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US leaks over Manchester test ‘special relationship’

Stemming a tide of damaging leaks

MANCHESTER: People look at tributes in a square in central Manchester ahead of a minute’s silence for the victims of the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left more than 20 people dead and many more injured, as it ended on Monday night at the Manchester Arena. —AP

LONDON: US leaks about the British investigation into the Manchester bomber have strained the two countries’ “special relationship” and thrown into doubt the sharing of information among the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance. Greater Manchester Police are trying to establish who made the bomb detonated by 22-year old Islamist terrorist Salman Abedi on Monday, killing 22, but they have reportedly stopped sharing intelligence information with US law enforcement agencies after key details were leaked to newspapers.

British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to confront US President Donald Trump when the pair meet at the NATO meeting in Brussels, with the American leader already struggling domestically to stem a tide of damaging leaks from law enforcement agencies. May said she would “make clear to President Trump that intelligence which is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure”, after key details of the investigation were published in US media, including the New York Times.

Her Downing Street office insisted that any decision to stop sharing intelligence on the case was “an operational matter for police,” and it was reported that general intelligence sharing was still ongoing.  A Foreign Office source told the domestic Press Agency that the government was “furious” with the leaks. May was the first foreign leader to visit Trump’s White House, underlining the importance of the so-called “special relationship” between the two countries.

The two countries are also members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, along with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, highlighting the seriousness of the row. Experts warned the leaks could hinder collaboration. “It damages decades of confidence between the UK and US services, the cohesion of the “Five Eyes” group, and sharing of information with French, German and other security services,” said former reviewer of terrorism legislation Alex Carlile. “These leaks made yesterday a very bad day for national security in several countries, and those responsible should be called to account.”

Leaks cause of ‘much distress’
Former British intelligence officer Ben Owen told the BBC that the US could respond by withholding information from British officials, and urged a solution. “It is critical that this is fixed, we need to go back to the drawing board, it’s happening far too often.” British interior minister Amber Rudd on Wednesday said it was “irritating” that US media outlets named the bomber despite a British authorities request not to, adding she had “been very clear with our friends that it should not happen again.”

But just hours later, the New York Times published forensic photographs showing components of the bomber’s device strewn across the foyer of the Manchester Arena, enraging British politicians, intelligence agencies and police. European allies were also accused of releasing secret information after French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb revealed, before British authorities, that the suspect was of Libyan descent, had recently likely travelled to Syria and that he had proven links with Islamic State.

Ian Blair, former Metropolitan police commissioner, said that foreign leaks of intelligence were not a new phenomenon. “I’m afraid this reminds me exactly of what happened after 7/7 when the US published a complete picture of the way the bombs had been made up. We had the same protests,” he told BBC Radio 4. Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins stated that the leaks had had an immediate human impact, as-well as damaging intelligence links. “Last night, the family liaison officers shared with them the fact that intelligence had been leaked and published in the New York Times,” he said. “It is absolutely understandable that this has caused much distress for families that are already suffering terribly with their loss.” – AFP

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