FBI suspects own agent spied in White House

Ex-Marine worked in vice president's office

October 06, 2005|By JOSH MEYER | JOSH MEYER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities confirmed last night that they have launched a full-scale espionage investigation into whether a former U.S. Marine was acting as a spy for Philippine government officials while working in the White House and, more recently, for the FBI.

Leandro Aragoncillo, an FBI intelligence analyst who had worked in Vice President Dick Cheney's office before retiring from the Marine Corps last year, was arrested last month and charged in New Jersey with knowingly acting as an agent of a foreign government.

Aragoncillo, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines, and Michael Ray Aquino, a former senior official with the Philippine National Police, were also accused of transmitting classified information from a computer in New Jersey to a public official in the Philippines, according to the criminal complaint and interviews with several federal law enforcement officials familiar with the case.

Those officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said authorities were scrambling to trace Aragoncillo's movements over the past few years to determine what kind of information and material he downloaded from government computers and then transmitted overseas.

Aragoncillo, 47, is believed to have given the classified information to opposition party politicians in the Philippines - including embarrassing "dirt" on at least one former president - with the help of Aquino, who was living in the United States at the time, according to the complaint and federal authorities.

Joseph Estrada, the former Philippine president, has acknowledged in a television interview in the Philippines that Aragoncillo gave him documents at a personal meeting. Estrada also told a Philippine newspaper that he was not aware of any illegal activity by the suspect.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a failed presidential candidate in the last election, also has acknowledged meeting with Aragoncillo and receiving computer messages from him. Lacson has said that he did not consider the information to be of a sensitive nature.

The U.S. officials cautioned that the initial stages of the investigation have turned up no "mind-blowing, Robert Hanssen-like breaches of national security," in the words of one federal law enforcement official referring to the former FBI agent convicted of being a double agent for the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, the FBI is aggressively investigating the case, and senior officials there and at the White House are said to be startled at the allegations that a naturalized U.S. citizen with a top-secret security clearance allegedly could have downloaded classified data from the White House and the FBI over a long period of time.

ABC News reported last night that Aragoncillo had acknowledged taking some documents while working in Cheney's office. He was assigned to the White House in 1999 and also worked for Vice President Al Gore.

"It is extremely serious. The guy had access to extremely sensitive and classified documents in his role as an analyst," said a federal law enforcement official.

Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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