The hunt for the network behind the suicide bombing in Manchester has played out in full view of the world, and British intelligence and law enforcement are “furious” about it. Investigative efforts and photos of key evidence have popped up in US media outlets after having been shared with American intelligence to gain cooperation on counter-intelligence operations. CBS News reports that the UK has reportedly begun to choke off that sharing of information until the US plugs the leaks in its intelligence communities.
Prime minister Theresa May told British viewers in a televised statement that she would remind Donald Trump that loose lips sink ships:
British authorities are now furious that the photos, shared with American counterterrorism officials, have leaked out — originally in the United States. They say the leaks compromise their investigations by telling the people they’re still hunting for what they know.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday morning that when she meets later in the day with President Trump in Brussels, she would make it clear “that intelligence shared must remain secure.”
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said Thursday that it was “absolutely understandable” that the leaks to U.S. media had caused the victims’ families distress, but he would not comment on reports by British outlets suggesting intelligence sharing between the two allies would be reduced to some extent as a result.
Reuters reports the same thing, and that the issue goes beyond operational security for the Brits:
Hopkins said the leaks of details of the investigation to U.S. media, which included forensic photographs of the bomb site published by the New York Times, had been hurtful to the families of the victims.
“It is absolutely understandable the distress and upset that this caused to these families that are already suffering,” he said. …
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.
“This is until such time as we have assurances that no further unauthorized disclosures will occur,” said the counter-terrorism source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Somehow, I doubt Trump will need a lot of scolding to get angry over leaks coming from US intelligence services. He’s been complaining about that for months, albeit in the context of how those impact him, but nonetheless May will be singing to the choir. Some from those same organizations have criticized Trump (and rightly so) for carelessly sharing highly sensitive information with the Russians, but at least he has the authority to do that. If our intel services are leaking British intelligence to the media, that’s a much different — and much more damaging — issue altogether.
Meanwhile, the search for accomplices to the cruel attack continues. The Washington Post reports that investigators have now begun looking in Germany after discovering the bomber had been in Dusseldorf in the days before the attack. The information may have come from yet another leak within the probe, although this time to the German media:
Meanwhile, a German security official told The Washington Post that the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had been in Düsseldorf just four days before the bombing. The development signaled an expansion of an investigation that already has stretched to North Africa and continental Europe.
Authorities were investigating whether Abedi had possible contacts with extremists in Germany, including during a 2015 visit to Frankfurt, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Abedi was en route back to Britain from Istanbul when he stopped off in Düsseldorf.
The German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel first reported the bomber’s presence in Germany. The paper, which cited unidentified security sources, said Abedi, flew from Düsseldorf to Manchester last Thursday.
Unless the US intel community is now farming out scoops to foreign outlets, it looks like the investigation might have a few other leaks to plug, too. In this case, it may be understandable. This attack was so outrageous and depraved that people want to know that authorities are making as much progress as possible. Don’t forget that intelligence services (and investigations, for that matter) are comprised of human beings too, who are just as outraged and just as needful for people to know that justice will be done for the victims and their families. There’s not much comfort to be found in the deaths of 22 young people and the maiming of dozens of others, and people on all sides are trying to find what they can.
That’s still no excuse for US intelligence and/or law enforcement services to publicize information that didn’t originate with them without permission from the source. The need to plug leaks on our end long predate the Manchester bombing, but perhaps the stark nature of this incident will finally provide enough impetus for US agencies to clean up their acts.