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Donald Trump standoff with the GCHQ

March 17, 2017 | Expert Insights

Are the allegations so sensitive?

The US has agreed not to repeat claims the UK's communications intelligence agency wiretapped Donald Trump in the weeks after he won the US election. GCHQ denied allegations made by the White House that it spied on Mr Trump as president-elect. No 10 has been assured the allegations would not be repeated, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said. He said it had been made clear to US authorities the claims were "ridiculous and should have been ignored".

Government Communications Headquarters

  • The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is a British intelligence and security organisation responsible for providing signals intelligece (SIGINT) and information assurance to the British government and armed forces.
  • Based in "The Doughnut", in the suburbs of Cheltenham, GCHQ is the responsibility of the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, but it is not a part of the Foreign Office and its Director ranks as a Permanent Secretary.


  • On 14 March, US President Donald Trump claimed that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama were not meant literally.
  • The justice department has asked for more time to provide information about the allegations.
  • The only way Obama could have ordered surveillance without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa court) is if there were no US citizens involved.
  • In this case, considering the target is allegedly Trump Tower - which definitely involves American citizens - this would have been hard to argue.
  • The Fisa court is possibly "the most powerful court you have never heard of".
  • The secretive court approves surveillance warrants under Fisa against "agents of a foreign power", mainly to either the FBI or NSA.
  • It is unusual for GCHQ to comment directly on a report about its intelligence work, normally preferring to stick to the policy of neither confirming nor denying any activity.


The allegations are so sensitive that the agency clearly felt they could not let them go unchallenged. Donald Trump's claim that the Obama administration had ordered surveillance on him has generated enormous attention but with so far no evidence to back it up.