The world’s closest intelligence sharing arrangement is in jeopardy after key details and photographs from the Manchester bombing were apparently leaked by United States’s law enforcement sources to domestic journalists, leaving Manchester Police and the British government — who are collecting and analysing the finds — “furious”.
The United Kingdom has now stopped passing intelligence gathered as part of the investigation into the Manchester bombing to the United States according to claims made by the British state broadcaster BBC.
While British police had discovered the identity of Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 in Manchester on Monday, the name was withheld from the media initially for operational reasons. Yet less than 24 hours after the attack took place, American newspapers citing “government sources” were able to name the attacker.
Later further leaked intelligence including detailed crime scene information, and photographs of shrapnel, a backpack, and a battery were released by The New York Times. The BBC report states the “likely” culprit of the leaks are U.S. law enforcement officials who will have received access to the data through the transatlantic ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing agreement, rather than the White House.
The nature and speed of the leaks by these U.S. officials have caused “disbelief and astonishment” in the British government.
The ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing agreement, a treaty that dates back to the Second World War between the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand means the involved nations have total unrestricted access to each other’s intelligence collection efforts. The geographical positions of the involved nations and their various ex-colonial outposts make the agreement not just unparalleled in openness, but also in global coverage for signals and other intelligence.
The agreement does, however, rely on each nation also respecting the security of each other’s intelligence — a principle that appears to have been seriously transgressed in this case.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports in the U.S. that officials with access to the shared Five Eyes intelligence “were openly briefing the media on what they had been told about Abedi and his ‘cell of Isis-inspired terrorists’”.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to meet United States President Donald Trump at a NATO meeting today, and it is reported she will be raising concerns over the leaks with him there.