How a Chinese woman with malware waltzed right into Mar-a-Lago

Mar-a-Lago's, President Trump's "winter White House," just had a major security breach

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 3, 2019 1:46PM (EDT)

President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A recent security breach at Mar-a-Lago raises questions about whether the famous Florida resort, which is owned and frequently visited by President Donald Trump, is the best place for the White House occupant to perform official business.

A 32-year-old Chinese woman named Yujing Zhang was apprehended at Mar-a-Lago while carrying four cell phones and a thumb drive infected with malware, according to The New York Times. Although she told Secret Service agents that she simply wanted to use the Mar-a-Lago pool, a club receptionist became suspicious when she claimed that she was at the resort to attend an United Nations Chinese American Association event later that evening. When the receptionist realized that there was no such event scheduled, the Secret Service was contacted to learn more about Zhang. It was then discovered that she was not carrying a swimsuit despite saying she was only there to use the pool.

She was later arrested for gaining access to a restricted area and lying to a federal agent. The latter charge was based on the fact that she claimed a friend named Charles had told her to travel to Mar-a-Lago from Shanghai to attend the supposed friendship event.

In a statement, the Secret Service said that "after undergoing screening at the second Secret Service checkpoint the individual, per club protocol, was immediately met by club reception. The Mar-a-Lago reception staff then determined that the individual should not have been authorized access by their staff and Secret Service agents took immediate action resulting in the arrest of the individual."

This isn't the first time that security issues at Mar-a-Lago have received public attention. Last month it was revealed that a Chinese-American woman named Cindy Yang, who owned a series of Asian massage parlors that have been investigated for prostitution, had attended several Mar-a-Lago events and been photographed there with the president and other officials, according to The New York Times.

In 2017, Trump himself was harshly criticized after he was photographed discussing sensitive foreign policy issues — including a potential national security crisis involving North Korea — with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in full view of the resort's diners. He was also using cell phones while there, meaning that it would have been easy for someone to hack into their technology and learn about what they were doing.

Don Mihalek, the executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told the Times that part of the problem — at least with the case of Zhang — was that the Secret Service has to rely on Mar-a-Lago's security. Zhang was able to obtain access to the club because she shared a last name with a club member and Mar-a-Lago did not properly scrutinize whether her story held up.

"It’s a hard position for Secret Service to be in to potentially deny a million-dollar committee member. It puts Secret Service in a very difficult position because we don’t know who are members and who aren’t," Mihalek explained.

He added, "You’re depending on them to say this is an employee and this isn’t an employee. We work off a list of names. Our priority is, are you coming in with explosives or not."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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