Donald Trump vows to find and punish source of 'deeply troubling' Manchester attack leaks

American news outlets were first to publish several details about the attack while an investigation was ongoing

Andrew Griffin
New York
,Clark Mindock
Thursday 25 May 2017 15:38 BST
The US President said that his administration will get to the bottom of intelligence leaks surrounding Monday’s attack
The US President said that his administration will get to the bottom of intelligence leaks surrounding Monday’s attack (AFP/Getty)

Donald Trump has called the US leaks of evidence relating to the Manchester attack investigation “deeply troubling” and has vowed “to get to the bottom” of them.

Mr Trump appeared to be trying to halt an escalating diplomatic spat with the UK, with Theresa May having made clear that the “trust” between the two nations was at stake as a number of senior political and police figures expressed their dismay at the release of such sensitive information.

Mr Trump said he had instructed the Department of Justice to launch a full investigation into the leaks and “if appropriate, the culprit should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.

The President’s intervention comes with UK police forces having taken the extraordinary step of having stopped passing information on the investigation into the blast outside of an Ariana Grande concert that killed at least 22 people and left nearly 60 people injured.

“This is until such time as we have assurances that no further unauthorised disclosures will occur,” a counter-terrorism source told Reuters.

Late on Thursday senior UK anti-terror officials said the sharing of intelligence had resumed after those assurances were given.

Ms May raised her concerns with Mr Trump in person ahead of Nato meeting in Brussels – which Mr Trump is attending as part of his first foreign trip – using the set-up of a group photograph to corner the US President. The two then spoke again as they sat next to each other at a Nato working dinner.

The Prime Minister had earlier warned that the “special relationship” could be undermined because of the persistent leaking of intelligence material.

As she arrived in Brussels, Ms May said the attack by suicide bomber Salman Abedi had targeted “innocent and defenceless children and young people”.

Mrs May said: “On the issue of the intelligence-sharing with the USA, we have a special relationship with the USA, it is our deepest defence and security partnership that we have.

“Of course, that partnership is built on trust. And part of that trust is knowing that intelligence can be shared confidently and I will be making clear to President Trump today that intelligence that is shared between law enforcement agencies must be shared securely.”

Mr Trump also invoked the “special relationship” in saying that he took these alleged breaches seriously, and that the US still values Britain as an important ally. “There is no relationship we cherish more than the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom”, he said.

But he was clear that the two nations, Nato and other allies must step up efforts to stop terrorism “in its tracks” as otherwise the “horror you saw in Manchester, and so many other places, will continue forever”.

Mr Trump then appeared to link the controversial issue of migration to the attack. The President has made lowering levels of migration into the US one of his major promises – although the travel ban he has proposed aimed at a number of Muslim-majority nations has been accused of penalising those fleeing war zones.

“You have thousands and thousands of people pouring into our various countries and spreading throughout, and in many cases we have no idea who they are. We must be tough, we must be strong and we must be vigilant,” he said – despite the fact that the Manchester attacker was British-born.

Mr Trump did not confirm that the leaks had come from American intelligence sources. He called the leaks “alleged”, though the information has widely been presumed to have come from US sources since American news organisations have been the first to publish specific details around the investigation and explosion.

US outlets were the first to report the attacker’s name and many details about the victims, leading to condemnation from the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham.

The leaks have continued since, with The New York Times publishing pictures of the bomb and reporting in precise detail how it had been made and detonated. The details came out at a time when British law enforcement officials have been working to determine if there were more potential terrorists planning further attacks beyond the initial attack – and smashing the potential network that assisted in it.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has condemned the revelations, saying it “undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families”.

Lord Carlile, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, described the leaks as “very unusual and irresponsible” and called for those responsible to be “called to account”.

“Also, it damages decades of confidence between the UK and US services, the cohesion of the ‘Five Eyes’ group, and sharing of information with French, German and other security services,” he said.

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Blair said the leak of images from the attack was a “grievous breach” although something similar had happened after the London 7/7 bombings.

Lord Blair, who was head of the Metropolitan Police during the deadly 2005 attacks, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m afraid it just reminds me exactly of what happened after 7/7 when the United States published a complete picture of the way the bombs in 7/7 had been made up.

“It’s a different world in which the United States operate in the sense of how they publish things, and this is a very grievous breach, but I’m afraid it’s the same as before,” he said.

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