National Security Goes Social, Putting the Nation at Risk

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Public diplomacy is one thing, but public national security is quite another. While entertaining Japanese Prime Minister Abe over dinner on the terrace at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump breached all sense of security protocols by discussing the North Korean missile launch in front of other guests and residents. These onlookers to what should very likely have been a classified national security meeting did not have security clearances and were taking photos to post on Facebook while Trump was being briefed about the situation. For anyone who was concerned about the possibility of a security breach due to Secretary of State Clinton’s email server, this episode should horrify you.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, how this episode violates all the principles of how Presidents are supposed to deal with national security issues. Instead, let’s look at what has transpired around this event on social media.

The security breach during this meeting was so bad that one onlooker posted a photo of the man (“Rick”) who carries “the football” for Trump. That is the “black bag that contains the nuclear launch codes for the president of the United States.” Sure, he deleted photo later, but we all know that hardly removes it from public circulation. And it is possible that “Rick” now walks around with a target on his back.

To offer some contrast, former White House photographer Peter Souza posted a photo on Instagram showing how President Obama handled national security discussions while away from the White House. The dig at Trump was not missed, as already more than 43,000 people have liked the photo only 18 hours after it was posted.

Then, and you cannot make this stuff up, Trump tweeted on Valentine’s Day morning that “the real story” is about all the “illegal leaks coming out of Washington.” And his tweet specifically referred to how he is dealing with North Korea. The irony of this tweet, given that Trump is quite clearly one of these leaks, is astounding. Perhaps he does not see the irony because his own leak happened in Florida, not Washington. Perhaps.

So where will things go from here? The Trump Administration has repeatedly compromised itself on social media. From Trump’s tweets about the “Muslim ban” contributing to the courts staying his Executive Order, to Michael Flynn’s “fake news” tweets about Comet Ping Pong, to Trump’s conduct of a national security meeting being posted to Facebook, there are some serious concerns about the risks social media use by Trump, his advisers and his public audience pose to his ability to govern and to national security.

Social media is a great campaign tool. And it is a great way for government to connect with constituents. But without some serious discipline, the use of social media by government officials can be a threat to the nation. What we are seeing now is a learning curve at the White House that could yield disaster before it reaches maturity. That is a result none of us should aspire to.

Perhaps it is time for Trump and his advisers to temporarily ban their own use of social media until they can figure out how to use it safely. American lives are at risk.