Former U.S. intelligence officials have criticized the presence of a Russian photographer capturing President Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday, citing the potential for a security breach. Concerns were raised after photographs of the meeting were posted on the TASS Russian News Agency website.
The White House, however, is playing down the situation, with one senior administration official stating that the Russian “had to go through the same screening as a member of the U.S. press going through the main gate to the [White House] briefing room.” Furthermore, the official claims that the White House was misled, claiming that Russian officials had stated that the individual in question was actually Lavrov’s personal photographer, concealing the fact that he was also a TASS employee, clearing demonstrating their screening of the Russian photographer was not sufficient.
“We were not informed by the Russians that their official photographer was dual-hatted and would be releasing the photographs on the state news agency,” said the White House administration official.
Former deputy CIA director David S. Cohen was one of several who expressed their concerns over the Russian photographer’s presence. Cohen took to Twitter to respond to an online question as to whether or not he thought it was an intelligent decision to have the photographer present at the event, tweeting “No it was not.” However, Cohen would not elaborate when pressed for further opinions.
Other former security officials have made their unease over the whole situation public, with some describing it as a potential security threat, claiming that White House security screenings aren’t foolproof and sophisticated espionage devices could be missed. Others have noted that, not only is it not below the Russians to plant a bug in the White House, but if they managed to pull off such a feat, it wouldn’t be the first time they were successful. In late 1999, a listening device that was eventually traced back to Russia was found in a White House conference room where Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had been conducting meetings.
Featured image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images