Four FBI agents “intentionally” forwarded “sensitive, non-public” intelligence on the Manchester arena bombing that killed 22 people and injured 59 others, violating government computer rules and behavior, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Over the past year, one of the agents “had improperly forwarded” about 550 “FBI email[s] with header information indicating the content was sensitive, or restricted for official use” to their personal account. Some of those forwarded emails included a sensitive U.K. Intelligence Report on the Manchester terror attack, authorities said.
The Office of the Inspector General’s investigation came after a New York Times article last year contained unclassified information “derived from a United Kingdom intelligence report” on the May 22 bombing, according to the agency’s investigative summary.
That Times article, citing British authorities, was the first to detail the “powerful explosive” used in the Manchester terrorist attack, which “appeared to have carried a in a lightweight metal container concealed either within a black vest or a blue Karrimor backpack” The device, the article states, may have been detonated using a “small switch in his left hand.”
Investigators contacted the newspaper to figure out the source, but ultimately, the report said, the OIG was unable to find conclusive evidence that any of the four FBI staffers provided the intelligence report to the Times.
All four individuals denied sending the British intelligence report, or any information regarding the report, to the newspaper, the summary states. And though some FBI officials did sent the report to non-governmental email addresses, none of those recipients were Times journalists.
Through their investigation, however, the oversight agency did conclude that the four government employees specifically violated “DOJ and FBI computer rules of behavior and FBI policy.”
The Times, meanwhile, took issue with the nature of the inspector general’s probe.
“Our story was an important piece of journalism that shed light on how the suicide bomber had pulled off the deadly attack at the arena,” Eileen Murphy, the outlet’s senior vice president of communications, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “While we are glad the investigation has concluded, we question the value of an inquiry in a case like this when the report at issue was widely circulated to people in and out of government and was not classified.”
Indeed, that information, the investigation found, was disseminated in an unclassified email by a U.K. government agency “to numerous other U.S. federal agencies,” as well as other foreign law enforcement groups, and not their American counterpart in the FBI.
But once the FBI got that unclassified information, according to the OIG report, it was sent to over 1,000 people, including FBI headquarters and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Officials were aware of the report’s “sensitivity,” investigators found, even writing that its dissemination should be limited, but continued to send the report along anyway.
While the OIG could not find any evidence that the two FBI staffers who “intentionally forwarded” the U.K. intelligence report to personal accounts, they “did not find that either forwarded the report to the newspaper, or anyone else.”
The FBI task-force officer named in the OIG report sent the British intelligence to another “foreign law enforcement partner without obtaining FBI permission to do so,” and without indicating the report should not be distributed. The investigation also concluded the task-force officer had forwarded three FBI emails with “operationally sensitive information” to unauthorized people.
The fourth FBI employee mentioned in the summary simply set an “auto-forward” of their work email to their personal account, a violation of the agency’s policy. The FBI’s email filters, however, prevented the U.K. intelligence report from being delivered to the employee’s personal account, along with many other FBI emails.
The inspector general’s report was sent Wednesday to the FBI for “appropriate action.”