White House ‘will not repeat’ allegations of UK spying on Trump

GCHQ says White House allegations are ‘utterly ridiculous and should be ignored’

The GCHQ building in Cheltenham, UK: A Fox News analyst  claimed sources told  him that the Obama administration used GCHQ to spy on Donald Trump so there would be “no American fingerprints on this”. Photograph: GCHQ/PA Wire

The GCHQ building in Cheltenham, UK: A Fox News analyst claimed sources told him that the Obama administration used GCHQ to spy on Donald Trump so there would be “no American fingerprints on this”. Photograph: GCHQ/PA Wire

 

The White House has assured the UK government that allegations British intelligence spied on US president Donald Trump will not be repeated, prime minister Theresa May’s spokesman has said.

The claim that GCHQ helped former president Barack Obama wiretap Mr Trump during the 2016 election drew a rare denial by British intelligence officials after White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated it on Thursday. Mr Spicer quoted a claim by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano that three intelligence sources confirmed to him that the Obama administration used GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump so there would be “no American fingerprints on this”.

In its surprise public rebuttal, GCHQ described the allegation as “utterly ridiculous” and on Friday, Ms May’s spokesman said the White House had told the British ambassador and the UK’s national security adviser that Mr Spicer had been instructed not to repeat them.

“I don’t want to get into private conversations, but we’ve made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored,” the spokesman said. “We’ve received assurances these allegations won’t be repeated.

“We have a close relationship which allows us to raise concerns when they arise, as was true in this case. This shows the administration doesn’t give the allegations any credence.”

Asked whether Mr Spicer had been told not to repeat the claims, the spokesman said: “Indeed.”

Mr Spicer has not made a formal apology.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former chairman of the British parliament’s intelligence and security committee, demanded the White House withdraw the allegations and not merely say they would not be repeated. He said Mr Spicer never had evidence for the allegations and made them only because he was desperate to justify Mr Trump’s claim.

Sir Malcolm told BBC radio: “That’s just foolish and very dangerous stuff and President Trump better get a grip not only on his own press officer but on the kind of encouragement being given in the White House that makes a press officer make these stupid allegations in the first place.

“You don’t just quote from a Fox News report if you are the president’s official spokesman unless you have taken the trouble to find out if that report is justified.”

Close co-operation

British and American intelligence agencies co-operate closely. Along with their counterparts in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, they are members of the Five Eyes, which all work together on intelligence.

According to documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, British officials allowed their US counterparts to store and analyse British citizens’ internet and email records. And Snowden also revealed that the NSA paid £100 million to GCHQ in secret.

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats – the junior partner in the last British coalition government – said Mr Trump was “compromising the vital UK-US security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment”.

Mr Trump started the political firestorm in a series of tweets in early March when he accused Obama of wiretapping his phones and called his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy”.

US officials called the allegation groundless.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Mr Trump tweeted on March 4th.

On Thursday, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee joined their counterparts on the House intelligence committee in the conclusion that they had seen no evidence to support the president’s accusation.

During the briefing, Mr Spicer said Mr Trump “stands by it” and emphasised, as he has attempted to do in recent days, that the president was referring broadly to wiretapping as a range of surveillance-related activities.

Similar argument

Mr Trump made a similar argument in a Wednesday night interview on Fox News, telling the interview host, Tucker Carlson, that the word wiretap “covers surveillance and many other things”.

He also told Carlson that the administration would submit evidence of his wiretapping claim to the House intelligence panel “very soon”, adding: “You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

In the same interview, he wrongly cited a New York Times report in January about intercepted communications and financial records concerning Mr Trump associates and Russian officials as supporting his claim.

Asked why he had not relied on US intelligence for a claim with extraordinary legal implications, Mr Trump said: “Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency.”

– (Guardian service)