The US has issued an official apology to Britain after the White House repeated a claim that former President Barack Obama used the UK intelligence agency GCHQ to “wiretap” Donald Trump.
According to the Telegraph, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has personally apologized after repeating the claim in an official briefing, triggering a major diplomatic incident.
General McMaster, the US National Security Adviser, has also apologized, according to an intelligence source who spoke to the newspaper.
On Thursday night, British officials hit back at the claim they had wiretapped Trump during last year’s presidential elections. GCHQ issued a rare public statement, calling the allegations “utterly ridiculous.”
“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,” the statement read.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer quoted a Fox News report which alleged Obama used the British intelligence agency to help him spy on Trump.
During a tense news briefing, Spicer said Obama used British officials so “there’s no American fingerprints on this.” He quoted Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox’s senior judicial analyst, who earlier this week said: “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 the GCHQ.”
Spicer continued with the citation, saying, in the words of Napolitano: “[GCHQ] have 24/7 access to the NSA database, so by simply having two people go to them and saying, ‘President needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate president-elect Trump,’ he’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on it.”
British intelligence agencies do not comment on-the-record except in exceptional circumstances.
When Napolitano’s claims were broadcast 48 hours earlier, GCHQ simply denied them. It abandoned convention on Thursday night by releasing the statement, because Spicer’s press conference meant the allegations had been broadcast around the world.
The US president claimed Trump Tower in New York had been under surveillance, but provided no evidence the back the claim.
A senate committee on Thursday, however, concluded that there were “no indications” Trump Tower was under surveillance before or after the election.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The dispute between GCHQ and the White House will likely result in concerns about intelligence sharing. British and America have a strong partnership and with Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who together form the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance.
Obama has flatly denied the wiretapping claims, as have a string of senior officials and politicians including FBI Director James Comey.