Fringe outlets that favor President Donald Trump and fake news purveyors are hyping new reports that say British intelligence agencies told their U.S. counterparts about contacts between Russia and Trump’s campaign, claiming the new information supports Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano’s false claim that former President Barack Obama “went outside the chain of command” to demand British intelligence officials spy on Trump. Napolitano's claim was linked to Russian state-sponsored news and has been denied by British officials.
British Intelligence Officials Reportedly Alerted U.S. Officials About Contacts Between Trump’s Team And Russia
The Guardian: GCHQ “Played A Crucial Role In Alerting” U.S. Officials About Contacts “Between Members Of Donald Trump’s Campaign Team And Russian Intelligence Operatives.” Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) “played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives,” The Guardian reported on April 13. According to the report, “GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents” and then the “intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information.” From the report:
Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.
GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.
It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.
Instead both US and UK intelligence sources acknowledge that GCHQ played an early, prominent role in kickstarting the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, which began in late July 2016.
One source called the British eavesdropping agency the “principal whistleblower”.
According to one account, GCHQ’s then head, Robert Hannigan, passed material in summer 2016 to the CIA chief, John Brennan. The matter was deemed so sensitive it was handled at “director level”. After an initially slow start, Brennan used GCHQ information and intelligence from other partners to launch a major inter-agency investigation. [The Guardian, 4/13/17]
CNN: European Intelligence Officials “Intercepted Communications” Between Trump Associates And Russia And “Passed On Those Communications To Their US Counterparts.” According to a CNN report, “British and other European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between associates of Donald Trump and Russian officials and other Russian individuals during the campaign and passed on those communications to their US counterparts.” Additionally, CNN reported that sources say GCHQ was not “proactively targeting members of the Trump team but rather picked up these communications during what's known as ‘incidental collection.’” From the April 13 report:
British and other European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between associates of Donald Trump and Russian officials and other Russian individuals during the campaign and passed on those communications to their US counterparts, US congressional and law enforcement and US and European intelligence sources tell CNN.
The communications were captured during routine surveillance of Russian officials and other Russians known to western intelligence. British and European intelligence agencies, including GCHQ, the British intelligence agency responsible for communications surveillance, were not proactively targeting members of the Trump team but rather picked up these communications during what's known as “incidental collection,” these sources tell CNN. [CNN, 4/13/17]
CNN’s Philip Mudd: “It’s A Simple Intel-Sharing Agreement That Includes Some Trump Stuff.” CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd characterized the collaboration between British and U.S. intelligence officials as “a simple intel-sharing agreement that includes some Trump stuff.” When asked about how this relates to Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that former President Barack Obama went outside the chain of command to ask the British to spy on Trump, Mudd said that it is “entirely incorrect” and that Napolitano “suggested the British were targeted American politicians. That’s a lie.” From the April 14 edition of CNN’s New Day:
ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): There was this Fox News analyst who said that President Obama had gone around the FISA court and done something illegal and used JCHQ (sic) to find out about Trump associates. Well now we know that in fact it was the British intel agency that tapped the U.S. intelligence agency on the shoulder and said, “We’re finding something that looks suspicious to us.”
PHILIP MUDD: Yeah, but timeout. The Fox News analyst suggested the British were targeting American politicians. That's a lie. Let me tell you how this works. I can't wait to see this play out in Washington today and tomorrow. Because I guarantee there will be some conspiracy theory that's nuts. Let me tell you reality. There's a huge volume of local -- what we call traffic in the intelligence business. Email, phone. That includes Russians, Chinese, Iranians. Think of this as burden sharing, resource sharing. The Americans don't want to collect all of it and have their closest allies, maybe the British, collect all the same stuff. They have agreements about what kind of stuff each is going to collect. When they collect it, they share it. This has been going on for decades. In this case, what would have happened is the Americans might collect some Russian lines. The British collect the others. The British aren't looking through it saying either, how do we target Trump people or how do we find Trump stuff in our intelligence and pass it to the Americans. They’re just passing Russian stuff. Within that haystack of Russian stuff is some Trump communications with the Russians, what we call incidental collection. So I think this is portrayed as a conspiracy, as it was on Fox. That is entirely incorrect. It is a simple intel-sharing agreement that includes Trump stuff. [CNN, New Day, 4/14/17]
Pro-Trump Outlets And Fake News Purveyors Falsely Claim New Reports Vindicate Fox’s Napolitano
Gateway Pundit: “Today We Found Out -- 30 Days After Judge Napolitano Broke The Story -- That He Was Right.” Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft hyped CNN’s report, claiming it vindicated Napolitano’s claim: “Today we found out — 30 days after Judge Napolitano broke the story — that he was right.” From the April 13 post:
Judge Andrew Napolitano dropped a BOMB on FOX and Friends in March.
Napolitano claimed President Obama went outside of American chain-of-command, to British intelligence, to spy on Trump!
