The woman from China arrested while carrying a USB drive containing malware at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort last month had another phone, nine USB drives, five SIM cards, and a device used to detect hidden cameras all stored in her hotel room, federal prosecutors have claimed. The New York Times reports that investigators also found several credit and debit cards and $8,000 in cash, including $700 in Chinese currency. The findings came to light during a bond hearing ahead of her trial.
The woman, Yujing Zhang, was charged with lying to a federal agent and gaining access to a restricted area at the Mar-a-Lago resort on March 30th. President Trump was residing at the resort that weekend, but was away golfing at the time of the arrest. Initially Zhang claimed she was there to use the pool but subsequently changed her story to claim she was there to attend an event. However, the event she described did not exist, and a search later revealed that she was not carrying a bathing suit.
Instead, Zhang was found to be carrying a host of electronic devices, including four cellphones, an external hard drive, a laptop, and a thumb drive containing malware. When a computer analyst tried to review this USB thumb drive he had to immediately shut down his computer to prevent it from being corrupted, according to a Secret Service agent who testified at the bond hearing. It was “very out of the ordinary,” said the agent according to CNN.
About this tweet of mine yesterday, this, from a Secret Service source:— Kai Ryssdal (@kairyssdal) April 9, 2019
"there [are] actually a few things at the usss we do very well, computer forensics being one of them. "
People have since become outraged at the Secret Service placing a thumb drive into the computer as a seemingly careless act. But a Secret Service source tells Fox News that the computer was off-network and dedicated for analysis.
Here’s an official statement from the Secret Service sent to The Verge:
Assertions that U.S. Secret Service agents are incompetent to carry out forensic examinations on digital media (ie thumbdrives, laptops, cellphones, etc.) is outlandish and not rooted in fact. The Secret Service Electronic Crimes Special Agent Program (ECSAP) is internationally recognized and special agents across the agency receive extensive training in computer forensics and undergo a rigorous certification process. Forensic examinations conducted by these personnel are done in accordance with U.S. Secret Service standard operating policies and procedures. Secret Service forensic examinations are conducted on standalone computers, equipped with specialized forensic software, which are not connected to Secret Service networks.
On the day she was arrested, Zhang told authorities that a man she had communicated with over WeChat called “Charles” had invited her to an event at the resort. This man is suspected to be Charles Lee, whose organization was due to run an event at Mar-a-Lago that was later cancelled. Later, at the bond hearing, Zhang’s defense attorney presented a receipt to the court which he claimed to show that she had wired $20,000 to an organization believed to be run by Lee.
The discovery of so much cash and technology in Zhang’s hotel room raises further questions about her initial responses to questioning by investigators. She had previously claimed that she was carrying multiple cellphones out of fear of leaving them back in her hotel room, where she had had no issue leaving thousands in cash.
It remains unclear exactly what Zhang was attempting to do while at the Mar-a-Lago resort. A Secret Service agent testified at the hearing to say that she was not carrying any lock-picking or eavesdropping gear. A separate report from The New York Times last year claimed that China and Russia regularly exploit poor security practices to tap President Trump’s phone calls. Compromising the computer network of his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he regularly visits, would theoretically allow for further eavesdropping when Trump is not using a secured device.
At her bond hearing, prosecutors argued that Zhang is a “serious flight risk” who “lies to everyone that she encounters.” Her public defender said that she had not attempted to hide her multiple cellphones, and that the “the government has no reason to believe Zhang was a spy.” A decision on whether or not to release her on bond is due to be made on Monday.
Update April 9th, 6:54 PM ET: This article has been updated with a statement from the Secret Service.