When Ambassador William Taylor (top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine) testified during the first day of public hearings for the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, much of his testimony confirmed things that had already been reported. But there was one important revelation that hadn’t been previously reported: Taylor testified that one of his staffers, David Holmes, overheard a phone conversation in which Trump expressed to Gordon Sondland (U.S. ambassador to the European Union) a strong desire for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Sondland was in a restaurant in Kyiv, Ukraine during that July 26 conversation with Trump — and according to a report by the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima, it is quite possible that Russian intelligence officials infiltrated the call and were listening in.
According to Larry Pfeiffer (a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff at the Central Intelligence Agency) such a call was a major breach of security.
Pfeiffer told the Washington Post, “The security ramifications are insane: using an open cell phone to communicate with the president of the United States. In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call.”
That July 26 conversation, according to Taylor’s testimony, occurred only one day after Trump’s now-infamous phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Nakashima notes how easy it is in Ukraine for Russian intelligence to listen in on private phone conversations — especially if unencrypted cell phone lines are being used. A former U.S. official, interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that calling a president from an unencrypted cell phone line is “indicative of a lack of concern for operational security.” Senior officials, the source told the Post, “are routinely briefed on the threats to their communications. You could assume that talking on an unencrypted line from a foreign country would be on that list.”
In 2014, Nakashima points out, a phone conversation between two Obama-era diplomats was intercepted in Ukraine, recorded and posted on YouTube. The diplomats were Victoria Nuland (who, at the time, was assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian matters) and Geoffrey Pyatt (who was serving as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine). On a recording of their conversation, Nuland was heard complaining to Pyatt about how slow-moving the European Union could be and saying, “Fuck the EU.”
Nuland later apologized to EU officials, and Nakashima notes that the leaked call “appeared to be an effort by Moscow to drive a wedge between the United States and the European Union.”
Trump has been known to use his personal cell phone for conversations with foreign leaders or officials.
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