The claim that The Government Communications Headquarters( GCHQ) a British intelligence and security organisation responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information assurance to the British government and armed forces helped former President Barack Obama wiretap Trump during the 2016 election drew a rare denial by British intelligence officials after the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, repeated it on Thursday, the Guardian reports.
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 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, the prime minister’s spokesman said the White House had told the British ambassador and the UK’s national security adviser that 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 Spicer had been told not to repeat the claims, the spokesman said: “Indeed.”
Spicer had quoted Napolitano’s allegation in an effort to validate Trump’s unfounded claim that Obama tapped his phones last year.
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats – the junior partner in the last British coalition government – described Spicer’s repetition of the claims as “shameful” and said Trump was “compromising the vital UK-US security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment”.
Trump accused Obama of tapping his phones in a series of tweets in early March, describing his predecessor as a “bad (or sick) guy ”.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” the current incumbent of the White House tweeted on 4 March.
On Thursday, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate intelligence committee joined their counterparts on the House intelligence committee in concluding that they had seen no evidence to support the president’s accusation.
British and American intelligence agencies cooperate closely. Along with their counterparts from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, they are members of the Five Eyes, which work together on intelligence.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “I would add, just as a matter of fact, with the Five Eyes pact, we cannot use each other’s capabilities to circumvent laws. It’s a situation that simply wouldn’t arise.”