Shitshow At Mar-a-Lago: The Chinese Spy (???) Edition
Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested March 30 trying to get into Mar-a-Lago with four cellphones, two passports, a laptop, and a malware-infected thumb drive, appeared yesterday in a West Palm Beach courtroom for a bail hearing. Even by the debased standards of the Trump era -- and graded on the Florida curve -- it was batshit crazy!
We'll have to wait till next week to find out if Magistrate Judge William Matthewman allows Zhang to be released pending trial. Although if anyone wants to lay odds on the likelihood of a foreign national who has no ties to the US being released on her own recognizance into a state with 1,350 miles of coastline, we'll take the under. As to what the hell is going on with this case, well: We have questions!
What Even Are Metal Detectors For?
If someone showed up at your house with four cellphones, a laptop, and an external hard drive, you'd tell them to take a hike. The Secret Service put Zhang's bags through the scanner, saw that she was packing a mobile Radio Shack, and just waved her through after the Mar-a-Lago staff okayed it? Oh, sorry, according to testimony yesterday, they asked her why she had the four phones, and after she told them she was worried that the hotel maids might steal them, they said, "Play through, Lady!" (Allegedly.)
As for the two passports, her public defender Robert Adler says that her entry visa was stamped in the old, expired passport. Guess that clears everything up, so Ms. Zhang can be on her merry way, okay?
No One Can Possibly Be That Stupid, Right?
CNN's Shimon Prokupecz originally tweeted from the courthouse that Secret Service agents blithely jammed Zhang's infected thumb drive into their computer and were SHOCKED, SHOCKED when it immediately started to download malware onto their system. CNN later reported that, "The agent looking at the drive had to stop the analysis and shut down his computer."
Secret service agent says, the malware found on Zhang's thumb drive began to install onto an agent's computer, and… https://t.co/AaUnlHXG35— Shimon Prokupecz (@Shimon Prokupecz) 1554748580.0
And the New York Times tells us that there is no record of what Zhang said during her extended interview with the Secret Service, because the office was only equipped to make silent movies, a fact that the interviewing agent was somehow unaware of:
The Secret Service agent who questioned Ms. Zhang after her arrest, Samuel Ivanovich, said during testimony that she was not carrying any lock-picking or eavesdropping gear. His four-and-a-half hour interrogation of Ms. Zhang was recorded by video, Mr. Ivanovich said, but it lacked sound because he didn't realize that the agency's office in Palm Beach didn't have that capability.
But just when we were wondering if the Secret Service is staffed entirely by guys who eat urinal cakes, Nicholas Fandos of the NYT assured us that it was an "off-network device," not a Secret Service agent's personal laptop.
A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation says the computer in question was a controlled, off-netw… https://t.co/gNcZJQP2XJ— Nicholas Fandos (@Nicholas Fandos) 1554758888.0
So, let's assume that the Secret Service is not A IDIOT who just stuck a rando flashdrive into some agent's PC. And perhaps tales of their wide-eyed amazement that the malware just leapt off this Chinese woman's hardware onto their computer are exaggerated. Fingers crossed, right?
What Exactly Is the Secret Service's Job?
After Zhang's arrest, the Secret Service issued a press release saying DON'T BLAME US because "While the Secret Service does not determine who is permitted to enter the club, our agents and officers conduct physical screenings to ensure no prohibited items are allowed onto the property."
Exactly which items are prohibited on the property? If Robert Kraft hadn't been caught frequenting a massage parlor once owned by Cindy Yang, then her "Safari Night" would likely have gone on as planned. And Zhang, who presented a receipt showing she paid Yang's business associate Charles Lee $20,000 for a tour package that included tickets to the party at Mar-a-Lago, would have been welcomed in. The Secret Service would have let her go by with four listening devices (AKA cell phones), a data theft device (AKA external hard drive), and digital weapon (AKA infected thumb drive)? REALLY?
What do you have to do to get kicked out if you're on the guest list? Show up with a machete and an elephant gun? Or would the club staff carefully stash those in the golf cart and ferry the heavily armed but deep-pocketed guest to the ballroom? After all, Yujing Zhang had paid good money for a ticket to "Safari Night" through Cindy Yang's American Funtimes Access Tour Group. A hunting rifle is just part of the costume!
Also, too, the head of the Secret Service was fired yesterday, but that's got nothing at all to do with events at Mar-a-Lago, where they all did amazing work, okay?
Who The Hell IS This Woman?
The Miami Herald reports that Zhang had slightly more sophisticated electronics back at her hotel:
[A] search of her hotel room uncovered more than $8,000 in cash, as well as a "signal-detector" device used to reveal hidden cameras.
Found in the search: $7,500 in U.S. hundred-dollar bills and $663 in Chinese currency, in addition to nine USB drives, five SIM cards and other electronics, according to federal prosecutor Rolando Garcia. Signal detectors are portable devices that can detect radio waves, magnetic fields and hidden-camera equipment.
So much for the story that Zhang needed to carry those four phones with her everywhere for safekeeping!
On the one hand, none of this stuff is especially sophisticated -- you can order all that equipment off the internet pretty cheap. On the other hand, your average tourist isn't packing a bug detector. So is Zhang a Chinese government spy? Is she working for a company? A freelancer? WTF are we looking at here?
Well, whatever is going on at Mar-a-Lago, you can be sure it's 1000 times LESS WORSE than Hillary Clinton's homebrew email server. Thank God we dodged that bullet, right?
[CNN / NYT / Miami Herald / Bloomberg / SecretService.gov]
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.