“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.”
March 21 2017 — GCHQ — Britain’s communications intelligence agency — has issued a statement denying it wiretapped Donald Trump in the weeks after he won the US election. However, as I reminded you recently, this crazy scenario has happened before. GIZMODO just picked up on this old story. Amazingly, three decades later, we still miss a key element on that story: Which of her Cabinet members was Lady Thatcher spying on? Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
RELATED POST: UK: GCHQ denies wiretapping Donald Trump
RELATED POST: UK’s Intelligence Agencies
UPDATE (March 6 2018) — I told you so… Although we still do not know if CGHQ wiretapped Donald Trump in the weeks after he won the US election, they certainly appeared to have done so during the summer 2016!
According to a report from the New Yorker, Robert Hannigan — the head of British communication intelligence at the time — flew to Washington during the summer 2016 to brief then-CIA Director John Brennan on intercepted communications between the Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.
“Robert Hannigan, then the head of the U.K.’s intelligence service the G.C.H.Q., had recently flown to Washington and briefed the C.I.A.’s director, John Brennan, on a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted. (The content of these intercepts has not become public.)” [The New Yorker]
END of UPDATE
White House press secretary Sean Spicer quoted judge Napolitano — a Fox News commentator — as saying:
“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, he used GCHQ.”
Usually, the GCHQ does not comment directly on a report about its intelligence work. The Agency prefers to stick to the policy of neither confirming nor denying any activity.
However, considering the nature of this allegation, the agency clearly felt the need to reject the story as ‘utterly ridiculous nonsense’.
Richard H. “Rick” Ledgett — the Deputy Director of the National Security Agency since 2014 — has also ridiculed the claim.
“The allegation demonstrates a complete lack of understanding in how the relationship works”.
“Each side is prohibited from asking the other partner to carry out acts that they were prohibited from doing.”
“Of course they wouldn’t do it. It would be epically stupid.”
“the bogus claim reveals a casual attitude to the truth and ignorance of how intelligence gathering is organised.”
[The Foreign Secretary oversees the work of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The Foreign Secretary must authorize the most sensitive operations of these agencies, including the crucial warrants that authorise the interception of the communications of specific individuals.]
“The procedures of the US agencies, the CIA and the National Security Agency, are subject to judicial oversight. The senior officials of these organisations would in any case be deeply opposed to being used for partisan political purposes. As for GCHQ, there is zero chance that any such operation would get through a single one of the many levels at which legality, necessity, proportionality and risk are assessed.”
“Furthermore, the US and UK are the closest allies in the world in the field of intelligence and part of the longstanding ‘Five Eyes’ relationship which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A breach of the deep trust between these countries would be so catastrophic that none of the people who lead their agencies would contemplate it. Spying on a candidate to be the head of government in any of them would be such a breach.”
“In my own period at the Foreign Office, I spent a lot of time with the men and women of MI6 and GCHQ. they deserve something better from the White House than the recycling of the baseless claims of fantasists.”
Blast from the Past — The Mike Frost Story
On March 17 2017, I reminded you of an old story.
Former agent Mike Frost – a Canadian citizen — said he had spied on the two ministers through the Echelon surveillance system.
Mike Frost, who worked for Canadian intelligence from 1972 until 1992, claimed the five countries could circumvent domestic laws against spying on citizens by asking another Echelon member to do it for them.
“The UK Parliament now have total deniability. They didn’t do anything… we did it for them.”
This morning (March 20 2017), a reader kindly informed me that: “The Mike Frost cabinet ministers story got picked up by gizmodo. They don’t say which ministers either.” [I take this opportunity to thank the REDDIT/Intelligence Community.]
And while Trump has still offered no proof, there’s actually a precedent for this precise kind of arrangement between Five Eyes partners—Five Eyes being the spying alliance between the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The 1994 book Spyworld was written by Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), a bit like Canada’s version of the NSA. The book details the ways in which Canadian intelligence officers helped Americans bug embassies around the world during the Cold War. But one of the most shocking claims in the book is that the British had asked Canadian intelligence officers to spy on some British politicians to circumvent Britain’s privacy laws.
As Frost told it in his book: A request had come through GCHQ from [British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher asking if CSE could “do something” to aid her in finding out if two of her Cabinet ministers were, to use her terms, “on side.”
Frost alleged that his Canadian colleague, Frank Bowman, was sent to London in 1983 with the mission to spy on the two unnamed British politicians at Thatcher’s request. Bowman then made audio recordings of the conversations between the two politicians and handed them directly to GCHQ. The idea behind getting the Canadians to spy on British politicians was that GCHQ would have a way to deny charges of spying on the country’s own politicians if the situation was ever made public. [GIZMODO]
Thatcher silent on claim she spied on ministers
February 26 2000. The former British prime minister Baroness Thatcher remained silent yesterday about claims that she employed a global surveillance network to spy on two of her cabinet ministers in 1983 .
The allegations were made during an interview with the US television programme 60 Minutes, in which Mr Frost said Lady Thatcher singled out the two unnamed ministers because they did not fully agree with her policies. [Irish Times]
Lady Thatcher’s office never commented on the claims. Over the years, four possible candidates have emerged as the target of her suspicion: former foreign secretary Mr Francis Pym, former Northern Ireland secretary Mr James Prior, former leader of the House of Commons Mr John Biffen and former Welsh secretary Mr Peter Walker.
Most likely, Lady Thatcher singled out ministers she regarded as “wets”, i.e. not convinced of the need for a far-right regime in the UK (Biffen, Pym, Prior etc…) But other affairs may have played a role as 1983 was no ordinary year for the UK spy agencies.
Indeed, a report published that year revealed that MI6 had covered up a historic child sex abuse ring they had discovered during a surveillance operation in Northern Ireland.
Also, prior to 1983, GCHQ existence was not acknowledged. Following a spy scandal that year, the organisation became known to the public, and the government of Margaret Thatcher decided that employees would not be allowed to join a trade union for national security reasons. The decision to ban workers at GCHQ from trade union membership had been taken following the meeting of a select group of ministers and the prime minister rather than the full Cabinet. [This could be a clue.]
PS: On March 20 2017, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has announced that Jeremy Fleming has been appointed to succeed Robert Hannigan as GCHQ Director. Intel Today will post Fleming’s biography very soon.
“BIG BROTHER’S WATCHING YOU”
Here is a short doc featuring Mike Frost. (I could not find the 60 Minutes documentary.)
Former CIA Agent Larry C. Johnson Speaks Out About President Trump
Larry C. Johnson worked at the CIA for four years as an analyst, then moved to the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism. In 1993, Johnson left government work to join the private sector. Johnson was the source for Napolitano’s claim. [Wikipedia]
Judge Napolitano actually said: “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that…”
Thatcher silent on claim she spied on ministers — Irish Times
Trump’s Crazy British Spy Scenario Actually Happened Before in 1983 — gizmodo March 20 2017
Sean Spicer’s GCHQ smears have revealed his deep ignorance and indifference to the truth By William Hague — The Telegraph
Trump’s ‘utterly ridiculous’ spy story rings a bell
Trump’s ‘utterly ridiculous’ spy story rings a bell [UPDATE]