U.S. officials will no longer stay at New York's famed Waldorf-Astoria now that the Chinese own the hotel, the State Department announced Wednesday.
Instead, all U.S. officials will stay at the New York Palace Hotel, which will also operate as a base during U.N. operations. Hundreds of diplomats — including the top U.S. official, who has lived on the 42nd floor of the hotel's Waldorf Towers for more than 50 years — will be affected.
U.S. presidents have always stayed at the hotel for the September assembly sessions, occupying the 39th and 40th floors of the tower. The Secret Service sets up "clean rooms" throughout the hotel to prevent eavesdropping and cyberespionage.
The U.S. has accused China-linked hackers of breaking into federal personnel records and stealing personal info on millions of government workers.
Hilton sold the Waldorf-Astoria to China's Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group for $2 billion last year. The company plans "a major renovation," and U.S. officials aren't sure that China would not plant listening devices throughout the hotel.
When U.S. press attended a conference in China during the Bush administration, a counter-intelligence official in the government told me he found several bugs in one room. Top officials were told to remove the batteries from their Blackberries because the devices could be turned on remotely and all data within stolen.
The State Department is well aware of the dangers.
"Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge," the department's travel advice for China says.