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Feb. 7, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Jeff Bezos' text message leaks a security concern
Does Amazon chief and Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos have a communications security problem? More than inquiring minds want to know. The recent disclosure of leaked phone text messages between Mr. Bezos and his mistress is prompting questions in Washington circles about the security of Mr. Bezos’ private communications.

Gavin de Becker, Mr. Bezos’ security adviser, told The Washington Post that he is investigating how salacious text messages between Mr. Bezos and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez were obtained and reported by the National Enquirer. The security consultant suspects the leaks were a political hit and part of a bizarre conspiracy by allies of President Trump to smear the world’s richest man, soon to be less wealthy since announcing on Twitter his divorce from wife MacKenzie Bezos.

Mr. Bezos’ Amazon Web Services provides cloud computing services to the Air Force Special Operations Command, among other federal agencies, and is in the lead to win a $10 billion contract to create the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI. Amazon also is building a major headquarters facility in Crystal City, near the Pentagon.

If the Amazon CEO was caught sexting with his mistress, what other communications security procedures may have been violated?

Mr. de Becker’s firm, Gavin de Becker and Associates, did not return an email seeking comment. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment about the security of Mr. Bezos’ communications.

A former U.S. intelligence official tells Inside the Ring that a “huge crowd” of foreign intelligence services led by the Chinese and the Russians likely have targeted Mr. Bezos’ communications for electronic interception or hacking.

Russia and China are known to have robust electronic intelligence-gathering capabilities in the United States.

Because of Mr. Bezos’ wealth — his estimated worth is $135 billion — the National Enquirer story also could have been part of a failed extortion scheme by criminals targeting the Amazon founder.

“The ‘unknown unknowns’ here, in addition to the salacious stuff, are these: What else was Bezos putting on unsecured communications?” said the former official, who asked not to be identified by name.

American defense and security agencies and Congress are being urged to investigate the matter, a breach that has received little mainstream news media attention.

Mr. de Becker reportedly questioned Ms. Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, about the leaks to the Enquirer. The tabloid also obtained emails between Mr. Sanchez and Mr. de Becker that suggest Mr. Sanchez held several theories on how the texts between Mr. Bezos and his sister were shared with the tabloid, including foreign government electronic spying, hacking by rival tech companies or the result of U.S. government “Deep State” leakers disclosing intelligence intercepts.

Mr. Sanchez told The Post that he was not the source of leaks to the Enquirer and said the assertion by Mr. de Becker was an attempt to deflect criticism of the security consultant for not protecting Mr. Bezos’ communications.

Reports recently circulated in U.S. government circles that the Trump administration was considering a plan to include indicted Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in a trade deal with China.

According to several government sources, Ms. Meng, who was indicted last month on federal charges that she and the state-linked telecommunications giant violated sanctions laws through financial transactions with Iran, would be sent back to China as part of the trade deal aimed at ending China’s unfair practices and illicit technology acquisition.

Talks on resolving the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute have been described by White House officials as having made progress. White House sources said there were no plans to include the return of Ms. Meng to China in the trade deal.

Doing so would require extensive bureaucratic gymnastics since the case has been under investigation for several months and is under the control of the Justice Department, which is supposed to be free from White House political pressure. Dropping the prosecution would likely create a major backlash from career prosecutors.

One administration official told Inside the Ring that the idea of returning Ms. Meng was being promoted by several high-ranking Trump administration officials as a trade deal sweetener. These officials favor continuing close U.S. business and financial ties with Beijing and are pushing to resolve the trade dispute involving billions of dollars in tariffs.

China, in response to the arrest and indictment of Ms. Meng, has been pressuring the Canadian and U.S. governments to release her. Ms. Meng is the daughter of Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army electronic warfare specialist, and she is widely expected to take over the giant telecommunications conglomerate.

Huawei also was indicted in a separate case involving charges that the company stole T-Mobile’s robotic technology used to test smartphones.

Huawei is ostensibly a private Chinese company but is closely aligned with the Chinese government and reliant on its financial and intelligence support. The company has been declared a “national champion” by the Chinese Communist Party, meaning it is closely backed by the party-ruled system.

Ms. Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 and released on bail pending the outcome of the extradition request from the United States. The extradition could take months or even years to work out.

In response to the arrest, China has detained several Canadian citizens in China, including former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who are being held on various security-related charges.

Ms. Meng could become a valuable source of information on the inner workings of Huawei if she is extradited and makes a deal to cooperate with investigators.

As chief financial officer, Ms. Meng would know intimate secrets about Huawei, both its domestic operations and international activities, as well as its relations with the Chinese government.

The information would assist the National Security Agency in pursuing intelligence on the company.

Documents disclosed by renegade NSA consultant Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had secretly penetrated Huawei network equipment around the world and was able to spy remotely through the equipment.

Ms. Meng, who is facing prison time if convicted, could opt to cooperate for a lighter sentence and her disclosures would be valuable to CIA and FBI counterspies pursuing Chinese agents in the United States and abroad.

The Army announced Wednesday that it will purchase the Israeli Iron Dome short-range missile defense system to protect American troops.

The system for the past several years has been used by Israel’s military to shoot down rockets fired by Hamas and other terrorist groups into Israel from Gaza. The system is capable of shooting down rockets and mortars. An undisclosed number of Iron Dome systems will be purchased as a stopgap for what the Army calls an “indirect fire protection capability” until other U.S. defenses can be built.

Indirect fire includes short- and long-range artillery rockets and mortars with ranges between 2.5 miles and 43 miles. It was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

Army Col. Patrick R. Seiber, a spokesman for the Army Futures Command, said Iron Dome has been used by the Israeli air force since 2011 and will be used by the U.S. Army for a variety of indirect-fire defense options.

“Our forces will need the capability for protection from indirect- and direct-fire threats as they conduct multidomain operations,” he said. “Protection of our soldiers is paramount. They deserve the tools needed to fight, win and return home safely.”

The Army notified Congress in October that it will purchase two Iron Dome batteries for use as a cruise missile defense capability as mandated by the most recent defense appropriations law. Iron Dome fires Tamir missiles from launch canisters linked to sensors against incoming rockets.

The Army is spending $1.6 billion through 2024 to field a new missile defense system that may include components of Iron Dome. No decision has been made on where the Iron Dome batteries will be located.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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