This week President Donald Trump again made headlines in denying that he ever mentioned Israel in his giving highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians. (The problem is that no one suggested that he had and the later statement appeared to reaffirm to the world that Israel was the source of the human intelligence from a spy inside ISIS. News accounts suggested that Israel might have been the source but no one suggested that Trump said it was Israel to the Russians). Now the Trump Administration is accused of leaking British intelligence to U.S. media in the aftermath of the massacre in Manchester. The British were reportedly irate and made a formal complaint over the violation of core protocols and protections for intelligence sharing. This is a very serious complaint and further undermines the core relationships that we rely on in the sharing of national security information. It should result in an immediate congressional investigation to determine what happened.
The media reported on the details of the massacre in the United States before the media of the United Kingdom were informed of the nature of the attack and other details. Regardless of whether the U.S. officials deemed the information worthy of protection, it was information shared by an ally under strict protections. For example, releasing the name of the terrorist could be a huge breach when you are trying to round up witnesses and suspects. Even though the culprits know the name, they may not be sure that he has been identified. The British for example believe that the bomb maker is still at large.
The British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has objected to the breach and demanded assurances that it “should not happen again.” It is incredibly embarrassing for the American intelligence community and the country as a whole. The loss of professionalism in the handling of shared intelligence is a threat to our national security efforts. It is extremely rare to have a close ally file such an objection over our violation of security agreements and leaking of such information. It is not enough to claim that “it was really not all that sensitive.” These intelligence sharing agreements are the heart of our collective national security system. It is based on the understanding that the receiving country does not make such unilateral decisions in the release of information. If you are serious about fighting terrorism, you need to be serious about these agreements.