Woman arrested Mar a Lago, ‘United Nations Friendship Event’.
A Chinese woman carrying a thumb drive loaded with malware was detained at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after possibly trying to gain access to events advertised on Chinese-language social media by Cindy Yang, the South Florida massage parlour entrepreneur who also ran a business selling access to the US president and his family.
The woman, Zhang Yujing, has been charged with two federal crimes: making false statements to a federal officer and entering restricted property.
She was carrying four mobile phones, one laptop, one external hard drive and a thumb drive, according to court records.
In a charging document, a Secret Service agent said a preliminary forensic examination of the thumb drive showed it contained “malicious malware”.
The court filing did not provide further details about the nature of the malware.
Zhang originally told a US Secret Service agent that she wanted to use Mar-a-Lago’s pool, but upon further questioning said she had travelled from Shanghai to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event” between China and the United States.
She said she planned to speak with a member of the president’s family about US-Chinese economic relations.
Zhang’s arrest was first reported by WPTV. In court records, her birth year is listed as 1986.
There was no United Nations Friendship Event on March 30 at the president’s Palm Beach resort. Trump had been staying at Mar-a-Lago but golfing at one of his nearby clubs at the time of the incident.
However, first lady Melania Trump and other members of the Trump family were at Mar-a-Lago, according to NBC.
Although no United Nations-related event was on the club’s social calendar, Zhang was likely referring to two events originally scheduled for that day and promoted by Yang.
One event, a “Safari Night” held to benefit a local youth charity, was cancelled after The Miami Herald revealed that Yang – a former owner of the massage parlour where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution – had taken photographs with Trump and other Republican leaders and used them to advertise her ability to get Chinese clients into events with the president.
On the web site for her consulting business, Yang also advertised a March 30 “International Leaders Elite Forum”, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and the first event at Mar-a-Lago with “the Chinese as the protagonist”.
That event also did not take place.
No mention is made of Yang in the court documents charging Zhang.
But Zhang told agents she was invited to Mar-a-Lago by a Chinese friend she identified only as “Charles”, according to court records.
Yang worked with a Chinese event promoter named Charles Lee to advertise Safari Night and other galas and political fundraisers featuring the Trump family at Mar-a-Lago over the past year.
Lee runs a group called the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, similar to the name of the event Zhang said she wished to attend.
The group, which is not affiliated with the UN, has promoted the Chinese Communist Party, and advertised events at Mar-a-Lago as ways for Chinese businessmen to participate in President Xi Jinping’s so-called business diplomacy agenda – essentially, an effort to have Chinese executives make friends with important people abroad.
Terry Bomar, the president of the Young Adventurers charity that was to host the Safari Night event, said Zhang had not been on the guest list.
A spokesperson for Yang’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House referred questions to the US Secret Service, which declined to comment due to the ongoing investigation.
A federal public defender representing Zhang declined to comment.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to a faxed request for comment.
Whatever the reason for Zhang’s presence, her arrest raises further questions about the degree to which private citizens – and potentially foreign rivals to the US – can access Mar-a-Lago.
Lee’s website was taken down after The Miami Herald reported on his activities last week. In a brief interview, he denied knowing Yang.
“What we’ve seen so far are the theoretical security risks that come from the ease at which people can get proximity to the president and his family based on the semipublic nature of this club,” said Jeffrey Prescott, a former National Security Council aide under President Barack Obama and a senior fellow at the Penn Biden Centre.
“Now, the potential security risk may be an actual security risk.”
Prescott said it’s too early to tell what Zhang intended to do at the president’s estate, but if it was an effort to leave behind an electronic presence in order to record activities at Mar-a-Lago, “that’s a significant development”.
Malware is any type of software getting into a system that does something the administrator doesn’t want it to do, said Greg Hall, an expert in malware analysis at the University of West Florida’s Centre for Cybersecurity.
It can be anything from adware – software that automatically displays or downloads advertising material – to more nefarious programs that can enter a system from one computer and take data from other computers.