As questions continue to be asked of MI5, it's worth reflecting on how the press treats intelligence services – on both sides of the Atlanticby Calder Walton / May 30, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the aftermath of the suicide bombing in Manchester a week ago, important questions are being asked about Britain’s intelligence services, their liaison with US intelligence, and the way press on both sides of the Atlantic reports on such matters.
Britain’s Security Service (MI5) is understood to have been warned about the man who last week killed 22 people, and injuring 64, at a concert in Manchester Arena. Families of the victims, as well as broader public, will rightly demand to know how it was that MI5 apparently missed intelligence warning about the attack.
At the same time, information has emerged about the alarming scale of the terrorist threat facing Britain. MI5 has reportedly identified 23,000 Islamist extremists living in Britain as potential terrorist attackers; of those, 3,000 individuals are judged to pose an immediate threat; MI5 and the police are monitoring them in 500 active operations.
The Manchester attacker was apparently among the larger group of 20,000 people previously subject to enquiries, still categorised as posing a “residual risk”, but no longer under active surveillance. In the two months since the terror attack on Westminster, MI5 is understood to have disrupted an unprecedented five terror plots.
To put this in context, in the three years before 2016, Britain’s security and intelligence services disrupted 12 Islamist terror attacks, which, because they were thwarted, passed by largely unnoticed by the public.
Leaks in the American press
Britain’s initial counter-terrorism efforts to track the terror network behind the Manchester attack was hindered, not helped, by its closest intelligence ally, the United States. As would be expected, British authorities shared sensitive operational intelligence on the Manchester attack with their US intelligence counterparts—who, understandably, were trying to establish if there was a threat to the US
However, US intelligence sources were soon leaking details of the Manchester attack to the US media, which published information about the bomber’s identity mere hours after the attack. By Wednesday morning, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, had issued a stern rebuke to the US government about the American media leaking information before British authorities were ready for it to be released.
Rudd’s rebuke had little effect: the steady drip of leaks in the US soon turned…