“To sum up what distinguishes the United States in a nutshell: It’s the First Amendment,” said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “The concept of a free press has been integral to the American idea since its inception. That’s not true even of other democracies. The press here even has the right to be irresponsible, which it sometimes is.”
The contrast with Britain, despite the shared democratic heritage, is particularly stark. Instead of the First Amendment, the British have the Official Secrets Act, which allows the government to ban in advance the publication of government secrets and prescribes punishments not just for leakers, but also for the journalists who publish the information.
Despite an unprecedented string of prosecutions for leaks under the Obama administration and a pledge on Thursday by Mr. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to end “these rampant leaks that undermine our national security,” unauthorized disclosures of secrets are far more common in Washington than in London.
“I’m trying to think of a scandal over a leak from the intelligence service here, and I can’t think of one,” said John Lloyd, a veteran British journalist and a founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. “The culture of ‘you don’t need to know this’ hangs around in the U.K.”
He added that the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and in recent years even the National Security Agency had been far more open and involved in the political fray than their buttoned-up counterparts in Britain, known respectively as MI5, MI6 and Government Communications Headquarters.
Mr. Lloyd said the countersecrecy culture in the United States was shaped not only by the First Amendment, but also by the “quite radical” interpretation by the Supreme Court in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, which prohibited the government from ordering that leaked information not be published.
In that case, Max Frankel, who was then The Times’s Washington bureau chief, laid out in an affidavit a classic statement of the journalists’ position on leaks. “Without the use of ‘secrets,’” wrote Mr. Frankel, who later became the newspaper’s top editor, “there could be no adequate diplomatic, military and political reporting of the kind our people take for granted, either abroad or in Washington.”
For British journalists, Mr. Lloyd said, “probing into dark corners of the state here really takes its inspiration from the U.S.”
In the case of the Manchester bombing, Greater Manchester Police officials were angry when the name of the suspected bomber, Salman Abedi, leaked from the United States even before the coroner could match an identification card found at the scene to the bomber’s body, according to a British intelligence official.
The official said investigators feared that publishing Mr. Abedi’s name might prompt relatives and possible co-conspirators to evade the police, though that appears not to have happened. (It hardly needs saying, given British law, that the official spoke on the condition of anonymity even to explain British anger about the leaks.)
The Times’s posting on Wednesday of the photographs of the bomb components, including a battery and scraps of what seemed to be a backpack, compounded the investigators’ frustration, the official said. Those photographs bore a stamp saying “Restricted Circulation — Official Use Only,” a designation below “secret” and used in routine government business.
Across the American political spectrum, officials expressed sympathy for the British complaints. Mr. Trump called the leaks “deeply troubling,” and Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that “the British government has every right to be furious.”
John McLaughlin, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said he did not blame the British for temporarily halting routine intelligence sharing in response to the leaks. “It’s particularly damaging in a terrorism case,” he said.
But beyond such reactions to the current furor, the larger story of America and leaks is more complicated, especially since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Only because of illegal leaks of classified information did the public initially learn of the C.I.A.’s secret prisons and use of torture, the N.S.A.’s eavesdropping without court orders and the details of American drone strikes. Barack Obama ran for president in part against what he considered the excesses of counterterrorism programs under George W. Bush, as disclosed by leaks — but Mr. Obama’s administration then prosecuted far more leakers than all previous presidents combined.
In his short tenure, Mr. Trump may already have exceeded his predecessor’s contradictions. On the campaign trail, he cheered on the leak of Democratic emails, declaring, “I love WikiLeaks.” Those emails were unclassified, but WikiLeaks has published hundreds of thousands of classified American documents.
In office, Mr. Trump has regularly fulminated against leaks, especially those about the F.B.I. and congressional investigations of contacts between his associates and Russia. “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” he asked on Twitter in February.
But the president shocked the Israelis by sharing highly sensitive information with visiting Russian officials about an Islamic State plot. After his aides refused to confirm that the source of the intelligence was Israel, Mr. Trump appeared to do so by publicly assuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, “I never mentioned the word or the name Israel.”
Similarly, when the Philippines released a transcript of a call between Mr. Duterte and Mr. Trump, some military officials were dismayed to see that the American president had discussed the general location of two nuclear submarines, part of a stealthy Navy force called “the Silent Service.” As in his meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, Mr. Trump’s motive appeared to be boasting of American abilities: “We have a lot of firepower over there,” he said, calling the submarines “the best in the world.”
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of a 2010 book, “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law,” said he saw no public benefit in getting ahead of British investigators, and agreed with Mrs. May’s condemnation of the bombing investigation leaks.
But as for the American president’s complaints about leakers, he said, “I think Trump is monumentally hypocritical.”
Mr. McLaughlin, the former C.I.A. official, said that Mr. Trump was “clearly unaccustomed to dealing with classified information,” and added, “That’s something we all have to learn — what you can say and what you have to hold back.”
On the other hand, Mr. McLaughlin said: “We shouldn’t make excuses for him. He’s president, for God’s sake.”
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