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Have U.S. Leaks On Manchester's Bombing Damaged Relations With Britain?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. relationship with the U.K. weathered a tough couple of days this week. British officials were furious after American news outlets published leaked intelligence about the Manchester bombing. Here's British Prime Minister Theresa May speaking ahead of her meeting with President Trump this week.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: I will make clear to President Trump that intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.

MARTIN: The Brits were so mad about this that, at one point, they said they were withholding information from U.S. agencies that they believe were responsible for the leaks. So late yesterday, Prime Minister May met President Trump. They had a conversation, and Trump promised this would not happen again. Then, intelligence sharing between the two countries went back to normal - maybe. Joining us on Skype is Matt Tait. He's a security specialist who worked for the British intelligence agency GCHQ.

Mr. Tait, thanks for being with us.

MATT TAIT: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: When it comes to sharing intelligence, the U.S. relationship with the U.K. is the most important. So how much damage has been done this week?

TAIT: So yes, the U.K.-U.S. sharing relationship is one of the most important sharing relationships - intelligence-sharing relationships in the world, especially the GCHQ-NSA relationship is very, very closely knit. This particular closing down of sharing was not relating to the majority of the intelligence sharing. It was related specifically to this one law enforcement investigation. It is a very important thing because the Brits are absolutely furious that these pieces of information, that this evidence is being leaked through the U.S. press. But this isn't a complete collapse of the U.K.-U.S. intelligence-sharing relationship.

MARTIN: So it's been suggested that this particular leak, which has caused this particular rift - the name of the suspected bomber at the time - that this compromised the investigation. Do you agree?

TAIT: So the way that the U.K. intelligence and law enforcement community work is that once they've discovered a particular individual who is a subject of an investigation, they have the moratorium for 36 hours of putting that person's name out into the media. So in the event that they need to arrest or investigate any of that person's co-conspirators, that gives them some time to work out who that person is and to make sure that that investigation can complete successfully. And so for the U.S. press to have released that name early has potentially put an - you know, some compromise on that investigation. And it is quite a serious leak.

MARTIN: From the kind of information that was leaked, can you tell who might have been behind it? Is there any way to know that?

TAIT: So at the moment, we don't know precisely who's leaked this. This does look like it's been leaked out through the U.S. law enforcement rather than through, say, U.S. intelligence agencies because, of course, the investigation in the U.K. is a law enforcement investigation primarily. But it's certainly a very serious leak. It's not currently impacting, say, the intelligence relationship there. But this is something that's really riled British officials in the U.K.

MARTIN: What is the relationship between the intelligence community in the U.K. and the British press? Because it has been suggested that there is a lower standard here in the States, that the media publishes things that would never get published in the U.K.

TAIT: So in the U.K., of course, we have a free press. In the U.K., the press is free to release whatever they want. There is a system in the U.K. where the government can notify British media organizations that some information is particularly sensitive and ask them to not release it.

MARTIN: Yeah.

TAIT: And I think in the U.K., U.K. media organizations are more willing to have some deference in that regard. But certainly, it is up to the media in the U.K. as to what they want to release and when.

MARTIN: Matt Tait - he's a senior fellow at the University of Texas at Austin's Strauss Center.

Thanks so much.

TAIT: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.