Trump’s golf links vulnerable to terror attacks and protests

Donald Trump surrounded by bodyguards at Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Donald Trump surrounded by bodyguards at Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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President Donald Trump’s golf resorts in Scotland could be viewed as “soft targets” by terror groups intent on striking against his administration, counter-terrorism experts have told Scotland on Sunday.

The protection of Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links will require substantial security upgrades and the pooling of resources by UK and US agencies to safeguard against potential threats, according to seasoned diplomatic security officials.

With a new course due to open later this year at Trump’s flagship resort in South Ayrshire, a vast security operation is already being planned, one which could intensify if the White House insists on including Scotland in the itinerary for Trump’s state visit.

Authorities here face the added difficulty of policing demonstrations at Trump’s venues over the coming months and years.

With global opposition to the Trump administration’s policies growing, organisers of peaceful protests in Scotland described the billionaire’s properties as a “gift” which would be used as a “platform for opposition”.

While protests against Trump have been an irregular occurrence ever since he purchased the Menie estate in 2005, his accession to the presidency looks set to intensify the scale and scope of the security arrangements at Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links.

The first major test will come this summer, when the former resort unveils its new King Robert the Bruce course. Three of Trump’s children – Eric, Donald Jr, and Ivanka – are directors of SLC Turnberry Ltd, the company behind the resort, and visited it last year alongside their father.

Under US statutes and longstanding protocols, the trio will be safeguarded by the Secret Service’s presidential protective division if they return for the ribbon-cutting ceremony; as executive vice-president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organisation, and the figure responsible for overseeing the changes at Turnberry, Eric at least is all but certain to attend.

Leading counter-terrorism experts in the UK and the US said they expected security to be significantly upgraded at Trump’s Scottish concerns, with agencies on both sides of the Atlantic working together to assess threats.

Chris Phillips, former head of the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, said: “The Trump businesses are clearly at a higher risk and some extra security measures will be put into place. There are quite simple improvements that can be made, especially in the response to an incident and extra physical security measures.”

Phillips believes Trump’s Scottish golf courses constitute a “lower threat” compared with those businesses owned by the president in significant geopolitical locations, such as Trump Towers in Istanbul.

Others, however, believe their modest profile could make them more appealing to terror groups intent on sending a message to the Trump administration.

“The Trump branded empire spans the globe and most sites are soft targets, like hotels,” explained Fred Burton, a former deputy chief of counter-terrorism at the US Diplomatic Security Service. “Threat wise, it would be much easier to go after a soft target, in an area without robust security and intelligence.”

Chris Hagon, who served as the personal protection officer to both the Queen and Prince Philip during 11 years’ service with Scotland Yard’s Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Command, said: “Given that [Trump’s] name is on these buildings, they would be considered at a higher risk for target selection by terror groups opposed to the US and its policies.

“The likelihood of an attack is more complicated to calculate and would have to include a review of the deterrent value of security controls in place at these buildings as well as the capabilities of the terrorist actors themselves. But there would be motivation to attack his properties.”

Authorities in Scotland declined to discuss the planning in detail. Police Scotland said it does not discuss the detail of individual security arrangements for such visits, but Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “Should President Trump or his immediate family visit Scotland we would liaise with UK and US officials to ensure the appropriate security arrangements are put in place.”

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said it “would not have any involvement” in any operation, but it is understood that planning will draw on previous 
high-profile events at Turnberry, such as the 1990 Nato summit which involved 700 officers from the former Strathclyde Police force as well as Ministry of Defence launches patrolling the Firth of Clyde.

In the event Trump himself visited, the Secret Service would take the lead and secure either Turnberry or Trump International Golf Links for the duration of his stay.

Opinion is divided on who will foot the bill for security upgrades to Trump’s properties in Scotland; Phillips, now managing director of the International Protect and Prepare Security Office, a counter-terrorism consultancy, believes it is one of many questions being asked in “unprecedented times”.

“Who pays and how it will be done will be interesting to say the least,” he said. “I personally think that the US will fund extra security, but don’t know for sure.”

Burton, however, believes the Trump Organisation and its Scottish subsidiaries will foot the bill, a view shared by Hagon, now managing partner of Incident Management Group, a Florida-based security consultancy.

“The responsibility for upgrading the security of these buildings will fall on the building owner, who may see it as essential to calm nervous guests,” he explained. “Most such properties were probably not designed or built with the idea of withstanding a terrorist attack in mind.”

Whatever the outlay, it is expected the Trump Organisation will enjoy a windfall at the expense of the US security services tasked with protecting the president and his children. During the election campaign, the Secret Service paid £2.17 million for its officers to fly on private aircraft owned by Trump’s corporation.

Although Trump himself now travels exclusively on Air Force One, the likes of Eric and Donald Jr will fly on Trump’s Boeing 757 and therefore will be able to levy similar charges whenever their security detail accompanies them abroad, further smudging the line between Trump’s politics and his business interests.

As well as potential terror threats, Trump’s Scottish properties also look set to be targeted by demonstrators opposed to his administration.

The next protest, planned for Saturday, is set to convene at the Scottish Conservatives’ central office in Edinburgh before marching on the US Consulate, but others are already planning to target Trump where he is most visible in Scotland.

Philip Larkin, a writer who helped arrange last week’s protest in Glasgow’s George Square against Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May, said the president’s golf resorts were an obvious focal point for those opposed to Trump and the “outdated system” he represents.

“Public opposition to Trump was already in motion and now with his anti-immigrant, racist policies, which quite frankly are a human rights violation, you can only expect to see more protests against Trump, and where better to make a stand than his Scottish-based businesses?” said Larkin.

“Having both Turnberry and the Aberdeenshire course on our doorstep is quite frankly a gift to the people of Scotland, giving us a valuable opportunity to use these venues as a platform for opposition and hit Trump where it hurts – his ego.”

He added: “When you look at how heavily Trump was irritated by the visual impact of the wind farms on his prized Scottish resorts, imagine how he’d feel about the visual impact of thousands of protesters.”

There are questions about the long-term impact of hostility to Trump on his courses, in particular Turnberry, one of world golf’s most prestigious locations and a four-time host of the Open Championship.

Contrary to recent reports, Turnberry remains on the R&A’s rota as a potential venue for the tournament, although it would not be eligible until 2022 at the earliest. Any decision is at least a few years away.

According to the veteran golf journalist, Bill Elliott, the R&A is “smart enough to play the long game” regarding Trump’s stewardship of Turnberry, especially given the furore surrounding men-only clubs. “The last thing they will want is another Open week of negative media scrutiny,” suggested Elliott, editor-at-large of Golf World magazine.

Like many in the game, Elliott feels Turnberry’s Ailsa course is “first class”. While that is thanks in large part to Trump’s investment, Elliott believes the resort is such an “iconic historic venue for golfers that most, if not all, will see Trump merely as the current leaseholder and someone whose influence will pass sooner rather than later.” In any case, he points out that the “overwhelming majority” of top professional golfers are “solidly in favour of right-of-centre politics”.

Much will depend, however, on Trump’s conduct as commander-in-chief. “The problem is that he embroiders his name all over everything and if the Trump brand is diminished or tarnished as a result of his presidency then there may well be a serious and negative effect,” he added. “For now, we just don’t know, although it is tempting to suspect the worst.”