Against the wishes of the British government, a UK Court of Appeals ordered the release of classified US intelligence information on the detention of a terrorism suspect. Ethiopian-born British resident Binyam Mohamed was captured in Pakistan and interrogated by US intelligence for his suspected involvement in a plot to bomb American apartment buildings. These charges have since been dropped. Mohamed claims he was shackled, beaten, deprived of sleep during his interrogations in Pakistan, Morocco and Guantanamo Bay.
In his statement to the House of Commons, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband agreed that this alleged mistreatment was against British principles, but release of this information would constitute a “breach of trust…so grave as to endanger intelligence sharing relationships and therefore affect national security.” When countries share intelligence information, this information is provided in confidence and may not be disclosed without the express permission of the providing country. The UK court decision to release seven redacted paragraphs was based on a determination that the information was not “genuinely secret material” and similar information was released in a US court.
This ruling is significant because of its impact on foreign intelligence sharing and in overturning the convention that courts tend to defer to the government on matters related to national security. In his statement on this issue, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair acknowledged that this decision “to release classified information provided by the United States is not helpful, and we deeply regret it,” but the two countries would “remain united in our efforts to fight against violent extremist groups.” Undoubtedly, British leaders will work with American officials to ensure that this decision does not impact future intelligence sharing initiatives.