WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence officials said on Thursday they do not expect British Prime Minister Theresa May’s concerns about U.S. officials’ leaks on the Manchester suicide bombing to affect the closest intelligence partnership in the world.
British police stopped sharing information with U.S. agencies about the Manchester attack after key details of the investigation, including the name of the bomber, first came out in U.S. media. British law enforcement officials say they fear the leaks could impede their investigation.
Officials at six U.S. intelligence and defence agencies, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they have seen no other change in intelligence-sharing with Britain and do not expect to see any.
“The value of the intelligence that we and our allies share on terrorism and other issues is far too important to limit because of some newspaper pictures and the premature publication of the bomber’s name,” said one of the officials, who is
familiar with longstanding agreements that include Britain, the United States and other countries.
“If we were to stop pooling our resources, especially on hard targets like ISIS, Russia and North Korea, all of us would be less safe, and the prime minister and (U.S. President Donald) Trump both know that.”
May raised British concerns with Trump at a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, telling him intelligence shared between their two countries had to remain secure. It was a rare public show of dissatisfaction with Britain’s closest security ally.
“She expressed the view that the intelligence-sharing relationship we have with the U.S. is hugely important and valuable, but that the information that we share should be kept secure,” a British government source said.
Trump, speaking in Brussels, called the leaks “deeply troubling” and said he would ask the Justice Department “to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Pentagon, CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which coordinates U.S. intelligence agencies, did not respond to requests for comment on whether intelligence-sharing with Britain would be further affected by the controversy over leaks from Manchester.
The British concerns echo Trump’s own frequent complaints about officials in his administration leaking information to the media, often about allegations of connections between his election campaign and Russia.
But Trump critics, including some U.S. intelligence officials, call his complaint ironic after he gave highly sensitive information about a foreign country’s covert operation against Islamic State to senior Russian officials in a White House meeting this month.
Two U.S. officials from different agencies said photos of remnants of the Manchester bomb, which killed 22 people, and other evidence that U.S. officials allegedly leaked were of what one of them called “limited intelligence and law enforcement value.”
Pictures published by The New York Times included parts of the bomb and of the rucksack carried by the suicide bomber, and showed blood stains amid the wreckage.
The United States and Britain have the closest intelligence-sharing relationship of any two countries on earth.
British liaison officers work at the CIA, the electronic eavesdropping National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and elsewhere.
U.S. military and civilian counterparts are stationed in Britain including a contingent at the Cheltenham headquarters of the NSA’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.
Intelligence officers from both countries also work closely in third countries, including war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, the United States and Britain are members of the “Five Eyes” pact, which also includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The five countries share highly classified intelligence regarding electronic eavesdropping, code-breaking, and cybersecurity.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress said the relationship with Britain was too valuable to undermine with leaks.
“If they don’t feel comfortable sharing information, that can be a significant obstacle in terms of the worldwide terror fight,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator John McCain, Republican chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, said: “The British are citizens of a sovereign nation. They should do whatever they want to do. And if they are offended by leaks, then I respect whatever measures they take.”
Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Warren Strobel, Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell