(Bloomberg) -- Hackers and spies may be looking for the next weakest link in western government communications now that State Department secrets are no longer sitting on Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. On Wednesday night, the Spanish prime minister offered them a suggestion.
Mariano Rajoy appeared on a prime-time entertainment show in an effort to buff up his credentials as a man of the people ahead of Sunday’s general election, and was asked by a pair of puppet reporters whether he had a special red telephone in his office for calling the White House. Rajoy said yes, he did, but he doesn’t bother with it.
“To be perfectly honest, I’ve never used it,” Rajoy told the puppets. “There are so many requirements you have to comply with and it wastes a lot of time. If they are listening to me, what can I do?”
With a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, a key role in the European debt crisis, and extensive ties between Spain and the Middle East, Rajoy’s telephone conversations over the past four years could potentially contain plenty of intelligence for both investors and foreign governments seeking to gain an advantage over their rivals. Next month U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Rajoy in his official residence for supposedly private talks.
“This is a slap-dash approach to a serious matter,” Victor Lapuente, associate professor of political science at Sweden’s Gothenburg University, said in a telephone interview. “People overseas are probably disappointed to see that the security protocols aren’t followed at the top of the Spanish government.”
Merkel’s Mobile Phone
The Spanish leader doesn’t need to look as far as Washington for evidence of how security breaches can spark political problems or even roil longstanding international alliances. His own interior minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, has been embroiled in a scandal this week after he was recorded asking an official to dig up evidence to discredit his political opponents. The conversation was recorded inside the minister’s office.
Germany’s relationship with the U.S. has been complicated in recent years since Der Spiegel reported in 2013 that U.S. intelligence may have been monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private mobile phone for years. Though Obama assured the German leader that the U.S. wasn’t listening to her calls, the top American intelligence officer in Berlin was expelled in 2014 and the U.S. ambassador to Germany was summoned to the chancellery last year and warned espionage revelations were hurting cooperation between their countries.
In his conversation with the puppets -- Trancas and Barrancas -- on Antena 3’s The Anthill, Rajoy acknowledged it was probably a mistake not to use encryption for his calls.
“I won’t say I don’t have anything to regret because that’s not true,” he said. The unused secure phone isn’t actually red though, he added. “It’s black.”
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