Inside Donald Trump’s Surveillance Operations

Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

The suburban house on Water Mark Place in Sterling, Virginia, doesn't look like a Donald Trump residence: no classical columns, no gold accents. But sources say it has one feature, common to many Trump properties, which opens a window onto the candidate’s worldview: an extensive and closely-monitored surveillance system.

The interior is monitored by multiple surveillance cameras, according to three former Trump employees familiar with the house. The video is watched remotely by Trump’s security team 250 miles away in New York City, the sources said.

Trump’s adjacent golf club, the Trump National Golf Club, also has an extensive web of surveillance cameras, these former employees said. The technology includes a license plate reader to record who comes and goes from the club, two of the sources said.

The extent of the video surveillance is far beyond what is routine for a golf club, said the three former employees, all of whom are familiar with the industry. Two of them said that the cameras were monitored intently, almost invasively. Workers, they said, would occasionally get called by security in New York if they were in an unexpected place.

The elaborate surveillance arrangement is consistent with a pattern: BuzzFeed News previously reported that in his bedroom at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump had a switchboard that allowed him to eavesdrop on any landline there, according to people who worked at the estate. Unlike at Mar-a-Lago, there is no allegation of phone eavesdropping capabilities at Trump’s golf operations near the nation’s capital.

Matthew Calamari (right) with Donald Trump Jr.

Bobby Bank / Getty Images

Overseeing Trump’s surveillance operations is Matthew Calamari, a powerful behind-the scenes figure who has been in Trump’s world for 35 years. Calamari reportedly came to Trump’s attention when he tackled hecklers at a tennis match. According to one Trump biography, the large and imposing Calamari, a former college linebacker, said he would be willing to kill for his boss.

Trump is seeking the presidency when surveillance — and concern about it — is more pervasive in American life than ever before. Just this month, the Oliver Stone film Snowden opened, depicting Edward Snowden’s revelations of how the NSA collects huge amounts of data on all Americans, and FBI director James Comey said it would be “sensible” for most people to cover their laptop cameras. Meanwhile, the FBI and other federal agencies are filming Americans from the skies, and surveillance cameras have become ubiquitous in airports, stores, and many city streets. In workplaces, employers track more and more of their employees’ activities, and web cameras are increasingly common in people’s homes.

Calamari reportedly came to Trump’s attention when he tackled hecklers at a tennis match.

As a candidate, Trump has called for surveillance of mosques and has supported reauthorizing the Patriot Act, including the NSA’s bulk collection of data on telephone calls, emails, and other digital communication. “I tend to err on the side of security,” he told radio host Hugh Hewitt in June.

Asked about surveillance at Trump’s Virginia home and adjacent golf club, a Trump Organization spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “We do not comment on the specific security procedures that are put in place at our properties. That said, there are numerous inaccuracies outlined in your ‘findings’ and your allegations of surveillance are simply untrue.”

The spokesperson declined a request to specify what was inaccurate or untrue, and to answer questions about other aspects of this story, such as Calamari’s role. A spokeswoman for the campaign declined to comment on any aspect of this story, saying the response from the Trump Organization was “perfectly adequate.”

When BuzzFeed News previously revealed that Trump had a switchboard in his Mar-a-Lago bedroom and that sources said he used it to listen in on conversations, a Trump spokeswoman denied it.

This story is based mainly on five sources: four former employees of the golf resort, and one person close to the campaign. All but one said they plan to vote for Trump. The former employees spoke on condition of anonymity because, like virtually all Trump employees, they had signed sweeping nondisclosure agreements. The person close to the campaign said he isn’t authorized to speak to the press.

Politicians believed Trump’s home was “a safe place to go.”

On some occasions, Trump’s home in Virginia has also been used by special guests, two sources said. There were “politicians that would stay there,” said one former club worker, who claimed to have seen them. This person recalled Trump saying, “Anything they need, make sure they have.” Sometimes, this person said, the guests “would come there for a safe haven.”

“People stay there,” said the source familiar with the Trump campaign. Politicians, he said, believed it was “a safe place to go.” This source emphasized that no one except Trump ever stayed in Trump’s actual bedrooms.

A third source, who used to work at the golf club, said he was unaware of politicians staying there but said other members of Trump’s family and some officials of the Trump Organization did. Two other sources said they were unaware of anyone except Trump staying in his private residence in recent years.

Trump’s house has a two-car garage, a bit of lawn, and a myrtle tree planted amid some hedges. From the exterior, the place looks like the home of a retired orthodontist rather than that of a billionaire real estate tycoon and presidential candidate.

Still, records confirm that Donald Trump purchased it in 2009, through a company called Trump Marks Asia, LLC. Trump uses this little-known and subdued private residence very rarely, sources say, just a few times a year when he visits his golf course. There’s one entrance from the public street, and a separate entrance from the fairway attached to the Trump National Golf Club.

From the exterior, Trump’s house looks like the home of a retired orthodontist.

In addition to his home, Trump’s club has another private residence, a row house, available for club guests or members to rent. Like Trump’s personal home, it is accessible from two entrances, either the golf club greens or the street. This home is sometimes rented to members or guests who need overnight stays.

