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Chinese Woman Carrying Thumb Drive Full Of Malware Arrested At Mar-A-Lago


A Chinese woman carrying a thumb drive full of malware was arrested this weekend for lying her way into Mar-a-Lago, the president's private club in Palm Beach, Fla. The president was golfing at a nearby property at the time, though he and his family were staying at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. The Miami Herald has the story. Reporter Nicholas Nehamas joins us now. Welcome.

NICHOLAS NEHAMAS: Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: We don't know much about this woman. What can you tell us about her?

NEHAMAS: Well, we know her name was Yujing Zhang. She came to Mar-a-Lago for an event with a group called the United Nations Friendship Association. And she was carrying Taiwanese passports. Beyond that, we don't really know who she is.

SHAPIRO: She was also carrying a lot of electronics. What did they find on her?

NEHAMAS: Yeah. She had four cellphones, one laptop, one external hard drive and one thumb drive that contained malware according to the U.S. Secret Service. But beyond that, we don't know much about what kind of malware it was, whether her device had been unintentionally infected with it or whether she had loaded that malware onto the thumb drive herself.

SHAPIRO: So the charges that she faces include making false statements to a federal officer and entering restricted property. Can you give us the play-by-play as best we understand it?

NEHAMAS: Yeah, so she came to Mar-a-Lago, the president's private club, and said she wanted to use the pool and kind of implied that she was the relative of a member of Mar-a-Lago with a similar or the same surname and kind of got into the reception area that way. But then it turned out she wasn't on any list, and then her story changed, that she was here for this U.N. event, something which had been advertised by Cindy Yang. And that's when the Secret Service detained her.

SHAPIRO: OK, I want to dig a little deeper into this woman Cindy Yang - her real name is Li Yang - who has been in the news before in connection with a massage parlor that was at the center of a prostitution bust. She's also accused of selling access to the Trump family. How does this woman factor into the story?

NEHAMAS: So Ms. Yang, who, you know, as you said, owned the massage parlor where Robert Kraft was arrested, charged with soliciting prostitution, had a side business where she sold access to the president and his family, to events at Mar-a-Lago to Chinese business executives. And she had advertised an event set to take place at Mar-a-Lago on that day. It had been canceled after a lot of news reporting on her activities. So the woman who showed up to the club on Saturday said she was there for an event that had been canceled.

SHAPIRO: And Democrats have called for a counterintelligence investigation into Yang. That was before this latest story broke about the woman being busted with malware on a thumb drive. So how does that relate to this?

NEHAMAS: Yes, that's right. There are concerns by national security experts that Ms. Yang has ties to groups in the U.S. that are projections of the Chinese Communist Party's goals abroad. And so the Democrats are asking for an examination of how closely tied is she, if at all, to China's government and its efforts abroad.

SHAPIRO: I've heard people say ever since President Trump was elected that Mar-a-Lago presents a security threat. On the other hand, this woman was caught and arrested. So do you think this shows the weakness of Mar-a-Lago or the strength of the security perimeter that's there?

NEHAMAS: Well, you know, I don't think we quite know enough about what the situation was. You know, was it a harmless, confused tourist? Was it something more sinister? But certainly it is true that she was stopped well before she got into the club. And the president was golfing not at Mar-a-Lago but at his nearby golf course. So he was not present when this happened.

SHAPIRO: I know a lot of the details that you're sharing with us come from public court documents. Is there a court appearance scheduled for the woman at the center of this?

NEHAMAS: Yes, she has a detention hearing April 8 and an arraignment April 15. So I hope we will know more.

SHAPIRO: Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald, thanks a lot.

NEHAMAS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.