Elections

Are Trump towers and hotels across globe now terror risks?

Workmen remove the letters from a building formerly known as Trump Place in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Donald Trump's name is being stripped off three luxury apartment buildings after hundreds of tenants signed a petition saying they were embarrassed to live in a place associated with the Republican President-elect.
Workmen remove the letters from a building formerly known as Trump Place in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Donald Trump's name is being stripped off three luxury apartment buildings after hundreds of tenants signed a petition saying they were embarrassed to live in a place associated with the Republican President-elect. AP

Donald Trump’s name has long been a marketing dream, splashed across skylines at home and abroad in letters sometimes larger than three grown men. Now it could become something else: a target.

Already a symbol of American wealth, even extravagance, that big Trump sign soon will be an icon of the American government and its leader. And it will be emblazoned on buildings that could be easier targets than well-guarded U.S. embassies, often in cities with a history of terrorism, experts say.

“That’s going to be an issue in a few countries,” said James F. Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2008 to 2010 and deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration. “Anything that’s associated with the United States, now to include Trump towers, is a potential target. It’s the way it is.”

To date, most of the flap about Trump’s name on buildings has been with unhappy residents, such as residents of Trump Place in New York voting to have his name removed from the building.

Now, though security experts caution that they are not predicting attacks, they say it’s possible that his name could invite them. That also raises the question of how much building owners, local governments and the Trump Organization can do to better protect the buildings.

“I would think it would be prudent for them to start looking at their overseas holdings and see what the ramifications could be,” said Christopher A. Hagon, a managing partner of Incident Management Group in Plantation, Florida, which provides security assessments for companies and businesses operating in Latin America and Asia.

Trump presents unique challenges, said Hagon, who previously worked for more than a decade in Scotland Yard’s Royalty & Diplomatic Protection Department, guarding England’s royal family. Security experts generally advise corporate executives abroad to maintain low profiles. Trump’s brand already was built on a very high profile – even before assuming the presidency.

“In this case, you’ve got a tremendously high-profile (executive) . . . inadvertently putting yourself in a situation where you are exposing yourself,” said Hagon, calling it the very “thing other companies go out of the way not to do.”

The Trump Organization and the Trump transition team did not respond to requests from McClatchy for comment.

Trump doesn’t own the towers around the world that bear his name. He licenses his name, and often has management companies in the buildings. The Trump brand attracts buyers to the luxury condos and hotel suites, and developers pay him handsomely to use his name.

A strike against those buildings would harm the economic interests of people other than Trump.

“That is largely irrelevant,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a veteran terrorism expert at the Rand Corp., a security think tank, who said research into past attacks showed that symbols were of far greater importance. “This is symbolic violence, and the attackers are not waging economic warfare against the target of their attack. They are looking for a venue that will get them attention and help them express their message.”

Cautioning that he was steering clear of prediction, Jenkins said history pointed to attacks on symbols of American might. A building bearing Trump’s name now qualifies.

That now “is something they have to take into account,” he said.

There are numerous Trump properties around the globe.

There’s the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations in New York. There’s Trump Towers Istanbul in Turkey, a country that’s struggled with terror attacks in recent years. As a former ambassador there, Jeffrey was confident the Turkish government is well aware of the potential risks.

“Whether it’s a Sheraton or Trump Tower, the people inside are going to be 99 percent Turks, and these are symbols of the Turkish tourism industry,” said Jeffrey, who’s now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research organization.

In India, there are Trump towers up or in the works in four cities including Mumbai, the site of a horrific attack on the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in 2008 by terrorists linked to Pakistan.

In the Indian media, Trump’s partners in Pune and Mumbai have talked up the premium that his name gives to the sales of units in their properties. They have not mentioned associated risks.

Trump plans projects in Saudi Arabia, itself struggling with terror attacks.

His name also is on a tower at Century City in Manila. The Philippines has suffered more than three dozen bombings since 2000 tied to Islamic groups or affiliated separatists. Most attacks have occurred outside Manila.

And there’s Bali, the Indonesian resort island where Trump plans a Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali. On the Trump Hotels website, it notes “the luxurious resort will be the largest and most integrated lifestyle resort destination in Bali.”

Bali was the site of a terror bombing in October 2002 that killed 202 people, many of them tourists.

Security experts cautioned they did not want to suggest that attacks on Trump properties are inevitable or imminent. But they all said attacks were possible in a way that no other U.S. president had faced.

“An attack on a Trump tower would be newsworthy. It would be the news cycle,” said Timothy Bradley, a former FBI agent and partner at the Incident Management Group. “The rhetoric he used in the campaign certainly puts those in play. Where he goes forward in the next few months . . . may ratchet up the threat level.”

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall

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