UK security and police officials last night resumed sharing information with their US counterparts after classified information regarding the Manchester attack was leaked to the New York Times.
The government said yesterday morning that it would suspend information sharing with US agencies due to the leaks.
Prime minister Theresa May also confronted US president Donald Trump about the leaks when she met him at yesterday’s Nato meetings.
Trump vowed to “get to the bottom” of the leaks.
Relationships at risk
The New York Times published images of the remnants of the backpack used by the attacker, evidence of shrapnel and a possible detonator, along with a layout of where those killed by the blast were hit.
British security officials have reacted with no small amount of anger, with one official telling the Financial Times that the leaks were putting lives at risk.
The images appearing in the New York Times are not the only leaks either, as US media have been receiving steady information over the last few days about the bomber’s name, the body count and the method of detonation all long before such information had been officially confirmed by British authorities.
With British police chiefs saying that their investigations are being “undermined” by the leaks, the confidence of terror victims and the UK’s relationship with US security agencies are being put at risk.
“We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world,” a National Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson said last night.
Those relationships enable us to collaborate and share privileged and sensitive information that allows us to defeat terrorism and protect the public at home and abroad. When that trust is breached it undermines those relationships and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses, and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter-terror investigation.
A leaky ship
Official complaints have been levied towards US officials, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham complaining to the US ambassador of the arrogance and disrespect of such action and supposedly being assured that the leaks would stop.
Home secretary Amber Rudd had made similar complaints in public, insisting to her US counterparts that the leaks had to stop.
“The British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect the 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 that should not happen again,” she said.
While leaks from the US intelligence communities have been more prominent of late, and received with a certain positivity given their use against Donald Trump, the sharing of Manchester information shows the potential danger of celebrating a leaky intelligence service and the frustrations it can cause for leaders.
It also casts further light on, in particular, the US media’s habit for broadcasting information without necessarily taking into consideration the full context and consequences around it.
With prime minister May having her chance to confront president Trump with the leaks at the Nato meetings later today, it is possible that any further such leaks will be clamped down on.
The refusal to share any more information is more likely to serve as a measure to put stop to this however, particularly given the failures across the pond so far to shut down disclosure of information damaging to the president.