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US annoys allies UK and Israel with intelligence leaks

Israel sought to contain the fallout from Donald Trump's sharing of its intelligence with Russia while the British complained about leaks from the Manchester terror attack probe.

world Updated: May 26, 2017 07:42 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington DC in February this year. (AFP FILE PHOTO)

The United States has annoyed two of its closest allies, the UK and Israel, by its recent inability to keep secrets.

On Wednesday, Israel said it had altered information-sharing protocols with the US after President Donald Trump passed on intelligence by their informant concerning the Islamic State to Russia, possibly endangering his life.

The British complained about leaks from the Manchester terror attack investigation which showed up in US media — including the name of the attacker, the toll and that it was suicide bomber — potentially jeopardising the case.

Both Israel and the UK are America’s closest allies on intelligence; the US and UK belong to a close-knit intelligence sharing alliance called the “Five Eyes” with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the British were so upset that they dumped formalities. “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,” home secretary Amber Rudd told BBC.

“So it is irritating when it (information) gets released from other sources and I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again,” she added, in an unmistakable reference to American intelligence agencies that had access to real-time updates.

Asked if the leaks had compromised the operation, Rudd said, “I wouldn’t go that far but I can say they are perfectly clear about the situation and that it shouldn’t happen again.”

Israel seemed less upset, but only because it wasn’t dealing with a terrorist attack. When asked about intelligence sharing between the US and Israel earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had Trump by his side then, said it has never been better.

But soon after Trump left, the Israelis opened up. “I can confirm that we did a spot repair and that there’s unprecedented intelligence cooperation with the United States,” defence minister Avigdor Liberman told Israeli Army Radio, according to VOA.

“What we had to clarify with our friends in the United States, we did. We did our checks,” he added, declining to discuss details. “Not everything needs to be discussed in the media; some things need to be talked about in closed rooms.”

Trump had shared highly classified intelligence from an Israeli-run spy — who was the reason for the recent ban on laptops on some flights — to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a White House meeting.

When it became public, Trump, who had cheered leaks from the campaign trail but had come to view them differently as a target after election, argued that as the president, he can decide what is classified and what is not.

“As president I wanted to share with Russia [at an openly scheduled WH meeting] which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism,” he wrote on Twitter.

Former CIA director John Brennan told a congressional committee on Tuesday that while sharing intelligence with Russians, there were protocols to follow, and Trump violated a few.

First Published: May 25, 2017 10:39 IST