May says she'll 'make clear' to Trump that leaks in Manchester bombing must stop

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives Thursday for the NATO summit in Brussels. U.S. President Donald Trump and other NATO heads of state and government on Thursday will inaugurate the new headquarters as well as participating in an official working dinner.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives Thursday for the NATO summit in Brussels. U.S. President Donald Trump and other NATO heads of state and government on Thursday will inaugurate the new headquarters as well as participating in an official working dinner. Associated Press

 
By Karla Adam
The Washington Post
Updated 5/25/2017 8:39 AM

LONDON -- British indignation over alleged American leaks of investigative material related to the Manchester bombing will likely create a charged environment Thursday when British Prime Minister Theresa May meets later with President Donald Trump.

May said Thursday morning she would "make clear" to Trump when they meet later in the day at a NATO summit in Brussels that "intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure."

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Leaks from the ongoing investigation -- including the publication of crime-scene photos in The New York Times and the naming of the suspected bomber by U.S. broadcasters -- have provoked ire from British officials.

The breaches could undermine the extremely close intelligence sharing between the United States and Britain.

According to a report by the BBC, British police investigating the Manchester attack have now decided to withhold information from the United States in the wake of the leaks.

"Greater Manchester Police hopes to resume normal intelligence relationships -- a two-way flow of information -- soon but is currently furious," said the British broadcaster.

Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said in a statement Thursday that the leaks published by The New York Times have caused "much distress for families that are already suffering terribly with their loss."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

British police chiefs across the country have also criticized the leaks in a highly unusual statement.

"We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world," said the National Police Chiefs' Council in a statement. "When that trust is breached, it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorized disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counterterrorism investigation."

On Wednesday morning, Amber Rudd, Britain's home secretary, said the leaks in the U.S. media were "irritating" and should not happen again.

Hours later, The New York Times published a series of detailed forensic photographs from the crime scene that showed, among other things, fragments of a blue backpack that may have contained the assailant's bomb. They also included a graphic of the area where the bomb exploded, pinpointing where the victims' bodies were found.

The growing frustration of British officials comes as allies are already smarting from Trump's disclosure of classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador about an Islamic State threat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Everyone is very angry," said Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

Referring to Rudd's remarks, he said that the "Five Eyes relationship is crucial to U.K. intelligence and security, and for her to openly say how unhappy she is about this shows you how angry people are." He noted that Rudd's use of the word "irritating" should be seen from the lens of the British fondness for understatement.

Britain and the United States are members of the "Five Eyes" group (which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand) that allows close intelligence sharing.

But the overall transatlantic intelligence sharing relationship will endure, he said, "because they need each other -- the links are far too tight to be broken."

At a lower level, however, there could be an erosion of trust. "If I'm a cop in Manchester, I may first think, 'Do I want this to go to everybody?' if I'm wanting operational integrity," Pantucci said.

This isn't the first time that operational details in an ongoing investigation have come out in the United States.

Days after the London transit bombings in 2005, for instance, images of bomb components and the inside of a subway car were leaked in U.S. media.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said he complained to acting U.S. ambassador Lewis Lukens that the leaks were undermining the investigation.

"These leaks are completely unacceptable, and must stop immediately," he said. "This behavior is arrogant and is undermining the investigation into the horrific attack on the city of Manchester."

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