UK says U.S. Claims About Spying Will Not Be Repeated

FILE PHOTO - People sit at computers in the 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Ben Birchall/Pool/File Photo


LONDON | The White House has assured British Prime Minister Theresa May it would not repeat allegations that Britain's GCHQ spy agency had helped former U.S. President Barack Obama eavesdrop on Donald Trump, May's spokesman said on Friday.

The spokesman said the charge, made on Tuesday by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, that Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) signals intelligence agency had helped Obama wire tap Trump, was "ridiculous".

"We've made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored and we've received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated," the spokesman told reporters.

Trump, who became president in January, tweeted this month that his Democratic predecessor had wiretapped him during the late stages of the 2016 campaign. The Republican president offered no evidence for the allegation, which an Obama spokesman has said was "simply false".

On the "Fox & Friends" program, Napolitano, a political commentator and former New Jersey judge, said that rather than ordering U.S. agencies to spy on Trump, Obama had obtained transcripts of Trump's conversations from GCHQ so there were "no American fingerprints" on it.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Thursday quoted Napolitano's comments about GCHQ when he spoke to the media.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said British officials had expressed their concern to senior Trump aides but the official declined to explicitly apologize for Spicer's citation of the Fox News allegations.

"Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall (Grant) expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and (National Security Advisor) ... (H.R.) McMaster. Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story," the White House official said.

Darroch is the British Ambassador in Washington and Grant is May's National Security Advisor.

A GCHQ spokesperson told Reuters on Friday: "We can't go into private conversations but as the No. 10 (Downing Street) spokesperson has said this morning, there have been reassurances that these allegations won't be repeated."

Number 10 Downing Street in London is the British Prime Minister's official residence.

Separately, in London, a UK government spokesman said: "Our Ambassador has been in touch with Sean Spicer and others at the White House. Our National Security Advisers have been in touch as well. We have made clear these allegations are utterly ridiculous, and have received reassurances that they will not be repeated."

Earlier, in a rare public statement, the GCHQ, Britain's equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency which monitors overseas electronic communications, said the claims should be ignored.

"Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wire tapping' against the then President Elect are nonsense," said a spokesman for GCHQ, which never usually comments on criticism of its work beyond saying it always operates under a strict legal framework.

Reuters reported earlier this week that an unidentified British security official had denied the allegations about Trump.

GCHQ, based in western England, is one of three main British spy agencies alongside the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service and the MI5 Security Service.

GCHQ has a close relationship with the NSA, as well as the eavesdropping agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in a consortium called "Five Eyes."

By Elizabeth Piper and Michael Holden |Fri Mar 17, 2017 | 12:43pm EDT

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Julia Glover and James Dalgleish)


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