GCHQ: You Read It Here First

GCHQ: You Read It Here First

This is a fast-moving story, so there’s a chance that more may have happened by the time you read it.

On March 9, Strategic Culture Foundation published in English and Serbian my commentary about Wikileaks’ release of its «Vault 7» of CIA documents. It concluded with the following speculation as to who might have spied on the incoming team of Donald Trump on behalf of his predecessor Barack Obama and elements of the Deep State still effectively working for him:

‘Vault 7 should be scrubbed for evidence of coordination between American agencies and those of the other «Five Eyes» Anglosphere countries with which the U.S. closely shares intelligence: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Why? There’s a saying in Washington: never believe anything until it’s been officially denied. Obama has been lawyerly definitive in his denials of ordering taps on Trump and his team or on any American citizen, ever. More precise in his language has been James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who states that «there was no wiretap against Trump Tower during the campaign conducted by any part of the national intelligence community». This begs the question of whether Trump was tapped not by a U.S. «national» agency but by one of the Five Eyes sister agencies, which then passed the information back to their American colleagues, a ploy to avoid legal prohibitions on domestic spying or even a pro forma warrant requirement. A U.S. former intelligence official familiar with the practice tells me that such a maneuver was not only a possible means for the espionage against Trump but probable. The most likely agency to have carried out the task is the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), formal counterpart of the U.S. National Security Agency and its virtual satellite.’

As far as I know, no one else had conjectured in print specifically about GCHQ’s possible role. Keep in mind, it was only a theory. I didn’t have then, and I don’t have now, any hard evidence to back it up. I simply said: here’s a place the specialists might want to look for evidence. As might be expected, my comments attracted no further attention of which I’m aware.

Several days later, on March 13, Judge Andrew Napolitano, a longtime, widely respected legal commentator on Fox News – closely followed by the White House – stated that he had three intelligence sources independently confirm to him that in fact GCHQ had spied on Trump:

‘«Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command - he didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA, he didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice», Napolitano said, adding that the former president «used GCHQ».’

As later published by Napolitano in print by Fox:

‘Enter James Bond.

‘Sources have told me that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ - a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms - has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.

‘Thus, when senior American intelligence officials denied that their agencies knew about this, they were probably being truthful. Adding to this ominous scenario is the fact that three days after Trump’s inauguration, the head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, abruptly resigned, stating that he wished to spend more time with his family.’

There’s no reason to think that Napolitano was in any way basing his claim on what I had written. It’s also perhaps of note that while he claimed three sources on the air on March 13, he declined to so later in print, referring only to «sources».

As one might expect, GCHQ instantly denied the accuracy of the judge’s claim, on March 14 calling it (through an unnamed «security official» – though some stories identified the source as being with MI6, a different British agency) «totally untrue and quite frankly absurd». That itself is unusual. Intelligence agencies usually prefer the formula of «neither confirm nor deny» and avoid getting pulled into definitive statements of fact that could prove problematic later.

As we say in Washington, never believe anything until it’s been officially denied. I would apply the same rule in London.

The row kicked up again on March 16, when White House spokesman Sean Spicer quoted at length from Napolitano’s comments. He was clear to point out that he was not making the assertion himself, simply noting what Judge Napolitano had claimed. Spicer’s comments prompted further outraged howls from the UK, including calls to the White House from the British Embassy in Washington on March 17. That same day, National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster was reported as having given the British assurances that the claims about GCHQ would not be repeated, prompting debates as to whether or not the U.S. had apologized. As reported by the militantly anti-Trump Washington Post:

‘At a news briefing Friday, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said: «We have received assurances from the White House that these allegations would not be repeated». The spokesman would not confirm reports in the British media that the White House had apologized to Britain... «Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wire tapping' against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored», GCHQ said in a statement.’

But later that same day, March 17, Trump himself went right back to the same allegations, during a frosty joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

‘«We said nothing», Trump said when asked about the former judge's claims regarding the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). "I didn’t make an opinion on it. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television», Trump said. «That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer onFox [News]. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox».’

Trump’s comments prompted Fox News host Shepard Smith to deny it had information validating Napolitano’s claims: «Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way. Full stop». On March 20 media reported that Fox News had indefinitely dropped Napolitano’s appearances on the network as a legal analyst.

End of story, right? Napolitano was wrong and got the sack.

Not so fast. On March 21:

‘A longtime friend of Trump's, Stone told DailyMail.com that «despite the quick denials», he thinks «Judge Napolitano is correct».

‘My own sources high up in the Tory government, who are quite powerful, assured me that there was surveillance by the Brits», he stated. «Of course they deny it. That's their job to deny it». 

‘Stone believes that Trump was under surveillance during both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama's presidencies. 

‘«We know from the government's database, that was leaked by CIA, veteran CIA operatives, who had realized the extra-constitutional nature of this program and spilled the beans, who became whistleblowers' that Trump's New York apartment and Palm Beach residence were monitored, Stone said, as well as «several of his resorts, his cell phone and so on».

‘The information cited by Stone appeared Monday on Infowars.com.

‘Infowars says the information it received from law enforcement suggests that Trump and site founder Alex Jones «were under illegal, unauthorized government monitoring» from 2004 to 2010.

‘«So was he monitored this fall? I believe he was», Stone said Monday evening of Trump.’

One late-breaking piece to the puzzle: Paul Mulshine of the Star-Ledger of New Jersey (Napolitano’s home state) suggests the Fox News threw the judge under the bus knowing full well that no less than the New York Times – the unofficial U.S. «newspaper of record» – had on March 1 reported British and Dutch agencies spying on Trump, based on what may be the same three sources Napolitano referred to («Fox News or Weasel News? Why did the network scapegoat Andrew Napolitano?»):

‘American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials – and others close to Russia's president, Vladimir Putin – and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.’

At this point, it’s hard to know what the truth is. But I’m willing to guess there’s more to come on this story – which, remember, you saw here first. 

Tags: GCHQ  UK  US