British spy agency dismisses Donald Trump wiretapping claim as 'nonsense'

UK intelligence agency GCHQ has reportedly issued a statement to British media denying it wiretapped Donald Trump during the US presidential campaign, in what would be a highly unusual move for the government listening post.
An aerial image of the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
An aerial image of the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON - In an incredibly rare public statement, a British intelligence agency has dismissed claims, suggested by the White House, that it helped former US president Barack Obama spy on his successor Donald Trump as "nonsense", reported The Telegraph.

Mr Sean Spicer, Mr Trump's press secretary, on Thursday (March 16) repeated a claim - initially made by an analyst on Fox News - that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower in the lead-up to the election last November.

GCHQ is the equivalent of the US National Security Agency, which monitors overseas electronic communications.

"Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president-elect are nonsense," a spokesman for the GCHQ said in a statement on Thursday. "They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

Earlier this week, Mr Napolitano, a Fox News judicial analyst, claimed during an interview on the network that three intelligence sources confirmed to him that the Obama administration used GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump so that there would be "no American fingerprints on this".

Mr Spicer repeated the claims during a press conference on Thursday and quoted from a series of articles that discussed surveillance.

MR Tim Farron, the British Liberal Democrat leader, described Mr Spicer's comments as "shameful".

"Trump is compromising the vital UK-US security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment," he said. "This harms our and US security."

The US president is under increasing pressure at home to justify his claims, with members of Congress from both parties saying they have found no evidence to support the allegations.

Britain and the United States are - along with Australia, Canada and New Zealand - part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing alliance forged in the aftermath of World War II.

But a British official told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ "can only gather intelligence for national security purposes" and noted that the US election "clearly doesn't meet that criteria".

The official added that GCHQ "can only carry out intelligence operations where it is legal in both the US and UK to do so".