Since November 9, the leaking of secret classified information has become something of a competitive sport in Washington. Up until yesterday, no one cared about the leaks because they were either hits carried out by the Obama administration, its holdovers, or a handful of disaffected members of the Trump administration with the sole purpose of damaging either Trump or his administration’s agenda. The upside to this is that it has created a legion of experts on the handling of classified information without the government having ever gone to the expense of granting them employment or a security clearance or ever letting them see a classified document. You don’t get much more cost effective than that.
The Manchester bombing, though, may have turned out to be the proverbial “bridge too far.”
Shortly after the Manchester bombing, the New York Times ran images taken by British authorities and provided to a US intelligence or law enforcement agency or agencies. The New York Times also revealed the name of the suspect before British authorities did:
Britain has suspended intelligence sharing on the Manchester bombing with the US after American officials leaked information to the media, an issue that British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to raise with US President Donald Trump.
US officials released the suspected bomber’s name and other details of the investigation into the deadly attack at the Manchester Arena Monday night, irking British investigators scrambling to keep details of the probe confidential.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that only intelligence sharing relating to the Manchester probe had been suspended, adding that “we quite frankly can’t afford to risk it any more.”
“It has been compromised by the leaks and we can’t afford anymore, so we’ve taken a temporary decision to say let’s clear it out and draw a line, let’s not have a row that lingers on. Nobody wants that. But equally we have to make our opinions clear so we can get this relationship back to where we all want it to be,” Burnham told CNN.
The New York Times is pretty unrepentant about it all because clicks are clicks:
“The images and information presented were neither graphic nor disrespectful of victims, and are consistent with the common line of reporting on weapons used in horrific crimes, as The Times and other media outlets have done following terrorist acts around the world, from Boston to Paris to Baghdad, and many places in between,” a New York Times spokesperson told TheWrap.
The spokesperson continued: “Our mission is to cover news and inform our readers. We have strict guidelines on how and in what ways we cover sensitive stories. Our coverage of Monday’s heinous attack has been both comprehensive and responsible.”
The Times published evidence gathered at the scene of the deadly attack that killed at least 22 people and injured 64 more. Counterterror police told the BBC that the published materials from the initial investigation may undermine the investigation and impact the confidence of witnesses to come forward.
The major issue here is not that the intelligence leak got someone killed or compromised a classified source or method, the faux pas is that this leak had zero to do with Trump.
But when life gives you lemons, make lemonade:
In a statement issued amid meetings with foreign leaders, Trump responded to British outrage over the leaks by calling them “deeply troubling” and vowing to “get to the bottom of this.”
He added: “The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security. I am asking the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to launch a complete review of this matter, and if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There is no relationship we cherish more than the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Policy leaks are one thing but the climate has evolved to the point where classified information is being used to damage Trump, members of his administration, and, now, just for grins. No good was served by leaking confidential information on an ongoing terrorism investigation and hopefully, the FBI will show some interest in deterring this nonsense having shown no interest at all in stopping leaks that suited the purpose of some in its hierarchy.