A photographer for a Russian state-owned news agency was allowed into the Oval Office during US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian diplomats in a level of access that has been criticised as a potential security breach.
Former US intelligence officials pointed to the danger the extra-ordinary access posed in that a listening device or other surveillance equipment could have been brought into the Oval Office hidden in cameras or other electronics, the Washington Post reported.
The ex-intelligence officials raised questions after photos of Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were posted online by the Tass news agency.
When asked whether it was a sound decision to allow the Russian photographer into the Oval Office, former deputy CIA director David S Cohen replied: “No, it was not.”
The White House played down the danger, saying that the photographer and his equipment were subjected to a security screening before he and it entered the White House grounds.
Other former intelligence officials also described the access granted to the photographer as a potential security lapse, noting that standard screening for White House visitors would not necessarily detect a sophisticated espionage device.
An administration official also said that the White House had been misled about the role of the Russian photographer. Russian officials had described the individual as Lavrov’s official photographer without disclosing that he also worked for Tass.
“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,” the administration official said.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters at the Russian Embassy after his talks with Trump and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lavrov did not hide his irritation with questions about Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election.
“I never thought I’d have to answer such questions, particularly in the US, given your highly-developed democratic system,” he said.
Lavrov said that no evidence exist linking Russia to hacked Democratic Party emails and that the issue of Russian interference in the campaign did not arise in his meeting with Trump, according to the report.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said Trump had “emphasised the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria”, particularly urging Russia to “rein in” the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran.
Trump also urged Russia to implement the Minsk accord reached in 2014 in an attempt to end the fighting in Ukraine.