ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A former counterterrorism analyst who admitted leaking government secrets to his journalist girlfriend says she wore him down by repeatedly cajoling him for classified information.
Henry Kyle Frese pleaded guilty in February to violating the Espionage Act and faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Thursday in federal court in Alexandria.
In a sentencing memorandum filed late last week, Frese's lawyers ask for a much lighter sentence of one year.
In court papers, his lawyers argue that Frese had no intention of harming his country and didn't betray his country for money or ideology as might be found in a traditional espionage case.
Instead, they say he was trying to prop up a faltering romance with a journalist. Her career “was stalling and she would ask Mr. Frese to share information that she could use to either confirm other information she had received or to give her a lead on potential new stories. At first those requests were rebuffed, but as the requests mounted and as the relationship deteriorated over time, he eventually relented,” wrote defense lawyer Stuart Sears.
Frese met the journalist after a traumatic breakup with a long-term girlfriend that had left him depressed, Sears wrote. Frese's new relationship “quickly became a priority and Mr. Frese focused a lot of time and energy in to making it work.” The journalist began asking Frese to confirm information she received from other sources, or to give her new leads on potential stories because her “career was stalling,” Sears wrote.
The court documents do not name the journalist, but details from the papers and a review of social media posts make it clear that CNBC reporter Amanda Macias is who's referenced.
Macias wrote multiple articles in 2018 about China’s missile systems while Frese worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Neither Macias nor a CNBC spokeswoman responded to emails seeking comment.
Prosecutors are asking for a term of nine years. They say Frese was motivated by “his own selfish interests.”
They say he disclosed information classified as “secret” or “top secret” on 19 occasions. On one occasion, he told his girlfriend he would help one of her colleagues as well, saying in a private exchange on Twitter, "(i)f helping her helps you, I’m down. I just want to see my bubs progress.”
The Justice Department said Frese’s prosecution is one of six that have been filed in the past three years as part of a crackdown on leaks of classified information.
In recent years, leak prosecutions have resulted in sentences ranging from probation, given to former Gen. David Petraeus, to more than five years imposed on former National Security Agency analyst Reality Winner for leaking documents to The Intercept about Russian government efforts to hack into voting software ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Under the Espionage Act, which was used to prosecute Frese, prosecutors can potentially charge the recipients of the leak as well as the person who transmits it. But U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger, whose office prosecuted the case, has said his office is focused on leakers, not journalists.
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