HASH(0xbeb8fc)

News of Iraq trip with Kushner midair poses security risks

News of Iraq trip with Kushner midair poses security risks

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s failure to keep senior adviser Jared Kushner’s trip to Iraq secret isn’t standard practice for top U.S. officials visiting warzones. Such trips are usually kept quiet, with the co-operation of journalists, until the officials arrive in order to ensure maximum security.

A senior administration official told reporters Sunday evening that Kushner — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law — was in Iraq, even though he was still en route. For the military and security professionals managing the mission, the public disclosure of the unannounced trip was a security breach. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, also was on board.

Although the plane landed safely in Baghdad on Monday, the Iraqi capital is hardly a secure location, having suffered countless extremist attacks over the years. The threat is no less acute today as Iraq wages a bitter battle to try to rid the Islamic State from its territory. For trips to the city, the military seeks to avoid public mention of plans ahead of time so extremist groups can’t plot attacks.

“It’s been longstanding practice to strictly avoid announcing the visits of senior U.S. officials in advance of their travels to warzones,” said George Little, a Pentagon and CIA press secretary for Leon Panetta, who managed both departments under President Barack Obama. “The main reason is obvious. You want to avoid giving the enemy any information that could help them to target these delegations, especially in areas where the battle lines aren’t clear on the map.”

Knowing when and where a senior U.S. military or civilian official might arrive makes attacks easier. Such details could help groups target the plane as it takes off or lands, or use roadside bombs or shoulder-launched rockets to strike dignitaries while they’re on the ground.

U.S. security details work with host countries to make sure routes and buildings are secure, trying to do so in the most inconspicuous manner possible.

The choice of plane, too, is determined by danger level. In warzones, officials often fly more rugged combat aircraft, such as the Air Force’s heavy C-17 transport plane. These can take off and land quicker on shorter runways. Steeper, corkscrew landings are sometimes preferred to minimize the threat from surface-to-air missiles.

Reporters co-operate, too. Those travelling with top leaders into conflict areas must keep the trip secret, with reports generally “embargoed” until landing. Restrictions can be tighter on rare occasions.

But these practices all are predicated on the administration not making the trip public prematurely.

“The moment of vulnerability is, if they know you’re coming, a surface-to-air missile going after the airplane,” said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s White House press secretary. “If you can diminish the time they know — and by the time you’re there, the whole thing is a flood of security agents — it makes it almost impossible in theory for them to do anything bad.”

For the Trump administration, Kushner’s voyage marks the second time a secret trip hasn’t gone as planned.

In February, the White House arranged for Trump to visit Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honour the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed a week earlier. In keeping with the practice of past White Houses, the trip wasn’t announced. News organizations agreed not to report on the trip until after Trump arrived at the base.

But unlike past occurrences, Trump left the White House in broad daylight in Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, taking off in full view of pedestrians. The AP was forced to report that Trump had left the building.

For the last 15 years, as Republican and Democratic presidents and Cabinet members have travelled in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, media have largely adhered to the unwritten rules.

In 2003, when then-President George W. Bush secretly travelled to Iraq to see troops on Thanksgiving Day, about a dozen reporters accompanying him had to hand over their cellphones, pagers and other electronics upon boarding Air Force One. They couldn’t file stories while Bush was on the ground, only after he left Iraqi airspace.

There have been occasional mistakes and misunderstandings. Host countries sometimes spill the beans and Cabinet members also slip up, though rarely with details about flights as they’re incoming.

Security incidents aren’t uncommon.

When Defence Secretary Panetta’s plane was taxiing after landing in Afghanistan in 2012, an Afghan contractor hijacked an SUV and tried to run down senior Marine officers waiting on the ramp to welcome the Pentagon chief. The contractor then set himself aflame inside the vehicle, forcing the plane to taxi elsewhere on the runway to avoid the fire.

Officials said they didn’t think the man knew about Panetta’s arrival.

___

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed.

Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Slide on Momma Bear run causes Polar Peak to close

One individual trapped in slide, rescued by CARDA

Fernie Skating Club performs annual show

On Saturday, February 18, the Fernie Skating Club braved the cold, and… Continue reading

Outstanding support for Blankman family

“There’s no shortage of support in this town if you need it,” said Maggie.

Ghostriders accelerating towards playoffs

Fernie’s first playoff game of the season is this Sunday, February 25 in Sparwood.

City of Cranbrook culls 50 urban deer

In an effort to reduce incidents of deer aggression across the community,… Continue reading

President praises nearly 1,800 volunteers at B.C. Games

Ashley Wadhwani sits down with the Kamloops 2018 B.C. Winter Games President Niki Remesz

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

The way government learn someone has died is getting a digital overhaul

Governments in Canada turned to private consultants 2 years ago to offer blueprint

Bobsleigh team misses Olympic medal finish

Canadian team finishes four-man event 0.84 seconds behind first place, 0.31 seconds from podium

B.C. Games: Athletes talk Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018

From Andi Naudie to Evan McEachran there’s an Olympian for every athlete to look up to

Snowboarders sliding into fresh territory at B.C. Games

Athletes hit the slopes for first appearance as an event at the B.C. Winter Games in Kamloops

Looking back at the 1979 B.C. Games: Good memories, even better jackets

39 years later, Kamloops is hosting the Winter Games again, with some volunteers returning

OLYMPICS 101: Oldest and youngest Canadians to reach the podium

This year, Canada sent its most athletes in Winter Games history, here’s a look at record breakers

Fly Fishing Film Fest coming to Fernie, March 1st

On March 1, the doors will open at The Vogue Theatre to… Continue reading

Most Read