UK News

US will 'not repeat' claims GCHQ spied on Donald Trump

GCHQ of the GCHQ building in Cheltenham. Donald Trump's official spokesman has repeated claims that Barack Obama used GCHQ to spy on him before he became president

DONALD Trump's press secretary has directly assured Britain's ambassador to the US he will not repeat allegations that GCHQ spied on the president.

Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch spoke to Sean Spicer after the presidential spokesman repeated claims that the British eavesdropping agency was used by Barack Obama to spy on Mr Trump before last year's election.

The allegations were described by GCHQ as "utterly ridiculous", in a rare public intervention which was backed by UK Government officials, including Sir Kim and the PM's national security adviser Sir Mark Lyall Grant, in conversations with the US administration.

Britain was then told the claims will not be repeated, showing that the US administration does not give them any credence, Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokesman said.

At a regular Westminster briefing, Mrs May's spokesman refused to say whether US officials apologised.

He said: "We have made clear to the (US) administration that these claims are ridiculous and that they should be ignored and we have received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated."

Asked if the allegations posed problems for the special UK-US relationship, he replied: "We have a close, special relationship with the White House and that allows us to raise concerns as and when they arise as was true in this case."

He added: "We have received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated and this shows the administration doesn't give the allegations any credence."

The PM's spokesman said it would not be possible for GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump as both countries are members of the Five Eyes alliance, a joint intelligence co-operation agreement which also includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

"I would add, just as a matter of fact, with the Five Eyes pact, we cannot use each other's capabilities to circumvent laws," he said.

"It's a situation that simply wouldn't arise."

During a media briefing at the White House on Thursday, Mr Spicer drew reporters' attention to comments made earlier this week on Fox News by former judge Andrew Napolitano in relation to Mr Trump's controversial claim that his New York residence had been bugged.

Detailing a long list of reports about the wiretap claims, Mr Spicer quoted Mr Napolitano as saying: "Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command - he didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA, he didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice - he used GCHQ."

In a surprise break from its normal practice of refusing to comment on allegations about its activities, GCHQ released a statement on Thursday night, saying: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

Mr Spicer's intervention came shortly after the US Senate Intelligence Committee released a statement saying it had seen no evidence to support the US president's claim - made in a series of Twitter posts earlier this month - that Mr Obama had bugged Trump Towers.

In a statement, the committee's Republican chairman Richard Burr and his Democrat counterpart Mark Warner said: "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016."

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Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said the US needs to go further and make clear there is no evidence that GCHQ was ever involved in spying on Mr Trump.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "That's just foolish and very, 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 from the White House that makes a press officer make these stupid remarks in the first place.

"It's dangerous because we're not talking about a candidate for the presidency, that would be bad enough. We're talking about the president of the US. You cannot have his official spokesman making allegations against a fellow Nato government."

He added: "We've been told that they won't repeat the allegations, that's all right as far as it goes but it doesn't go far enough.

"The White House needs to make it clear that they do not have, and have never had, any evidence that suggests that GCHQ or any British involvement in these matters was ever justified."

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