17/03/2017 11:33 GMT | Updated 17/03/2017 14:12 GMT

Sean Spicer's GCHQ Wiretap Claims 'Will Not Be Repeated' Says White House


The White House has been forced to apologise for remarks made by Sean Spicer that suggested GCHQ could have been spying on President Trump.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said the UK government had been assured the allegations will not be repeated.

The fallout of the claim originally made by Fox News and then repeated by Spicer on Thursday, was such that GCHQ took the almost unprecedented step of issuing a public statement.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Sean Spicer and his now infamous airquotes.

A spokesman said:

“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 embarrassing backtrack came on the same day a former GCHQ employee accused the White House of weaponising fake news for political purposes.

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Brian Lord, former Deputy Director for Intelligence and Cyber Operations, said: “The firmness of this response is indicative of the outlandishness of this claim rather than anything else.

“And bearing in mind the closeness of the relationship between the UK and the US is such that these kind of things do need to be addressed quite quickly.”

Lord then outlined outline the lengths GCHQ would actually have to go to in order to wiretap the President of the United States.

He said: “GCHQ can intercept telephone calls under incredibly strict sets of governance that includes authorisations all the way up to Secretary of State level.

“The activity of which the White House and Fox News have reported does not fall anywhere close to anything that falls within their constitutional remit or duties.

He then went on to accuse the Trump administration of using the accusation to distract from their own current crises.

He said: “I think the key thing here is what is the story? Is the story GCHQ spied on President Trump or is the story about the use of fake news as a political and geo-political tool?

“What we are seeing in today’s day and age is a trend, a trend towards using false news and manipulated news as a political tool and it’s becoming part of the cut and thrust of political activity.

“Now organisations, governments, news outlets and the public are getting their head around how you determine what is true and what is not true and from a government point of view it’s challenging enough from your natural adversaries never mind having to try and deal with something like this from your closest ally.”

Spicer repeated a claim first made by a Fox News pundit as he attempted to blitz media on Thursday with a series of reports and comments hinting at surveillance to justify his boss’s unfounded tweets.

In yet another extraordinary press conference, Spicer read out articles written by the New York Times, the Guardian and others, and included the false claim made by US television analyst Andrew Napolitano, who alleged Government Communications Headquarters - or GCHQ - involvement in the spying.

Spicer quoted Napolitano saying Obama “went outside the chain of command” by not using US intelligence. “He used GCHQ,” Spicer said, again quoting Fox News. “What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency.”

Spicer said, quoting Napolitano, the justification was: “There’s no American fingerprints on this.”