- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
- A woman was able to bluff her way into Mar-a-Lago on Saturday while carrying four cellphones, a hard drive, and a thumb drive containing malware.
- Yujing Zhang passed Secret Service physical checks and proceeded into the property because Mar-a-Lago staff mistakenly thought she was the daughter of a member who shared her last name.
- The FBI is now reportedly investigating whether she is a Chinese spy.
- The episode has also exposed flaws in Mar-a-Lago’s security system. The Secret Service issued a rare statement on Tuesday saying that it “does not determine who is invited or welcome at Mar-a-Lago; this is the responsibility of the host entity.”
The arrest of a woman who hoodwinked her way into President Donald Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, with a thumb drive containing “malicious malware” over the weekend has exposed flaws in the club’s security system, as the FBI reportedly launches an investigation into whether she is a Chinese spy.
The woman, identified as 32-year-old Yujing Zhang, entered the resort on Saturday after showing two Taiwanese passports to Secret Service agents and telling them she was a club member trying to use the pool, Secret Service Agent Samuel Ivanovich said in a Saturday court filing.
Upon passing Secret Service checks, Zhang went through separate checks with Mar-a-Lago staff. They initially failed to verify that Zhang was on the guest list, but eventually let her in, thinking she was the daughter of a member also named Zhang, Ivanovich said. Zhang is a common Chinese surname.
According to Ivanovich, Zhang changed her story upon entering the property, saying she was there for an event organized by the United Nations Chinese American Association – which didn’t exist.
Upon being alerted, Secret Service agents found that Zhang had no swimsuit, and was instead carrying four cellphones, a laptop computer, a hard drive, and a thumb drive containing “malicious malware,” Ivanovich said.
Federal prosecutors in Florida have since charged her with making false statements and entering a restricted area. She is due to appear in court next week.
- MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
FBI is reportedly investigating
The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in South Florida is now trying to figure out who Zhang is and whether she is linked to Chinese intelligence services, the Miami Herald reported. Zhang had not been known to US intelligence before Saturday, the Herald said.
The investigation into Zhang is also focusing on Li “Cindy” Yang, the Chinese founder of a Florida spa chain who is accused of selling businessmen access to Trump, his family, and Mar-a-Lago. The alleged event that Zhang said she was attending on Saturday had been advertised by Yang on Chinese social media, the Herald reported.
A spokeswoman for Yang told the Herald on Wednesday that Yang “stated that she does not know the woman who was arrested at Mar-a-Lago this weekend.”
- Facebook/Cindy Yang
Mar-a-Lago could jeopardize US national security, senators warn
Saturday’s episode has exposed glaring flaws in Mar-a-Lago’s security system.
It showed that although Secret Service agents carried out physical checks on Mar-a-Lago visitors, whether or not someone gains entry to the club is down to the resort’s own security system.
In a rare statement on Tuesday the Secret Service said: “The Secret Service does not determine who is invited or welcome at Mar-a-Lago; this is the responsibility of the host entity. The Mar-a-Lago club management determines which members and guests are granted access to the property.”
Security measures within the club’s grounds have appeared lax in the past. In 2017, paying member Richard DeAgazio was able to freely snap photos of the moment Trump briefed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about a North Korean missile test over dinner.
Photos of the dinner – which DeAgazio posted on Facebook before subsequently deleting them – showed the meeting being conducted in the open, in front of club members, with cellphone lights pointing toward sensitive documents.
- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
In a Wednesday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, and Mark Warner said: “The apparent ease with which Ms. Zhang gained access to the facility during the President’s weekend visit raises concerns about the system for screening visitors, including the reliance on determinations made by Mar-a- Lago employees.”
“As the White House Communications Agency and Secret Service coordinate to establish several secure areas at Mar-a-Lago for handling classified information when the President travels there, these potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications,” they added.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the US House Oversight Committee, told Reuters: “I am not going to allow the president to be in jeopardy or his family,” adding that the Secret Service will brief him and his Republican co-chair Jim Jordan on the incident.
- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
As Zhang wrestled her way into Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, Trump had been golfing at a nearby resort. First Lady Melania Trump and other members of the Trump family were at the property at the time, but there is no indication that they crossed paths with Zhang.
Trump dismissed the incident as a “fluke” and said he was “not concerned at all,” according to Reuters.
“We will see what happened, where she is from, who she is, but the end result is they were able to get her,” he told senior military leaders, Reuters reported.
John Cohen, a former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, told The New York Times that Trump’s frequent visits to the club are a “nightmare for the Secret Service.”
“A privately owned ranch where the president and his people use the location is much easier than protecting the president when he chooses to go to a private club that’s open to members that provides services to those people in exchange for a fee,” he said.