And to think that all Michael Kortan got were a handful of baseball tickets. Of course, the former FBI spokesman also managed to avoid prosecution for accepting gifts from reporters after the Department of Justice could not find any evidence of leaking. Kyle Frese, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, faces prison time for his alleged leaks of classified information to reporters, at least one of whom had cultivated a romantic relationship with Frese:
A counter-terrorism analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested Wednesday on federal charges that he leaked top secret classified information — including details of a foreign country’s weapons systems — to two reporters in 2018 and this year.
The worker, Henry Kyle Frese, 30, held top-secret clearance at the DIA, where he began as a contractor in January 2017, and eventually became a full-time employee.
One of the journalists who allegedly received secret information from Frese had apparently been involved in a romantic relationship with him, authorities said.
Good grief. Back in the day, security-clearance briefings and training explicitly warned people about “honey trap” or “honeypot” operations — foreign agents using sex to exploit cleared personnel for classified information. It also made clear the prohibitions against sharing information with family, friends, and especially reporters, as well as the need to report contacts with foreigners or journalists. Either security briefings have gotten very lax, or Frese wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.
If this report is accurate, I’m betting on … door number two:
That reporter ended up writing at least eight articles based on at least five compromised intelligence reports leaked by Frese, according to a criminal indictment. Frese re-tweeted a link to the first article that reporter wrote based on information he had allegedly leaked to her, the indictment says.
Yes, that’s certainly one way to keep your leaks below the radar — by tweeting out the links to the stories on your own personal Twitter account. What could go wrong? This makes Reality Winner look like a super-genius in comparison.
It’s so bad, in fact, that it actually makes me skeptical that the DoJ has a case on Frese. No one could be that dumb … could they? This part is especially curious:
According to court documents, between mid-April and early May 2018, Frese took classified intelligence reports, some of which were unrelated to his job duties, and using his cellphone gave top secret information about a foreign country’s weapons systems to an unnamed journalist.
Frese and the journalist had the same residential address for a year starting in August 2017, and, based on Frese’s social media pages, “it appears that they were involved in a romantic relationship for some or all of that period of time,” the feds said in a statement.
So if the two of them shared a residence together, why would Frese have used a cellphone to transmit the information? Why not just pass the material in physical form while avoiding these digital footprints? Frese apparently passed information to two journalists, so it’s possible that the narrative got confused between the two and the cellphone was used to pass material to the other journalist. If not, though, it’s yet another head-scratcher in this strange story.
What was Frese’s alleged motivation — besides romance? He, um, wanted to promote journalism, or something:
The first journalist then asked Frese if he would be willing to help another journalist who was her colleague. The names of the journalists and the news organizations they worked for were not revealed.
“Frese stated that he was ‘down’ to help Journalist 2 if it helped Journalist 1 because he wanted to see Journalist 1 ‘progress,’ the statement said.
And at least according to the indictment, the FBI caught Frese red-handed a couple of weeks ago:
Bearing in mind that indictments are not convictions, we should wait for the evidence to be tested in court before assuming guilt. However, if the DoJ has what’s represented in this indictment, then Frese is going to be in serious trouble. He’s being charged with two violations of the Espionage Act under 18 USC 793(d), which carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years per count. It’s not likely that Frese would get consecutive sentences in this scenario, and as a first-time offender would fall on the lower end of the sentencing spectrum. Winner got 63 months for her leaks, which had malicious political intent; Frese might get slightly more lenient treatment for merely being an idiot, but only if he pleads out. The DoJ and the Trump administration is not in the mood to be kind to leakers these days, which perhaps Frese’s journalist pals might have been bothered to explain to him.
The indictment doesn’t mention the journalists involved, nor their employers, which is notable in itself. Frese is also not being charged under the conspiracy subsection (g) of 18 USC 793, which is also telling. Prosecutors are not aiming at journalists in these leak investigations, although one could make an argument that the two journalists did conspire to gain access to classified material through Frese. It’d be tough to make that stick, of course, and it would open up the DoJ to allegations that it’s trying to prosecute reporters for doing their jobs … sort of like the Eric Holder-led DoJ started doing.
So who were the journalists and what outlets did they represent? That will be fascinating to find out. Maybe we can tell by which outlets protest the loudest over Frese’s arrest — or which don’t protest at all. And let’s not forget that this isn’t the first time someone leaked classified information to a reporter-paramour. How often does this happen?
Update: Matthew Keys, formerly of ABC and Reuters and now at Comstock Magazine, says he has confirmed the identity of the two reporters, both of whom work for NBC:
Can confirm based on public records and information contained in the court records: The journalist defense employee Henry K. Frese is accused of leaking classified information to is @amanda_m_macias, a CNBC national security reporter. The affiliated news organization is NBC News. https://t.co/UdWYab0VlD
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) October 9, 2019
Frese is also accused of leaking information to @ckubenbc, a NBC News reporter who published a series of stories on North Korea based on intelligence leaks in 2018, including this one: https://t.co/2L81VuOQbS
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) October 9, 2019
Update: The Daily Mail reports separately on Macias and Kube being the unnamed journalists in the indictment. They also have screen grabs of Frese’s retweets. They also note a rather stunning coincidence:
While the Justice Department did not name the journalists, they have been identified as CNBC’s national security reporter Amanda Macias and NBC’s national security reporter Courtney Kube.
The Justice Department said each reporter worked for a different outlet owned by the same parent company.
The NBC reporter involved made headlines separately on Wednesday before Frese’s arrest was made public.
Footage emerged of Kube’s young son interrupting her live cross about the ongoing conflict in Syria.
This was quite the social-media sensation earlier — a cute moment, too:
And to think that’s going to be the highlight of Kube’s day.