Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

Careless talk by those who should know better


Ewen MacAskill: The frustration of the security services with the American leaks was obvious on Tuesday, with the release of the name of the Manchester killer and other details while the investigation was still live.

And on Wednesday the home secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “The British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise. So it is irritating if it gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that should not happen again.”

The irritation would have turned to despair with the French interior minister, Gerard Collomb, on Wednesday, revealing further details of British intelligence on television. He let it be known not only that Salman Abedi had recently been to Libya, but may also have been in Syria.

The police and security services usually have good reasons for not disclosing information immediately to the media as they accumulate it. One of the main reasons is that it is helpful when investigating a suspect’s network of family, friends and colleagues not to alert them by disclosing the name. So it was awkward for the police when Abedi’s name was revealed by US officials in Washington to American journalists two hours before they disclosed it to the UK.

Earlier in the day, the security services had no plans to disclose the name and may only have done so because of the Americans.

There are other reasons. They do not want to reveal to those they are hunting – and their opponents in general – the extent of the information they hold and, sometimes, the techniques they use for gaining that information.

On a purely practical level, the police would have preferred time searching the home of Abedi and speaking to neighbours without the media descending on the location after the US released the name.

One of the basic tenets of intelligence sharing is that other agencies do not disclose it. The problem is that those intelligence agencies, whether the US or French, pass it upwards to their presidents, prime ministers and departmental ministers. In the past, that secrecy was usually respected.

But in quick succession, Donald Trump revealed to Russia information obtained by Israeli intelligence from a Middle East source, the US revealed UK intelligence about Abedi and now the French have done so too.

The temptation for the UK police and intelligence services would be to stop sharing some of that intelligence. But the UK relies so heavily on the sharing of intelligence from the US and also benefits from intelligence, especially on counter-terrorism, from European colleagues such as France and Germany.


[ This message was edited on Wed May 24 by the author ]

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