied.
But Kahl, who now teaches security studies at Georgetown University, wasn’t done there, drawing on his own experiences inside the White House.
“I couldn’t let foreign delegations bring phones/cameras into my EEOB office, yet Trump let Russian gov photographer+equipment into the Oval,” Kahl tweeted.
“I was in the Oval daily. Had to leave phone/camera outside. Apparently that doesn’t apply to Russ Gov in this WH,” he added.
On Wednesday, the White House was apparently tricked into letting a Russian state photographer snap and release photos of Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
A White House official told The Washington Post the White House didn’t know the photographer documenting Trump’s Wednesday meeting also worked for Tass, a state-run news agency.
No other media was allowed to cover Trump’s Oval Office meeting, which came just a day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the investigation into the campaign’s ties to Moscow.
“They tricked us,” one unnamed White House official told CNN after photos of the meeting appeared on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.
The White House has said there was no risk, however, because the photographer went through a security screening, though it’s unclear if that examination would catch sophisticated spying devices.