Things have gone pretty bonkers between the U.S. and the UK.
It all started after the White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated an allegation — which was originally made by Fox News media commentator Andrew Napolitano — that GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, helped former president Barack Obama “wiretap” Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
“There’s no question that there were surveillance techniques used,” Spicer said from the White House briefing room podium on Monday. “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. He used GCHQ.”
Spicer was trying to back allegations made by President Trump on Twitter on Mar. 4, which claimed the Obama administration had spied on Trump during the campaign by wiretapping Trump tower.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Instead, he started a diplomatic crisis with America’s best ally.
Spicer’s allegations during the briefing prompted the GCHQ to release a statement — a very rare move for the British intelligence agency, which usually doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense,” a spokesperson said. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
GCHQ’s communications director Andrew Pike even replied on Twitter to Eric King, former deputy director of Privacy International, a UK-based rights group:
Safe to say they were pretty pissed.
This morning, British newspaper The Telegraph and tabloid The Sun quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the U.S. had officially apologised, even going as far as saying that the apology came direct from Spicer and National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster.
Downing Street said in an official statement that the UK made it clear the allegations “were ridiculous” and got assurance “that they would not be repeated.”
Spat is over, then, you might think. Let’s get back to business as usual — special relationship and all of that.
According to a statement released by the White House Friday and obtained by NBC News, Sean Spicer “was simply pointing to public reports and not endorsing any specific story.” Of course he was.
WH: Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) March 17, 2017
WH: Spicer and McMaster explained to UK officials that Spicer was “simply pointing to public reports and not endorsing any specific story.”
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) March 17, 2017
The saga continues…