Leaks have plagued President Donald Trump’s administration and dogged the agenda of the White House, but now, unauthorized disclosures are straining the national security relationship with America’s strongest ally.
U.S. intelligence sources leaked information on Monday night’s deadly Manchester Arena suicide bombing and the attacker to media outlets.
“If we start to punish [leakers], other people will get the message.”
The leaks triggered a strong reaction: Britain suspended information-sharing between the United States and its intelligence agencies, though the suspension lasted just one day and the normal information-sharing resumed on Thursday.
Only hours after the Manchester attack, someone in the U.S. intelligence community shared sensitive information and photographs with The New York Times, which The Times published on Wednesday. The leaks are considered so sensitive, British Prime Minister Theresa May was said to have planned a chat with Trump on Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, where the leaders of NATO met.
The controversy got an immediate response from Trump himself, who released a statement on Thursday promising to investigate the latest leak controversy.
“The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,” Trump said. “These leaks have been going on for a long time, and my administration will get to the bottom of this. 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.”
Trump also went out of his way to praise the British.
“There is no relationship we cherish more than the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom,” Trump said.
For now, that relationship has been strained. It was unclear if May and Trump spoke on Thursday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that investigations into the leaks were set to begin from within the intel communities.
“These leaks cannot be tolerated, and we will make every effort to put an end to it,” said Sessions.
The Times, thanks to U.S. intel leakers, identified Salman Abedi as the Manchester attacker and showed pictures of his backpack. The story had details about the bomb. It also printed the location of where Abedi’s torso ended up.
Twenty-two people were killed in the attack after an Ariana Grande concert at the arena, where Abedi approached a lobby area where he would not have to pass through. As people exited, Abedi detonated the bomb, which was full of nuts and bolts for extra deadly impact.
Trump has promised to punish leakers before, especially after the most infamous leak of his administration, which ultimately took down former national security adviser Michael Flynn. He was allegedly angry that former FBI Director James Comey was not quick enough to go after the leakers, instead focusing on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers in the 2016 election.
One former FBI official said Trump administration is due to mete out some punishment, which will work as an effective deterrent.
“If we start to punish, other people will get the message,” said Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI, speaking to Neil Cavuto Thursday on Fox News.
The president has battled a plague of leaks, beginning with disclosures about the inner workings of his transition after the Nov. 8 election and disclosures of squabbling and chaos in his White House after Jan. 20.
But the disclosures on the Trump team have amounted to small potatoes compared to the damage wrought by intelligence community leakers who have disclosed classified information.
Most of the leaks have neatly targeted Trump or his team and seemed designed to damage the president politically — earning an eager audience in the hostile media. But the obvious damage caused to U.S. national interests by the Manchester leaks will give Trump a new opportunity to highlight the unacceptable danger caused by these out-of-control disclosures and a chance to take action.