China dismisses report of Trump phone spying as ‘fake news’

File photo of US President Donald Trump speaking at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Nov 9, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - China dismissed as "fake news" a New York Times report that the country's spies, along with those of Russia, eavesdrop on calls US President Donald Trump makes on unsecured iPhones.

While Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying didn't directly address the snooping allegations, she told a regular briefing Thursday that "certain people in the US are sparing no efforts to win the best screenplay award for the Oscars."

The Times reported Wednesday that Trump had disregarded warnings from his aides that China and Russia were monitoring his conversations.

"This just provides more evidence of the New York Times creating fake news," Hua said in Beijing, borrowing a favorite Trump attack line. She then offered a pointed pitch for Huawei Technologies Co., the Chinese phone maker whose equipment has been shunned by the US government over security concerns.

"If there are concerns about Apple calls being listened-in on, then you can change to Huawei phones," Hua said.

Trump uses the iPhones to speak to "old friends," and domestic spy agencies have determined China is seeking to use information from the calls to keep a trade war with the US from escalating, the Times said, citing unidentified current and former US officials.

The agencies were said to have learned of the eavesdropping from people inside foreign governments and through intercepting communications between foreign officials, the report said.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Times report.

Call List

The Chinese have pieced together a list of people whom Trump regularly speaks to in hopes of using them to influence the president, according to the report.

Russia's operation is believed to be less sophisticated because of his "apparent affinity" for President Vladimir Putin, a former official is cited as saying.

While Trump is using his secure landlines more often, aides were said to be frustrated that he has refused to give up his two official iPhones and a personal one.

The official devices have been modified by the National Security Agency to limit their capabilities, but the personal phone where he can store contacts isn't, the paper said. None are completely secure as calls can be intercepted as they travel through cell towers, cables and switches that make up national and global phone networks, the report said.

Blackstone Group Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman and Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn are among "ideal targets" identified by China who can eventually convey the Asian nation's views to Trump, the Times said.

A representative for Wynn declined to comment while a spokeswoman for Schwarzman said he "has been happy to serve as an intermediary on certain critical matters between the two countries at the request of both heads of state.

Concerns have been raised on several occasions this year about cellphone surveillance activity in the Washington area. The Department of Homeland Security said in a letter to several senators in March that it had observed activity in Washington consistent with mobile subscriber identity catchers.

An FCC commissioner said at a meeting the issue was serious and the surveillance tools could be used by criminals or foreign actors.

The Washington Post reported in June that a federal study found signs of sophisticated mobile phone spying near the White House and other sensitive locations last year.

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