British spy agencies, along with other European intelligence counterparts, were the first to intercept what could be identified as suspicious communications between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials, CNN reported Thursday.
GCHQ, a British intelligence agency responsible for communications surveillance and cybersecurity, first captured the communications between Trump’s campaign associates and known or suspected Russian agents in 2015.
“They now have specific concrete and corroborative evidence of collusion,” an anonymous source told the Guardian. “This is between people in the Trump campaign and agents of [Russian] influence relating to the use of hacked material.”
According to CNN, the communications were found as a result of “incidental collection,” meaning the interactions were not the main target of surveillance, but were encountered by chance during routine surveillance conducted by GCHQ and other intelligence counterparts. Reports have not yet disclosed the nature or format of the communications.
Intelligence officials in the U.K. and elsewhere then passed along these communications to U.S. counterparts. The U.S., along with the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are all members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance that calls for collaborative open sharing of information.
The agencies reportedly detected communications over several months that could be highly scrutinized by U.S. congressional and law enforcement agencies conducting investigations into Trump’s association with Russia.
The discovery of any evidence, especially tangible “concrete” evidence that the Trump associates or campaign advisers were involved with the release of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails is huge. But what makes these reports particularly sensitive is the previously suspected connection between GCHQ and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.
In early March, President Trump tweeted a dubious claim that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped his office in Trump Tower. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated Trump’s claim and cited an unsubstantiated Fox News report that GCHQ had placed the bug.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
FBI Director James Comey later confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that there was no evidence to support Trump’s wiretapping claims and the White House had to publicly apologize for Spicer’s false claim.
Multiple investigations are being conducted into the Trump administration’s connections with Russia, including an FBI-led investigation and probes by both the House and Senate intelligence committees.