Donald Trump‘s bombshell accusation that Britain spied on him threatened the special relationship between the UK and the USA, it has been revealed.
The baseless allegation by the former president in March 2017 even led to a rethink of how to two countries interacted with each other.
After the brazen statements from the president, intelligence agencies on both sides of the pond were left scrambling to contain the fallout.
In the UK, GCHQ issued an extraordinary rejection of the claims, branding them ‘utter nonsense’ as it broke with tradition to deny them on-the-record.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, officials from the American intelligence community gave their backing to British counterparts and even offered to testify it was ‘total BS’.
Despite this support behind the scenes, Theresa May, who was Prime Minister at the time, said it caused the UK to ‘start to think about the relationships’ and the assumption it would be ‘smooth-running’.
The special relationship between the UK and the USA was strained when Donald Trump accused British spies of wiretapping him. Here he is pictured with Theresa May, who was Prime Minister when he made the accusation
It was claimed GCHQ bugged Trump when he was a presidential candidate, something it and American intelligence officials denied. Pictured is GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
The revelations come from a new book – The Secret History of the Five Eyes: the Untold Story of the International Spy Network, by Richard Kerbaj – excerpts of which have been published in The Sunday Times.
It details the history of the intelligence alliance between the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – a pact which has its roots in the Second World War.
And while for most of the last eight decades the relationship has been a steady one, the book claims the actions of the previous president caused some tense moments.
In the book Theresa May says the ‘volatile environment’ in the United States under Trump caused problems.
‘It would be helpful not to have to adjust to something like that, but in a sense we had to start to think about the relationships,’ she said.
‘The relationships had been going on for so long and there had always been an assumption of smooth-running relationships.’
More strain was added to this in March 2017 when former New Jersey Superior Court judge Andrew Napolitano went on Fox News and said Barack Obama had ordered GCHQ to perform a ‘wiretap’ on Trump while he was running for president.
This claim, which would later see Napolitano temporarily taken off-air from Fox, was picked up by Sean Spicer, the White House spokesperson, who quoted it in a press conference.
This sparked frantic conversations between two of GCHQ’s top officials – Ciaran Martin, head of the National Cuber Security Centre, and his boss Robert Hannigan, head of GCHQ – who drafted a statement rejecting the claim.
The row erupted after former judge Andrew Napolitano claimed GCHQ was involved in a wiretap of Trump. Napolitno, pictured here in 2011 on Fox Business Network, was later pulled from the channel over his comments
The claims sparked a frantic response from GCHQ, with senior officials Ciaran Martin (left) and Robert Hannigan (right) both involved drafting a firm rejection statement of the allegations
In the United States intelligence officials sought to calm matters by saying they saw no merit to the ‘baseless allegation’ and they would support any moves GCHQ wanted to make in response.
The final statement by GCHQ read: ‘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.’
This was backed up in the US by Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the NSA, who allegedly told Trump ‘this is not the way this relationship works’, and who threatened to publicly testify the claims were incorrect.
In the book Mrs May says the decision to publicly go against the president was to safeguard the special relationship.
‘Ensuring that there was nothing that was being said erroneously that could lead to jeopardising that relationship is important,’ she said.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group