Cancel debate if Trump still has Covid-19, Biden says

‘The Russians may know more than we do’: CIA analyst says Putin likely bugging Trump’s doctors amid Covid secrecy

Experts believe foreign intelligence actors using clandestine and open source methods to exploit Trump’s medical episode

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 07 October 2020 16:38

Former intelligence agents warn that foreign powers - particularly Russia and China - are likely trying to collect information on Donald Trump's health using clandestine measures.  

Carol "Rollie" Flynn, a 30-year CIA veteran and the president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute thinktank, told USA Today that the countries "are looking and watching" to determine Mr Trump's actual state of health.  

Skeptics of Mr Trump and the information coming from the White House and his doctors have questioned the honesty of the president's numerous claims that he feels better and is completely free of Covid-19 symptoms.  

Ms Flynn believes foreign powers are likely using every viable intelligence collecting method they can in order to determine whether or not Mr Trump is telling the truth.  

She suspects that the wave of coronavirus infections that appears to have washed over the Trump administration and forced many key aides to work remotely may have created an easily exploitable environment for foreign intelligence workers.  

"I would hope that ... the operation security of his doctors is good, and they're not chatting about his diagnosis on the telephones," Ms Flynn said. "But if they are, it's very likely the Russians may know more than we do."

Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University who served on the National Security Council during the George W Bush administration, said that foreign intelligence officials were not only using clandestine methods like wire taps and eavesdropping - they are examining the mountains of open-source material available online to judge the condition of Mr Trump.  

"I’m sure they were watching the video of the president on the portico and analyzing it frame by frame," Mr Feaver said.  

Mr Feaver said Mr Trump's health is likely drawing the full attention of US national security officials, providing another ingress point for foreign intelligence actors.  

"This cuts to the very heart of them doing their job," he said. "I think there is a high likelihood that the system is distracted and is not functioning at a high level."

He said that while distracted officials does not spell doom for the country, it does mean US international decisions may be suboptimal due to lack of focus.  

"That doesn’t mean we’re about to be attacked," Mr Feaver said. "But it’s likely that we’re not making optimal moves across the geopolitical chessboard," he said.

Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon press secretary, issued a statement affirming the readiness of the US military.  

"The U.S. military stands ready to defend our country and interests," Mr Hoffman said in a statement. "There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement."

However, Leon Panetta, former US Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA under Barack Obama, said the first presidential debate and Mr Trump's subsequent hospital trip project an image of national instability to the rest of the world.

"Any time the president is ill, there is a national security issue," Mr Panetta told USA Today. "The implication that our national security may be vulnerable or in some way at risk always comes up. I think with our adversaries we always have to worry. Particularly at a time when there are so many crises happening at once."

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