Defense Intelligence Agency analyst charged with leaking classified info to journalists
The 30-year-old employee appeared to be in a romantic relationship with one of the journalists.
A member of the intelligence community has been arrested and charged with leaking classified government information to two journalists, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Police arrested Henry Frese, a 30-year-old counterterrorism analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, on Wednesday morning as he arrived at work, officials said. He’s been charged with two counts of willful transmission of national defense information, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
According to an indictment unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia, Frese accessed multiple intelligence reports unrelated to his duties at the agency and provided information from those reports with classifications ranging from secret to top secret to two journalists from affiliated national news outlets. Authorities said that Frese appeared to have been in a romantic relationship with one of the journalists at the time.
Law enforcement received a court order in late August to surveil Frese's cell phone, and were able to trace hundreds of phone calls and texts between Frese and the reporters, during some of which the classified information was referenced. The last communication between Frese and either journalist came as recently as Monday, according to a search warrant affidavit unsealed Wednesday.
"Frese was caught red-handed disclosing sensitive national security information for personal gain,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a news release announcing the charges, calling the disclosures “a betrayal that risked harming the national security of this country.”
The charges announced on Wednesday are just the latest in a crackdown by the Trump administration on leaking of government secrets, and they come at the peak of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president, an investigation that was initially sparked by a whistleblower complaint from a member of the intelligence community.
In a conference call with reporters announcing the charges, Demers said the Justice Department had charged six people with leaking in about the last two years. “We will continue in our efforts to punish and deter this behavior,” he said in his news release.
Between mid-April and early May 2018, according to the indictment, Frese allegedly accessed multiple intelligence reports, and provided top secret information relating to the capabilities of a certain foreign country's weapons systems to one journalist for a national media outlet with whom he appeared to have a relationship.
Prosecutors uncovered direct messages on Twitter between Frese and one of the journalists in which the journalist asked whether he would be willing to speak with one of their colleagues. Frese responded that he was “down” to do so if it helped the journalist because he wanted to see them “progress.”
It was after that point that Frese began feeding classified information to a second journalist from a second outlet publicly affiliated with the first.
Officials say that the journalist with whom Frese was romantically linked published eight articles containing classified material accessed by Frese, one of which was linked in a retweet sent from Frese’s Twitter account. As many as five intelligence reports were compromised by the disclosures, authorities said, and according to court documents, Frese was one of only 26 people who accessed all five during that time.
Justice Department officials declined to identify either journalist on Wednesday and would not comment on whether either would be facing charges in the case.
Prior to his employment at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Frese was a subcontractor for the agency with the same top secret security clearance.
"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," said Zach Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "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.”