Leaks are not just plaguing the Trump administration and FBI these days, it appears.
As we reported yesterday, when we discussed why the UK is angry with the US, we observed that Britain’s Interior minister Amber Rudd was asked by the BBC about the fact that information about Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi, including his name, had first come out from the United States and whether she would look again at how information was shared with other countries, to which she responded: "Yes, quite frankly. I mean the British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise, so it is irritating if it gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that should not happen again." Asked whether the U.S. leaks had compromised the investigation, she said: "I wouldn't go that far but I can say that they are perfectly clear about the situation and that it shouldn't happen again."
Salman Abedi, the suspect in the Manchester attack
24 hours later, there has been a material deterioration in intelligence relations between the UK and US, and as Reuters reports, British police have officially stopped sharing information on the suicide bombing in Manchester with the United States, a British counter-terrorism source told the news agency, after police said leaks to U.S. media risked hindering their investigation. The decision to stop sharing police information with U.S. agencies "was an extraordinary step as Britain sees the United States as its closest ally on security and intelligence."
Earlier, the BBC reported that "UK officials were outraged when photos appearing to show debris from the attack appeared in the New York Times. It came after the name of bomber Salman Abedi was leaked to US media just hours after the attack, which left 22 dead. Theresa May said she would tell Donald Trump at a Nato meeting that shared intelligence "must remain secure".
"This is until such time as we have assurances that no further unauthorized disclosures will occur," said Reuters' counter-terrorism source.
Cited by Bloomberg, U.K. police said late Wednesday that "leaks to American media amounted to a breach of trust and undermined their investigation into the attack, stepping up criticism earlier from Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
"The BBC reported that U.K. officials were furious about a story in the New York Times on Wednesday that included photos of the crime scene. The story didn’t cite a source, and the U.K. government had no comment on the piece."
Reuters confirms that "police chiefs have made clear they are furious about the publication of confidential material in U.S. media, including bomb site photographs in the New York Times, saying such leaks undermined relationships with trusted security allies."
"This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorized disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter-terrorism investigation," a National Counter Terrorism Policing spokesman said in a statement.
The pictures published by the New York Times included remains of the bomb and of the rucksack carried by the suicide bomber, and showed blood stains amid the wreckage. "I think it's pretty disgusting," said Scott Lightfoot, a Manchester resident, speaking outside a train station in the city. He criticized media for publishing such material.
"Who's leaking it? Where's it coming from? This is British intelligence at the end of the day, people shouldn't be finding out about this."
The Financial Times reported that such images are available across a restricted-access encrypted special international database used by government ordnance and explosives experts in about 20 countries allied with Britain. It said the database was built around a longstanding U.S.-British system.
As emerged during the Snowden revelations, Britain routinely shares intelligence with the United States bilaterally, and also as part of the "Five Eyes" network which also includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Earlier, the BBC added that Manchester police hoped to resume normal intelligence relationships soon but were furious about the leaks.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg adds that Prime Minister Theresa May will raise the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump when she meets him at a NATO summit in Brussels later on Thursday, "as one of the closest intelligence-sharing partnerships is tested as never before in the fight against global terrorism."
Why blame Trump? Simple: to deflect attention from the dramatic failure of UK intel services to stop a known member of a terror cell.
Easier for UK intelligence to make Trump a story bc they failed to stop a individual and terror cell despite numerous reports both existed. https://t.co/ZWy3s7bmEH— Lizzy (@lizzie363) May 25, 2017
The Times story was published after Rudd rebuked the U.S. for naming of suspected suicide bomber hours before U.K. authorities were ready to share it. Police hit out on Wednesday at what they said was the publication of evidence in a live investigation.
“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world,” the National Counter Terrorism Policing office said in a statement on Wednesday evening. “When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships and undermines our investigations.”
The dispute could have wider implications for intelligence sharing between the U.S. and its closest allies. Trump shared sensitive information about Islamic State in a meeting with Russian officials last week; he denied that the details came from Israel, which some media had reported, and defended providing the information about airline safety.
Bloomberg also reports that amid concerns the U.K. faces the risk of another attack imminently, May will cut short her trip to a G7 meeting in Sicily, returning Friday night after the first day of the two-day summit. As shown yesterday, soldiers are on the streets of London, a deployment designed to free up police officers to pursue the terrorists behind the attack, as the UK raised its alert level to "critical", the highest possible.
Manchester police are hunting down a network they think orchestrated the bombing, and the suspected perpetrator’s father and brother were arrested in Tripoli. Eight people are being held in the U.K. in connection with the attack.