Today we found out — 30 days after Judge Napolitano broke the story — that he was right. [The Gateway Pundit, 4/13/17]
Zero Hedge: “CNN Seems To Have Just Confirmed” Napolitano’s Story. Zero Hedge suggested that “CNN seems to have just confirmed” Napolitano’s claim “some 30 days after [he] broke the story.” From the April 13 Zero Hedge post:
Now, some 30 days after Napolitano broke the story, CNN seems to have just confirmed it
Of course, we're quite certain that, as CNN notes, the intercepted communications were merely “incidental” and in no way requested by the Obama administration, but rather, were conveniently volunteered, unsolicited, by British intelligence. Moreover, we're sure that British intelligence also had very innocent reasons for “accidentally” happening upon the communication of Trump's advisors. That said, we do wonder whether they also happened upon any communications from the Hillary campaign… [Zero Hedge, 4/13/17]
TruthFeed: “Judge Napolitano Has Been Fully Vindicated.” Fake news purveyor TruthFeed alleged that “Judge Napolitano has been fully vindicated” after CNN was “forced to report facts that prove Trump was right about surveillance all along.” From the April 14 TruthFeed post:
Well well well… after MONTHS of pretending Trump accused the Obama administration of surveillance on his team “without proof,” CNN is forced to report facts that prove Trump was right about surveillance all along.
Before It's News: "CNN Confirmed Much Of” Napolitano’s “Story.” Fake news purveyor Before It’s News claimed that “CNN confirmed much of the Judge’s story,” adding, “while the report says the collection of data was incidental as opposed to a direct wiretap the rest of the CNN report follows along the Judge Nap narrative.” Additionally, Before It’s News suggested, “Unless CNN is lying there are a lot of people at Fox News who owe Judge Napolitano an on air apology.” From the April 13 post:
One month ago, Judge Napolitano said on Fox and Friends that three intel sources told him that former president Obama used British spies to get surveillance on Trump.
Thursday night CNN confirmed much of the Judge’s story, while the report says the collection of data was incidental as opposed to a direct wiretap the rest of the CNN report follows along the Judge Nap narrative.
Unless CNN is lying there are a lot of people at Fox News who owe Judge Napolitano an on air apology, beginning with their afternoon MSNBC-imitator Shepard Smith. I would pay to see him choke out an (sic) I am sorry. [Before It's News, 4/13/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
The False Claim Has Since Reached More Traditional Right-Wing Media
Rush Limbaugh: “It Turns Out Here That Good Old Judge Napolitano Was Right.” Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that “it turns out here that good old Judge Napolitano was right,” pointing to the Guardian report and adding that Obama “had seen to it” that “the world was spying on Trump” after “the Brits clued him in.” From the April 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): And it turns out -- folks, I think it turns out here that good old Judge Napolitano was right. Remember when he said that it was a British spy agency that had been digging into Trump and collusion in Russia? And he goes on Fox and announces it. And everybody says, “You're a nut, judge. You just made it up; it isn't true,” and Fox suspends him for a while. And he comes back, and after he's suspension, he comes back and he keeps repeating it. And I'm saying what -- judge, what are you doing here? They just suspended you for this. And now you're back and it turns out it looks like he was right. “British spies were the first to spot Trump team's links with Russia.” And the very group that the judge cited is called GCHQ. That's the British spy agency, said to have alerted U.S. agencies after becoming aware of contacts in 2015. Look, and that's in the UK Guardian. What is now been established: The world was spying on Donald Trump. Obama had seen to it, after the Brits clued him in, I guess that's the timeline this story wants to advance. The world was spying on Trump. And even with all of that, Hillary [Clinton] couldn't win. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 4/14/17]
But Napolitano Specifically Said Obama “Went Outside The Chain Of Command,” Which Is A Debunked Claim That Was Linked To Russian Media
Fox’s Andrew Napolitano: “Obama Went Outside The Chain Of Command” To Ask For “Transcripts Of Conversations” Involving Trump. Napolitano claimed on the March 13 edition of Fox News’ The First 100 Days that “if then-Mr. Donald Trump, the president-elect, was surveilled as he says he was … it was done by a foreign intelligence entity,” GCHQ, at Obama’s request. The following morning, Napolitano again claimed on Fox that “three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command” and “used GCHQ” to acquire “transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump,” ensuring that “there is no American fingerprints on this” and no evidence of the alleged surveillance. After a short suspension, Napolitano returned to Fox to double down on his claim, answering in the affirmative when asked if he was “confident” in his assertions and if he and his sources “stand by it.” [Fox News, The First 100 Days, 3/13/17; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/14/17; Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 3/29/17]
British Security Official Dismissed Napolitano’s “Totally Untrue And Quite Frankly Absurd” Conspiracy Theory. On March 15, the International Business Times reported that “a security official, who is familiar with British government policy and security operations,” denied that GCHQ spied on Trump for Obama. The official told Reuters that Napolitano’s claim was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd,” because GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes," and the U.S. presidential election “clearly doesn’t meet that criteria.” [International Business Times, 3/15/17]
Napolitano’s Claim Was First Pushed On Russian State Media. Napolitano’s claim was first hyped by Larry C. Johnson, credited as a “former CIA analyst and State Department official” during a March 6 interview on the state-sponsored Russian news network RT. In the interview, Johnson claimed that “there was some collusion overseas” between U.S. intelligence and “Britain’s own GHCQ (sic)” “to derail the candidacy of Donald Trump.” Citing “very good friends,” Johnson alleged that GCHQ “actually passed” information “to John Brennan, and it was disseminated within the U.S. government.” Johnson closed the RT interview by claiming former Obama administration officials involved in the collusion could face “criminal charges,” specifically sedition. [RT, 3/6/17 via YouTube]
This post has been updated.