US intel officials leaked Manchester bomber's name, and Brits aren't happy
Hours before the British government was prepared to release the name of the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, U.S. intelligence sources leaked the name to American TV networks.
The Guardian reports that the British were unsure they even wanted to release the name because the investigation was ongoing, and it was strongly believed that another terror attack may have been "imminent." But once the U.S. networks forced their hand, the British government had no choice but to confirm the identity of the bomber.
There is little doubt that American intelligence personnel deliberately leaked the name of the suicide bomber. The question is why. One conclusion that can be reached, given other leaks from probably many of the same people, is that there is a concerted effort to undermine the Trump administration's ability to share intelligence with our allies. Hamstringing the administration in this way is extraordinarily dangerous, but those considerations pale in comparison to the goal of weakening the Trump administration in the eyes of the world and the American people.
The Trump administration's apparent indiscretion seems likely to cause consternation in London and could raise questions about future cooperation in the long term.
Thomas Sanderson, director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies thinktank in Washington, said the disclosures would be irritating to the British. "Suddenly you've got 10,000 reporters descending on the bomber's house when maybe the police wanted to approach it more subtly," he said.
Sanderson warned of ill judgment and lack of discipline in the White House. "This is a leaky administration. What does that mean for sharing information we need to going forward? The UK and Israel are probably our two biggest sources of intelligence. Now they're thinking, 'Is this going to cause us damage every time we share?' Then you have to calculate every piece of information."
Perry Cammack, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added: "I don't think in and of itself this episode will do lasting harm; I sense this was a miscommunication. But the context is that we're in the midst of a political crisis in Washington of the first order. The institutions are leaking at an unprecedented rate. It feels like things are under stress here."
Asked if the UK would be less willing to share information in future, Cammack, a former state department official, replied: "I hope we're not at that point yet and I suspect we're not. There are broad relationships that are personal in many cases but I'm sure people are paying attention. It is happening in the context of quite a turbulent time in Washington and, if it goes on indefinitely, there is some scope for partners to reevaluate the integrity of information."
Frustration in the UK was expressed by professor Lawrence Freedman, who was a member of the official inquiry into the Iraq war. "US seems to have been passing stuff from last night to their journos. It will get to the stage where UK officials will stop sharing," he tweeted.
Freedman, professor of war studies at King's College, London, was asked in a tweet why the US would have disclosed the name. Freedman replied: "An American colleague suggests simple indiscipline. Showing off what they know."
Is it really "indiscipline," as the professor suggests? It wouldn't be the first time that intel officials tried to curry favor with the press by leaking classified information.
But this administration seems a lot leakier than those in the past. I can recall a spate of leaks from the CIA as they sought to cover their behinds on the Iraq WMD issue. That's a usual motivation for leaking.
But there is definitely something different about leaks from this administration. They appear designed to inflict maximum damage on the Trump presidency. And certainly one way to do that is to cause American allies to lose faith in our ability to keep secrets.
The media get all huffy when a president orders the leaking to be stopped and the leakers found and punished. They're called "whistleblowers" by the press, despite the damage they do to our intelligence-gathering and operations around the world. In this case, with the possibility that the leaks are politically motivated, even the press has to realize that finding and stopping the leakers is a matter of national security and no stone should be left unturned to bring the perpetrators to justice.