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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Are leaks from the USA undermining our intelligence services?

There was an interesting article on Buzzfeed yesterday, which reported that UK and European intelligence officials are expressing concern over the fact that much of the information that emerged in the wake of the Manchester bombing has been sourced back to US officials.

They say that the information first came in the hours after the attack, including a US official saying that the leading theory was that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, and culminated in a report by CBS News and the Associated Press that cited US officials claiming to identify the suspect who is believed to have blown himself up during an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, killing at least 22 people.

In contrast Manchester police would only later confirm the name of the suspect, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, to the press, and the arrest of another 23-year-old suspected in connection to the attack:

One Belgian counterterrorism official who spoke with BuzzFeed News between a series of meetings about the Manchester attack confirmed the discomfort felt in European intelligence circles.

"It happens sometimes when a larger partner like America assists on an investigation like this one," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he lacks permission to speak with the press. "You know you are trading the additional resources they bring for a chance of increased leaks. In this case, I suspect the Brits are livid — I know we would be — to have a suspect ID'd before they're ready, and obviously the recent performance of the Trump administration on leaking sensitive information can't be far from anyone's mind if they examine [the situation]."

Even US officials were frustrated by the leak. Some called the US decision to release information about an ally’s investigation before even that nation had released it “unprofessional.” Others said that if it were the US investigating an attack, they could expect the UK to not release information about the case.

“The least we can do is give them that same respect,” one US official told BuzzFeed News.

Although it is unlikely the incident will hurt the sharing and coordination of information between the closely linked UK and US intelligence services, one US-based expert questioned why US officials would leak in the first place.

“Why get in the way of what they are trying to do?” asked Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Follow their lead unless there is some good reason not to. The UK made a conscious decision to not release the suspect’s name. They have a good reason for doing that and US officials should probably wait for the UK to come out with specific details.”

Given the propensity of the President of the United States to give out classified material to representatives of other countries, just to prove that he is in charge, this sort of behaviour by United States authorities could add to a feeling of mistrust by European Countries towards the USA and undermine the work of our intelligence services.

If that happens then it will undermine efforts by everybody to fight terrorism.
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