In a rare public announcement, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), issued a rare public statement concerning a charge by an American former judge that it conducted electronic surveillance of president-elect Donald Trump after his upset victory on November 8, 2016. GCHQ stated: “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.” Its public announcement belied the fact that GCHQ and its four Five Eyes partners have spied on each other’s citizens as a legal “work around” to their national laws designed to prevent such domestic eavesdropping on citizens by their respective agencies.
In the U.S., domestic surveillance orders are issued by a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), pursuant to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The other nations, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have similar restrictive laws in place.
Such spying took place against two British Cabinet members in 1983 by Canada’s SIGINT agency. Former Canadian Communications Security Establishment (now known as Communications Security Establishment Canada or CSEC) officer Mike Frost said that Margaret Thatcher used the five-power global surveillance network to spy on two of her Cabinet members because she did not believe they were loyal in supporting Thatcher’s policies. Frost told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” “[Thatcher] had two ministers that she said, ‘They weren’t onside’ . . . so my boss went to London and did intercept traffic from those two ministers.” Frost confirmed that the five countries could circumvent domestic laws against spying on citizens by asking another member of the alliance to do it for them.
One of the British ministers spied upon and then fired by Thatcher after her resounding re-election in 1983 was Foreign Secretary Francis Pym, a Conservative Party moderate who, ironically, was also in charge of GCHQ and the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service. The other was Deputy Prime Minister and Home Secretary William Whitelaw, who was moved to be Speaker of the House of Lords, an insignificant position.
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