When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit, Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.
Trump aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure.
They have told him that Russian spies, too, are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. However, the voluble president still refuses to give up his iPhones.
White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.
Trump’s use of his iPhones was detailed by several current and former officials, who said they were doing so not to undermine the President, but out of frustration due to the president’s casual approach to electronic security.
American spy agencies had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials.
Officials have also determined that China is seeking to use what it is learning from the calls. They want to know how Mr. Trump thinks, what arguments tend to sway him and to whom he is inclined to listen.
China wants to use all this to keep the trade war with US from escalating further. In what amounts to a marriage of lobbying and espionage, the Chinese have pieced together a list of the people with whom Mr. Trump regularly speaks in hopes of using them to influence the president, the officials said.
Among those on the list are Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group chief executive who has endowed a master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Steve Wynn, the former Las Vegas casino magnate who used to own a lucrative property in Macau.
The Chinese have identified friends of both men and others among the president’s regulars, and are now relying on Chinese businessmen and others with ties to Beijing to feed arguments to the friends of the Trump friends.
The strategy is that those people will pass on what they are hearing, and that Beijing’s views will eventually be delivered to the president by trusted voices, the officials said.
They added that the Trump friends were most likely unaware of any Chinese effort.>