As Donald Trump prepares to assume the U.S. presidency, luxury towers from Istanbul to Manila that bear his name become de facto government symbols, making them potential terrorist targets. Experts say the question of how to protect them and who should pay poses a complex ethical and legal dilemma.
Trump himself has acknowledged that his election makes his “a hotter brand” but he hasn’t publicly addressed how to protect buildings that carry the emblem of the presidency without the security of U.S. embassies.
“If a terrorist is looking for a symbolic American target to hit that’s relatively accessible, tall buildings with the new president’s name emblazoned on them would be very attractive,” said Matthew Bryza, a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “It would be very expensive to protect them as well. It’s worrisome.”
The security dilemma will persist regardless of what measures Trump takes to step back from his business. Trump is due to announce his plan to remove himself from his organization at a Dec. 15 news conference. If he hands management or even ownership of the business to his grown children, the Trump name would likely remain on skyscrapers in cities that are on high alert for terrorist attacks.
‘Asking for Trouble’
“It’s asking for trouble,” said Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s White House ethics lawyer. “We have to have protection for those buildings. Will it be U.S. taxpayer money or foreign government money? Foreign government funding raises constitutional issues.”
Foreign governments may have to expand security at Trump-branded properties unless the Trump Organization or its partners pay for enhanced protection, he said. The U.S. Constitution bars officials from accepting gifts or payment from foreign governments, but whether such heightened protection would be considered payment is unclear. Painter added that an attack on a Trump-branded building could even draw the U.S. into a military conflict, meaning the problem could go beyond money.
Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing at the Trump Organization, said the company doesn’t comment on its security measures.
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation likely will be examining the threat against Trump properties and the issue could prove significant, according to Chris Phillips, the former head of the U.K.’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office.
“They’re landmark targets,” he said. “You suddenly have a normal crowded place that becomes a high risk place. Most of the properties will be in places where you can’t get people away.”
Colin Clarke, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation, added, “Al-Qaeda is into symbolic attacks. Then you have the added bonus of having Trump’s name slapped on these buildings and all his divisive rhetoric on Muslims.”
While Trump’s U.S. properties face a heightened risk — New York City police are now a full-time presence outside Trump Towers in Manhattan — the overseas buildings pose the thorniest problem. For one, Trump doesn’t own his foreign properties outright, apart from three golf courses in remote parts of Ireland and Scotland. In other cities, real estate developers pay him a licensing fee to use his name and have responsibility for arranging security independently of Trump.
In some cases, including in Turkey and the Philippines, Trump’s role ends with the fee. In others — Panama, Dubai and Canada — his company manages the properties, adding to the complications.
In Turkey, Trump has a licensing agreement with Dogan Sirketler Grubu Holding AS to brand two towers in Istanbul which house offices, apartments and a mall. With Turkey on high alert after a wave of terrorist attacks, including June bombings that killed 41 people at Istanbul airport, security measures such as armed guards and scanners were already in place outside Trump Towers. The election of Trump hasn’t led to heightened precautions, according to a senior official at Dogan who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.
“Istanbul is on a war footing to fight terrorism,” said Bryza, who lives there and works as a non-executive director of Turcas, a diversified energy company. “You have an ISIS presence all over the city. It’s something I worry about every day.”
Apart from existing buildings, Trump has several properties under development in parts of the world where he could face security problems once they’re open to the public. In Indonesia, Trump has licensed his name to MNC Group to build a resort in Bali and another in Lido, 65 kilometers south of Jakarta. In 2009, suicide bombers checked into the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta and days later detonated bombs five minutes apart that killed seven people. In January, ISIS claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks in Jakarta that left eight people dead.
In Manila, a residential Trump Tower is due to be completed in the second quarter of 2017 under a licensing agreement with Century Properties Group Inc. Once opened, it too could require enhanced security, Clarke said. Abu Sayyaf, a militant group linked to al-Qaeda, has carried out attacks in the Philippines and specializes in kidnapping for ransom schemes, raising the specter of employees linked to Trump properties being targeted, he said.
“It could be a low-level employee, but that makes the front page of the newspaper,” Clarke said. “That’s a huge propaganda coup for whoever nabs this person.”
Painter, the former ethics adviser, added, “We don’t put the name Obama on buildings all around the world. Trump needs to get his name off buildings outside the U.S. for the next four years.”