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Intelligence employee leaked classified info to journalist, feds say

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/9/2019 Kristine Phillips and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – A 30-year-old counterterrorism analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested Wednesday on charges that he disclosed classified information to two journalists, one of whom he was dating, federal prosecutors said. 

Henry Kyle Frese, of Alexandria, Virginia, was charged with two counts of willful transmission of national defense information, each carrying a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. The arrest comes as the Justice Department vows to continue ramping up its efforts to crack down on the unauthorized release of classified information.

"Frese was caught red-handed disclosing sensitive national security information for personal gain," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement. "Frese betrayed the trust placed in him by the American people – a betrayal that risked harming the national security of this country."

Federal prosecutors say Frese, whose government security clearance allowed him access to top secret and sensitive information, researched multiple classified intelligence reports – some of which were unrelated to his job duties – and leaked information about a foreign country's weapons systems to a journalist. Prosecutors alleged that Frese, who worked as both a contractor and a full-time employee for DIA, was in a relationship with that journalist and sought to advance the reporter's career. 

The unauthorized disclosures happened in 2018 and 2019. Prior to that, from August 2017 to August 2018, Frese and the reporter lived together, authorities say. 

a man standing in front of a brick building: Microphones are setup in front of the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse on August 16, 2018 in Alexandria, Virginia. © Mark Wilson, Getty Images Microphones are setup in front of the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse on August 16, 2018 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Court records say Frese accessed an intelligence report in about April to May 2018. Frese later received a message on Twitter from the reporter, who asked if he would be willing to talk to a second journalist – a colleague at an affiliated but different news outlet. Frese said he was "down" to help the second reporter.

In the same Twitter exchange with Frese, the reporter talked about a story she was working on. Shortly after, Frese searched a classified government computer system and searched for topics related to the story the reporter was working on, according to the affidavit. In the next hours, Frese talked to both journalists by phone. The reporter believed to be romantically involved with Frese published an article that contained information from the report Frese accessed, court records say. 

As recently as last month, Frese accessed two more classified intelligence reports, court records say. Around this time, the FBI had begun court-authorized surveillance of Frese's calls and found that he leaked national defense information from the reports to the second reporter, court records say.   

The journalist linked romantically to Frese published at least eight articles containing classified information provided by the analyst, authorities say. Prosecutors asserted that Frese compromised the contents of at least five intelligence reports. 

Authorities did not name the two journalists involved and did not identify their news organizations, though court records say the second journalist described herself as a national security correspondent on Twitter. Both journalists wrote about the same topics, though the second journalist is more senior, court records say. 

Authorities also declined to say if the disclosures resulted in actual harm in national security or which foreign countries' defense systems were involved. 

“Henry Kyle Frese was entrusted with top secret information related to the national defense of our country,” said Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, Virginia. “Frese allegedly violated that trust, the oath he swore to uphold, and is charged with engaging in dastardly and felonious conduct at the expense of our country. This indictment should serve as a clear reminder to all of those similarly entrusted with National Defense Information that unilaterally disclosing such information for personal gain or that of others, is not selfless or heroic, it is criminal.”

Citing a search of telephone records, prosecutors alleged that Frese’s phone listed 508 total calls and 37 text messages with the reporter he was dating. Those contacts ranged from March 1, 2018, through October 7, 2019. The same phone showed 22 calls and 150 text messages with the second reporter, from May 1, 2018, through October 7, 2019.

Frese was a contract employee for the DIA from January 2017 to February 2018. He was a full-time employee from February 2018 until this month. He worked at an information facility at the DIA workspace in Reston, Virginia, according to court records. 

Frese's is one of six criminal cases the Justice Department has filed related to unauthorized disclosures in the last two years, the agency said. The department said it's been ramping up efforts to punish those who leak classified information, citing the prosecution of Reality Winner, a former Air Force translator who was sentenced to more than five years in prison in 2018 for leaking a top-secret report on Russian hacking.

"This case is pretty clear," Terwilliger told reporters Wednesday, asserting that Frese's alleged motives were "self-centered" and "selfish" efforts to advance the career of a girlfriend.

"We were not targeting a journalist," the prosecutor said. "We were targeting a person suspected of leaking top-secret information."

Terwilliger said the case remains focused on the analyst and that there were no apparent plans to charge the journalists.   

Journalists are expected to adhere to ethical standards that call for them to avoid conflicts of interest, such as being involved in political campaigns or having romantic relationships with sources.

Frese is expected to make his first court appearance Thursday. It was not immediately clear if he has an attorney.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Intelligence employee leaked classified info to journalist, feds say

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