Was the grainy, black-and-white x-ray photograph of a nail bomb that was splashed across the national papers’ front pages today a blow to the so-called “special relationship”?

The photos were leaked to ABC News, allegedly by sources in US law enforcement agencies with whom British police shared the evidence.

Despite a plea from the police last night not to publish the photos, a number of national newspapers — broadsheet and tabloid — carried them on their front pages.

It wasn’t the only recent leak of British materials in the United States. According to the BBC,

Soon after the bombings a Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre report leaked to the New York Times revealed that three weeks before the attacks British intelligence officials thought there was no group with the intent or capacity to attack the UK.

Now CNN that Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair is concerned that the leak came from US agencies:

“I am concerned that some of the photos were supplied in confidence to some of our colleague agencies in the U.S. and were published there and subsequently around the world,” Blair said.

In the U.S., leading Congressman Pete Hoekstra said the leak could affect the relationship between intelligence agencies in Britain and the U.S.

Hoekstra, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “We work on this stuff hand in hand and we can’t be looking over each other’s shoulder wondering who is leaking whose information.

“It’s impossible to know how tight police are being with the details in London but if the investigation is put in jeopardy, that would be a tragedy.”

In the age of the internet, asking people not to publish material already readily available in another jurisdiction is a futile excercise.

ABC did ignore the police request not to publish, but can perhaps be forgiven because publishing material from an ongoing investigation isn’t as big a problem in the US as it is in more Britain.

But what was the leaker(s) thinking? What interest is served by putting these images in the public domain? Am I missing something here?

Update: Via Liberal England, I learn that foreign media with foreign law enforcement sources have been beating their British counterparts since the very day of the bombings.