FBI Probes Ex-Marine on Classified Info

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON The FBI is investigating whether a former Marine took classified information from the White House when he worked in the vice president’s office and passed it to Filipino officials, U.S. government officials say.

Leandro Aragoncillo, 46, a 21-year Marine veteran who became an FBI intelligence analyst last year, already has been charged in New Jersey with passing classified information about Filipino leaders to current and former officials of that nation.

Philippine Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said his office wrote to the FBI to ask for copies of documents that will emerge in the investigation, but the U.S. government has not responded. The criminal complaint against Aragoncillo suggests the information could have been intended to destabilize the Philippine government, Gonzales said Thursday.

Aragoncillo worked at the White House from 1999 to 2001 and was assigned to the vice president’s office under both Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

White House officials said Wednesday they were aware of the investigation but would provide no details.

“It is an ongoing investigation and as such all questions should be directed to the FBI,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “We are cooperating fully with the investigation.”

McClellan declined Thursday to further discuss the investigation or Aragoncillo’s specific duties while he worked in the offices of Gore and Cheney. “We’re not going to have anything further on it,” he said.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department would not comment on an ongoing investigation, first reported Wednesday by ABC News.

A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said investigators were examining all of Aragoncillo’s postings where he had access to classified information, including the White House.

Aragoncillo was hired to work at the Army’s Fort Monmouth, N.J., in July 2004 and began sending classified information and documents in January, according to an FBI complaint made public last month. The documents’ contents have not been made public.

From May to Aug. 15 of this year, he printed or downloaded 101 classified documents relating to the Philippines, of which 37 were classified “secret,” according to the criminal complaint.

He sent some of the material to Michael Ray Aquino, a former deputy director of the Philippines national police who lives in New York City, the complaint said.

A federal grand jury in Newark, N.J., was to consider indicting Aquino Thursday on charges stemming from last month’s complaint, according to two government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of rules regarding grand jury secrecy.

Aragoncillo was not to be indicted, they said. The lack of an indictment against a defendant often indicates cooperation.

Aragoncillo’s public defender, Chester M. Keller, declined to say if his client was cooperating with investigators. “It’s just too sensitive right now,” Keller said.

Both men were arrested Sept. 10 at their homes and ordered held without bail following an appearance before a federal magistrate.

After his arrest, Aragoncillo “essentially admitted that he took classified information,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl H. Buch told the magistrate.

Aragoncillo is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in the Philippines. He had top secret clearance.

A Philippine opposition senator has acknowledged that he received information from Aquino. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief under whom Aquino served, said he and “many others” received information passed by Aquino, but he played down the value of the reports, describing them as “shallow information.”

Last month, Newark U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said there was no evidence that the administration of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was involved, but he would not say if the suspects were in contact with opposition factions. The Asian nation has been beset by persistent coup rumors since Arroyo was accused of rigging last year’s elections.

Philippine Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said his office wrote to the FBI to ask for copies of documents that will emerge in the investigation, but the U.S. government has not responded.

“A crime has been committed in the United States,” he told The Associated Press in Manila. “Two Filipinos are involved and we don’t know what classified documents they got, so we want to know because it might affect the national security situation in this country.”

He said bits of information that can be gleaned from the charge sheet against Aragoncillo show there could be some information used to destabilize the government. He did not elaborate.


Posted by loni on 10/06 at 11:25 AM in Blogging

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