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Crisis Averted for Now as Britain Back to Sharing Intel with US

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Taormina, Italy, May 26, 2017.

The United States is again receiving intelligence from a key ally, putting to rest, for now at least, the latest flap over Washington’s handling of sensitive information.

Britain resumed intelligence sharing with the U.S. late Thursday, saying it had received "fresh assurances" after American officials leaked key details of the investigation into the Manchester terror attack to the media.

"While we do not usually comment on information sharing arrangements, having received fresh assurances, we are now working closely with our key partners around the world including all those in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance," said Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, Britain’s top counterterrorism officer.

The "Five Eyes" alliance is the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Britain's top anti-terrorism officer, Mark Rowley, speaks to the media outside New Scotland Yard, in London, March 24, 2017.
Britain's top anti-terrorism officer, Mark Rowley, speaks to the media outside New Scotland Yard, in London, March 24, 2017.

British police furious

Tensions between the U.S. and Britain, simmering since U.S. officials began leaking details like the name of the Manchester bomber just hours after the attack, came to a boil Thursday. Manchester police were reported to be furious that the New York Times published unreleased forensic photographs from the crime scene.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who earlier said she intended to make clear "that intelligence that is shared between law enforcement agencies must remain secure," did just that during an encounter with U.S. President Donald Trump at Thursday’s NATO summit in Brussels, according to a spokesman.

Watch: May on Pressing Trump About Manchester Intel Leaks

May on Pressing Trump About Manchester Intel Leaks
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And it seems the message resonated.

"My administration will get to the bottom of this," Trump said in a statement, calling the leaks "deeply troubling" and "a grave threat to our national security."​

‘Initiated appropriate steps’

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also took action, saying Thursday he had "initiated appropriate steps" to take care of the problem.

Some British officials were quick to caution that despite the flare-up, there likely would be no lasting damage to what has been a strong and steady relationship between the two countries.

"When one side talks the other side listens," one official told VOA on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials were likewise eager to condemn the leaks, emphasizing the need to assure allies the intelligence community can be trusted.

Other incidents

But the dispute with Britain over details of the Manchester investigation is just the latest and follows another incident that has threatened to unsettle U.S. allies.

Israel this week said it had changed its intelligence sharing protocols with the U.S. after Trump shared highly classified information with Russian diplomats during a visit to the White House two weeks ago.

"I can confirm that we did a spot repair," Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio Wednesday. "What we had to clarify with our friends in the United States, we did."

But even though both Israel and Britain say their intelligence sharing relationships with the U.S. remain excellent, the incident may add to nagging doubts held by some U.S. allies since Trump took office.

"We don’t want to create a situation where other intelligence services, our allies like the Brits, like the Israelis, feel very hesitant to share intelligence and share information with us because of the fear that this information or this intel can end up on the front page of newspapers," Ali Soufan, a former FBI supervisory special agent, told VOA.

"Sharing it [the intelligence] with the Russians, an entity that’s considered hostile both to us, from an intelligence perspective, and to the country … is very damaging to the relationship," he added.

Top U.S. intelligence officials also acknowledge there is a danger.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, March, 16, 2017.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, March, 16, 2017.

"The release of information not only undermines confidence in our allies about our ability to maintain secure information that we share with them, it jeopardizes sources and methods that are invaluable to our ability to find out what’s going on and what those threats are," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers earlier this week.

For now, there is no evidence that the leaks from the Manchester investigation or Trump’s disclosure to the Russians, have resulted in any lasting problems, although intelligence assessments have not been completed.

And despite any misgivings, U.S. allies are unlikely to bail out on long-standing intelligence relationships that have been cultivated for decades.

"We still have the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world," Soufan said. "We need our allies to work with us, but let’s be frank, they need us more than we need them. So this is going to create some frustrating feelings, but I think we will overcome that."