Trump’s home, according to three former employees, is equipped with multiple cameras throughout. One of the sources said that the cameras covered the entire home, including hallways, with the exception of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Another source confirmed this. “At his home, there were exterior and interior views,” the former club official said. Another former employee who said he has been to the house repeatedly said that “from what I understand there were cameras everywhere.”

BuzzFeed News; Google Maps

Three sources said the cameras in Trump’s home are constantly monitored by Trump Organization security officials back in New York City, rather than by security at the next-door club. The sources said the Trump video cameras operate on a web-based system, and each camera feed is assigned a different IP address.

To watch the video feed, said one former club employee, “All you need was an IP address.”

Three former employees said that they believe the extensive surveillance system inside Trump’s home was installed out of concerns for Trump’s safety.

As for surveillance at the golf club near Washington, it is also extensive. Trump first bought the Virginia golf club in 2009, when it was called Lowes Island Golf Club, and quickly made dramatic changes to the grounds and the surroundings. As he redid the grounds, for example, his workers cut down hundreds of trees that had interfered with the view of the river. “[N]ow we have unobstructed views of the Potomac River,” he later told the Washington Post.

Another change was an extensive upgrading of surveillance equipment and an increase in cameras on the property. “When he first took over, there weren’t many,” said one longtime former worker. “Now there are.” This person said the rationale for the cameras at the club was theft. “The club was losing money. There was theft. Liquor. Things were stolen from the service carts.” This person said, “There are cameras everywhere, now.”

Trump at his golf course, in Sterling, Virginia.

Jeffrey MacMillan for The Washington Post / Getty Images

In fact, this former Trump employee said, the club installed license tag readers so Trump security personnel would know which cars were coming and going.

He said the surveillance features are far more elaborate than other golf clubs he’s familiar with. “Trump security can look up any camera,” the former employee said. “They have a strong monitoring system.” If workers are in a spot where they are not supposed to be, this person said, the office in New York would call: “They will call and say, ‘What are you doing there?’”

Another former club official said that did indeed occur.

Security and surveillance at the Trump Organization is a family affair. For years, Trump’s head of security has been Matthew Calamari. Some described the beefy Calamari as daunting and even intimidating, while others said he is an efficient and quiet professional. Soon after he took down two men disrupting a tennis game at the US Open, he began working as the mogul’s bodyguard.

In Lost Tycoon, the 1993 biography of Trump, author Harry Hurt III describes a scene where Trump calls to Calamari from the back of his limousine, playfully testing his loyalty.

“You’d do anything for me, wouldn’t you, Matty?” Donald called out from the rear of the limousine.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Trump,” Calamari assured him.

“Anything at all?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Trump.”

“Would you kill for me, Matty?” Donald pressed.

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you kill for me, Matty?” Donald repeated, as if he were a cheerleader inciting a crowd to riot.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Trump!”

“Would you kill for me, Matty?” Donald said again in an even louder voice.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Trump!”

“See.” Donald grinned, turning back toward Fitzsimmons. “Matty would kill for me.”

Calamari is now listed as the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Trump Organization, though numerous sources said his duties chiefly involve security. Though he works for the Trump business, he was briefly paid by the Trump presidential campaign, according to Federal Election Commission reports, which say he received $4,322.15 in July, as well as expense reimbursements in March.

Calamari’s son, Matt Calamari Jr., also works for the Trump Organization. “He picked up the security business from his dad,” explained one former security official at the Trump Organization, who said the younger Calamari is remarkably good at the technical end of security, in spite of his young age.

Public records indicate that he is 23 years old. Calamari Jr. lists his title on LinkedIn as the Trump Organization’s “Director of Surveillance.”

Indeed, four sources said the younger Calamari seems to be the expert in surveillance technology and supervises these operations for Trump at all his properties. “His son handles surveillance,” said a former Trump official at the golf club.

Neither of the Calamaris responded to requests for comment.

One major surveillance equipment contractor for the Trump Organization is AISG — American Integrated Security Group — which has touted its work on a separate Trump golf course, the Trump National Doral course in Florida. In a four-page case study it posted online, AISG writes that it dealt with both Matt Calamari Sr. and Jr.

The company also describes 360-degree “low profile cameras that look like smoke detectors” and an internet server system for storing and monitoring video. It says the “first phase” of its contract involved installing over 100 cameras, and it continued later with even more video surveillance.

The case study quotes Trump officials praising the cameras for allowing high-quality zooms on people’s faces, and for license plate recognition.

Officials at the security company said the Calamaris wanted to make sure that they had the very best and that they could thoroughly monitor employees at the golf course.

It is unclear which contractor installed the cameras at Trump’s Virginia home and the golf club it is attached to.

While Trump’s visits to his home occur just a few times a year, the staff of the golf club are expected to always keep the fridge stocked, everything immaculate, and the temperature in the house just right.

These details are no laughing matter. When Trump showed up one June, according to three sources, the air conditioning unit was off and the heat was on, making the home uncomfortably warm. Trump fired the club’s general manager.

If you have information or tips, you can contact this reporter at aram.roston@buzzfeed.com. To send an encrypted email, his PGP fingerprint is: D861 374F D725 4F61 39C0 08F1 4575 134B 09D9 B28D.

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