Why the National Security Advisor’s Covid-19 infection is a national security concern (notice)

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O’Brien’s diagnosis of Covid-19 is a short-term health emergency. While others in the White House, including one of Donald Trump’s personal valets, have tested positive in the past, O’Brien’s exposure is particularly alarming because of the staff he is expected to regularly use. dialogue, not to mention the nearby neighborhoods in which it operates. The nature of the White House structure, alongside the demands of O’Brien’s job, means critical U.S. government personnel may have been exposed to the virus, including President Donald Trump himself.

Typically, a National Security Adviser works with the President, Vice President, Chief of Staff and other cabinet officials on a daily basis, including during the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) in the Oval Office, meetings from the National Security Council to the situation room (I’ve been in my fair share – the room is usually quite crowded), in-person readiness calls from foreign leaders and more. I can tell you from experience: social distancing is not an option in many of these contexts without extraordinary measures.

A National Security Advisor also typically works with – at a minimum – dozens of other mission-critical national security personnel each day, including direct reports from the NSA, NSC personnel who come in on meet or inform him, his PDB manager and many others. With no physical renovations to the office “suite” the NSA works on, the staff are incredibly close-knit – I was less distant from my co-worker straight away for the two years I advised a former national security adviser. Needless to say, we have become very close.The White House said O’Brien was showing mild symptoms and that the work of the National Security Council “continues uninterrupted.” But O’Brien’s diagnosis means a deadly virus could stalk the West Wing corridors for some time.

To make matters worse, O’Brien didn’t limit his interactions. He recently traveled to Europe, with assistants and secret service agents, where he met counterparts from Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. A photo released by the NSC shows them standing together without a mask.

Weighing the demands of his job against the need to follow the guidelines of the US Centers for Disease Control is a balancing act, but O’Brien’s overseas foray may have inadvertently exposed again more people with the virus both at home and abroad if it were contagious while traveling. . Photos shared by the White House of O’Brien visiting a WWI American cemetery in France also show him without a mask. He also did not wear one when he met reporters in mid-July.

It is true that we do not know exactly when or how O’Brien became infected with the virus. He would have said he thought he had contracted it from his daughter, but because his ability to report for work is so important to our national security, it is unfathomable that he (and other senior officials) would not take all possible security measures to protect themselves and anyone with whom they come into contact.

The White House should have encouraged staff to follow CDC guidelines at all times – both on and off the White House campus. The president and other senior officials may try to blame O’Brien for not being careful with his time, but they certainly didn’t set the right tone for following guidelines, regardless of the venue. Months of not wearing masks and speaking out against the scientific evidence hasn’t really made staff take the CDC’s guidelines seriously.

The White House statement said there was no risk of exposure to Trump or O’Brien’s Vice President Mike Pence – but someone needs to rethink their communications content. O’Brien reportedly worked from an off-site location for days other than a brief visit to the White House on Thursday, when he abruptly left. Trump also said he had not seen O’Brien recently. But it shouldn’t improve Americans’ sleep at night.

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While there is no risk of exposure to O’Brien when he is offsite, the White House statement does appear that the president is not spending much time with the man who is supposed to be his. the most senior adviser on all national matters. Security. O’Brien was last seen with Trump during the President’s July 10 trip to CENTCOM headquarters in Florida. Trump and O’Brien’s lack of contact could be attributed to O’Brien’s trip, but even so, crisis communications do more harm than good.

We know from Trump’s Twitter thread that he spends a lot of time watching TV and that he and O’Brien haven’t seen each other in a while. It’s a public admission that they don’t do historically common things together like hold NSC meetings, prepare for foreign appeals, learn about the PDB and more. For a long time, there was good reason to believe that Trump probably spent more time with his “security” advisers on television than with his own NSA, and the White House’s comments on the O infection. ‘Brien seem to confirm it.

While we hope for O’Brien’s speedy recovery, we also have to hope that the Covid-19 outbreak can be contained – quickly – as this is a security vulnerability. At the operational level, there is disruption whenever a senior official cannot do his or her job fully. The White House didn’t say O’Brien worked limited hours, but after working for an NSA for years, I know it’s just not possible to fully do your job as effectively since. at home, even with a secure home facility or regular intelligence services. courier deliveries. This makes the playing field even more uneven compared to other countries that have a full team on the bridge.

The White House tries to portray a message of business continuity and stability because it knows how bad it is to have an official at this level operating at less than full capacity. The editor of China’s Global Times tweeted on Monday about how this development shows the virus is out of control. The Global Times is published by ruling Chinese Communist Party spokesperson People’s Daily, and the tweet should be viewed as part of the Chinese CCP’s influence operations against the United States, but the publisher does not is right about this diagnosis and what it says about the extent to which we just need to contain the virus.

More generally, the fact that the White House cannot secure its main security adviser sends a terrifying message about the administration’s responsiveness to Covid-19 – that it is inadequate at best.

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