The US government has issued a formal apology for accusations by US President Donald Trump that GCHQ orchestrated wiretapping of his offices, an order that Trump said the Obama administration issued.
According to The Telegraph newspaper's intelligence sources, Sean Spicer and general Herbert Raymond McMaster, the US national security adviser, have apologised over the claims. The paper said general McMaster contacted Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Prime Minister's national security adviser, to apologise for the comments. Spicer conveyed his apology through Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's US ambassador.
A British official spoke with news agency Reuters, and said 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 basis for allegations are reported to to have come from a news report by Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who on Thursday evening said that: “He used GCHQ. What is that? It's the initials for the British intelligence-finding agency. So, simply by having two people saying to them president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump's conversations, involving president-elect Trump, he's able to get it and there's no American fingerprints on this. Putting the published accounts and common-sense together, this leads to a lot.”
GCHQ broke its usual silence from commenting on such matters, and rubbished the claims, saying: "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."
Ewan Lawson, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute told SC Media UK: I do think that they are genuinely cross to have been dragged into the ongoing dispute between the administration and the intelligence community in the US. More than that, GCHQ is increasingly public-facing given its central role in cyber-security and in particular the NCSC.”
Lawson added: “Any suggestion of impropriety contributes to the current vogue for conspiracy theories such as those that arose from the Wikileaks stuff last week. It is therefore more important to get a robust denial out early rather than rely on the traditional ‘no comment' response.”
Susan Rice, national security adviser to former president Barack Obama, tweeted: “The cost of falsely blaming our closest ally for something this consequential cannot be overstated. And from the PODIUM.”
The UK's Foreign Office was contacted and asked whether or not this has damaged the relationship between the UK and US but declined the opportunity to comment, instead suggesting SC speak with GCHQ directly.
GCHQ and the NCSC were both contacted for comment but did not respond.