It must feel a bit like déjà vu to the FBI and the DIA counterintelligence teams investigating insiders who break trust and share classified information with the media when they dug into the case of Henry Kyle Frese. Frese is a DIA analyst who shared classified information to which he had access with a journalist. A journalist who was also, it appears, to have been his paramour for an ill-defined period of time.
This truly is a story we’ve heard before. Most recently with the case of James A. Wolfe, who while the director of security for the the Senate’s SSCI was providing classified information to his romantic interest.
A grand jury brought forward an eight page indictment where Frese is charged with willful provision of national defense information. The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced his arrest in an accompanying press announcement.
The primary point of contact according to multiple media outlets, known as Journalist 1 in the indictment, is believed to be Amanda Macias of CNBC.
The connection between Macias and Frese is evident within their interaction within various social networks. For example, prior to Macias locking down her Instagram account, media captured a screenshot of Frese and Macias together in 2017 at a German Embassy reception in Washington, D.C.
Counterintelligence efforts at work
The FBI’s Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office Counterintelligence Division, Alan Kohler, stated, “Mr. Frese allegedly disclosed highly classified national defense information, which puts our country and people at risk. He violated his oath to serve and protect the United States. The men and women of the FBI work hard every day to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution – we will not stand by while trusted government employees violate that trust in such an egregious way.”
What isn’t included in the indictment or accompanying statements is how the DIA insider threat program detected Frese exceeding his brief, searching for documents outside of his swim lane of “need to know” and thus providing the DIA watchers an early warning via their data loss protection schema that Frese was seeking and harvesting classified information. We are left to believe that it happened because of the heightened attention being paid to detecting wayward insiders, and where the tale within the indictment begins – with Frese searching for information to share with Macias.
What we do know is that the FBI put in place lawful intercept coverage on Frese and obtained the necessary warrants to access his social network accounts. Reading the indictment we learn how Frese used both his personal mobile phone and social networks accounts to engage with Macias and other reporters and to pass to them classified information. This information was identified in the DOJ statement as having to do with a foreign military’s weapons systems.
The indictment tells us that on April 27, 2018 Frese received a Twitter DM inquiry from Journalist 1 (believed to be Macias) to determine his willingness to speak with Journalist 2 (not identified). Frese agreed.
Frese was told by Macias that a military official was not aware of the subject of an intelligence report which Frese and Macias were discussing and Frese opined that such was “weird” and confirmed to Macias the info was in the intelligent report.
Classified information on China’s missile systems
Days later, Frese followed up on the query from Macias and plowed through DIA’s classified systems for a few hours researching the topic which was contained in “Intelligence Report 1.” He then had multiple phone calls with Macias and Journalist 2. Approximately 30 mins after the last conversation of that series, an article was published which contained the classified information which Frese had discussed with Macias.
Our own search of the social network interaction by Frese on Twitter revealed what appears to be the topic, article and Frese’s action highlighting the work of Macias, aligning with the aforementioned timeline: China quietly installed missile systems on strategic Spratly Islands in hotly contested South China Sea
Frese provides a clear and compelling trail of evidence. Just minutes of open source research is able to verify much of what is alleged in the grand jury indictment and DOJ commentary. No doubt we will learn more as this case progresses which may assist in the fine tuning of insider threat programs. For now, Frese is looking at 10 years in a federal prison.