If the leaks came from American law enforcement, rather than their intelligence agencies, it will be easier to keep the special relationship in good healthby Jay Elwes / May 25, 2017 / Leave a comment
Home secretary Amber Rudd has said she is “irritated” by the leaks. Photo: PA The publication in the US of British forensics photographs taken at the scene of the Manchester bombing has sparked outrage—and deep concern. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has made it clear to her American counterparts that such leaks were “irritating” and that they “shouldn’t happen again.” Greater Manchester Police has said that it will no longer share information with its US colleagues. Where did those leaks come from? Seen in the context of recent US leaks concerning the Trump White House, this appears to be yet one more in a series of disclosures by the US’s highly-porous intelligence establishment. Trump has been at war with his intelligence agencies, which have hit back at him by leaks and by briefing against his administration. Morale among the spies is low and there are still many vacancies in senior positions. It is tempting to see these latest leaks as another consequence of the great Trumpian disorder. Speaking to UK security experts, however, the view from several authoritative sources is that the US leaks are unlikely to have come from the intelligence agencies. It is much more likely that the leaks have originated from US law enforcement sources. The reports that Greater Manchester Police will no longer share details with US counterparts has been presented as the effective sundering of US-UK intelligence relations. It is not that. The US and UK intelligence and security agencies have as close a relationship as it is possible to have. The NSA and GCHQ are especially entwined—they have offices in one another’s headquarters. The fact that a police investigation in Manchester is being closely scrutinised and assisted by operatives in the US is itself a further sign of the strong relations between the two. If this had been an intelligence leak, the consequences and implications would be extremely damaging. It is one of the great rules of intelligence sharing that you do not share an ally’s secrets, as Trump did in his recent meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister. If it is ultimately revealed that the leaker was a cop—and we may never learn the source—then there will be some small comfort in knowing that the US’s agencies are not as loose-lipped at their commander in chief. A furious row is no doubt under way between UK security agencies and their US counterparts. But the essential bedrock of the intelligence relationship is not in question. In confronting the global threat posed by Isis, Britain and the US need strong allies. It is in neither’s interest to ostracise the other. Britain must now make clear that if, God forbid, there is another incident, the Americans need to understand how we operate, so that they never again give the British police and security services such a procedural pain in the neck. They are our closest ally and we need to work together while respecting one another’s rules. Theresa May, no doubt, understands that very well. In the six years during which she ran the Home Office, with oversight of MI5, perhaps she should have made sure that the Americans understood it too.