Counterterrorism analyst charged with leaking classified documents to two reporters

October 10, 2019

Henry Kyle Frese, a counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, was arrested when he arrived at work on Oct. 9, 2019, accused of leaking classified information about a foreign country’s weapons systems to two journalists.

Frese has been charged under the Espionage Act with two counts of willful transmission of national defense information, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on both counts, the Justice Department announced.

The Justice Department indictment details alleged contact with two journalists dating back to April 2018, at least some of which took place over Twitter direct messaging. Officials also allege that Frese was in a romantic relationship with one of the journalists, citing their shared home address from August 2017 to August 2018.

In a statement announcing the indictment, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said, “Frese was caught red-handed disclosing sensitive national security information for personal gain.” The indictment alleges that Frese accessed at least three classified intelligence reports unrelated to his job and discussed their contents with the reporters.

The Wall Street Journal reported that while the reporters to whom Frese is accused of leaking are not named in the indictment, details suggest that the journalists are Amanda Macias, a national security reporter for CNBC, and Courtney Kube, a national security and Pentagon correspondent for NBC.

The indictment alleges that the first journalist, believed to be Macias, urged Frese to pass additional top secret information to one of her colleagues, and he agreed to do so to help advance her career. The indictment says cellphone surveillance from Sept. 24, 2019, caught Frese communicating national defense information to the second reporter, believed to be Kube.

In an affidavit supporting the seizure of Frese’s phone records, FBI Special Agent Donny Kim wrote, “There is probable cause to believe Frese committed violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 793(d) and (e), willful transmission of national defense information.” These sections are more commonly known as part of the Espionage Act.

Frese is the eighth person to be investigated by President Trump’s Justice Department for allegedly sharing confidential information with the press. The Trump administration is on pace to surpass the Obama administration’s record of the most prosecutions of alleged journalistic sources. During President Obama’s two terms in office, the Department of Justice brought charges against eight people accused of leaking to the media.

Carlos Martínez de la Serna, program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement that these prosecutions can have a chilling effect.

"Prosecuting a civil servant under the Espionage Act puts leaking information of interest to the American people on a par with spying for a foreign county," Martínez de la Serna said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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