A laptop in use.
Photo by TEK/Science Photo Library/Corbis

White House staffers turn to ‘secret chat app’ for private messages

An item in Slate the other day introduced me to an app I’d never heard of.
On Wednesday, Axios reported that, spooked by the Democratic National Committee hack, “numerous senior GOP operatives and several members of the Trump administration” are using Confide, an encrypted messaging app. Confide self-destructs messages once they are read, promising that they will be “gone forever” – or at least wiped from your device and from Confide’s servers.
The preferred technology of “senior GOP operatives” is of little interest, but if “several members of the Trump administration” are using communications apps that delete their messages instantly, there’s a potential problem. As the Slate piece added, “At the White House, all official business correspondence is supposed to take place over White House email for preservation purposes.”

But are members of Donald Trump’s team honoring what’s “supposed to” happen? By some accounts, no. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Upset about damaging leaks of his calls with world leaders and other national security information, Trump has ordered an internal investigation to find the leakers. Staffers, meanwhile, are so fearful of being accused of talking to the media that some have resorted to a secret chat app – Confide – that erases messages as soon as they’re read.
Seriously? We just finished a presidential campaign in which Hillary Clinton’s communications were considered the single most important issue confronting the nation, and three weeks into the Trump administration, White House staffers are already using tools that may help them circumvent the Presidential Records Act?

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first Republican administration to run into trouble with private communications. Remember this Newsweek piece from September?
Clinton’s email habits look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration. Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush White House “lost” 22 million emails. This correspondence included millions of emails written during the darkest period in America’s recent history, when the Bush administration was ginning up support for what turned out to be a disastrous war in Iraq with false claims that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and, later, when it was firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

Like Clinton, the Bush White House used a private email server – its was owned by the Republican National Committee. And the Bush administration failed to store its emails, as required by law, and then refused to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking some of those emails.
This controversy was largely ignored by the political world at the time. After all, do people really care about coverage of politicians’ private servers and missing emails?

Technology and White House

White House staffers turn to 'secret chat app' for private messages