Contact: Michael Drewniak of U.S. Dept. of Justice, (number deleted on request)
NEWARK, N.J., May 4 /U.S. Newswire/ — A former Marine who worked at times under two administrations in the Office of the Vice President of the United States pleaded guilty today to espionage and other charges, admitting that he took and transferred classified information, including national defense documents, to senior political and government officials of the Republic of the Philippines in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow that country's government, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie of the District of New Jersey announced today.
Leandro Aragoncillo, 47, admitted that he regularly transferred to his hilippine contacts national security documents classified as Secret, and that the information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation. He also admitted traveling to the Philippines in January 2001 to meet his co-conspirators, including during a visit to the Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the president of the Philippines.
Aragoncillo also admitted that some of the classified information he removed from of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) between approximately October 2000 and February 2002 included information marked "Top Secret" that related to terrorist threats to United States government interests in the Republic of the Philippines (ROP).
Aragoncillo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Philippines and most recently of Woodbury, N.J., was an FBI intelligence analyst at Fort Monmouth, N.J. at the time of his arrest on Sept. 10, 2005. He admitted today that his espionage activity continued during his time as an FBI analyst.
"Aragoncillo took the most solemn of oaths as a U.S. Marine and FBI analyst to protect his country and its security," said U.S. Attorney Christie. "His betrayal is profound and a disservice to his country and all the men and women in military and security positions around the globe who take the oath and serve with honor and integrity."
Also arrested last September was Michael Ray Aquino, a former Philippines National Police official, who was among those who Aragoncillo is alleged to have passed classified information. Aragoncillo specifically identified Aquino today as a co- conspirator in the transfer of classified documents and information.
Aquino, who remains in federal custody, was indicted on Oct. 6, 2005 and charged with conspiring in the passing of classified information to current and former officials in the Philippines. No date has been scheduled for Aquino's trial due to extensive pretrial discovery.
Aragoncillo pleaded guilty to four counts of an indictment returned today by a federal grand jury. Count one charged him with conspiracy to transmit national defense information; count two charged him with transmission of national defense information. The maximum penalty for both of those crimes is death under certain circumstances — including the transfer of secrets that result in the death of an intelligence source — that are not present in the case of Aragoncillo. Consequently, the maximum statutory penalty on those counts for Aragoncillo is any term of years up to life in prison.
Count three charges Aragoncillo with unlawful retention of national defense information, and count four charges him with unlawful use of a government computer, both of which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
In the indictment and during his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge William H. Walls, Aragoncillo's co-conspirators were identified as Executive Branch Official No. 1, a senior member of the executive branch of the ROP from June 1998 through January 2001; Senator No. 1, who has served in the Philippine Senate since June 2001 and was formerly the head of the Philippines National Police; Representative No. 1, who served in the Philippines House of Representatives between about 1998 and 2001 and again in 2004; Representative No. 2, who served in the Philippines House of Representatives between 1992 and 2001, and again in 2004; Mayor No. 1, who is a mayor of one of the municipalities located near Metro Manila; and Aquino.
Aragoncillo admitted his contacts began on July 27, 2000, when a delegation of public officials from the Philippines — including Executive Branch Official No. 1 and Representative No. 1 — met with the President of the United States at the White House. Aragoncillo was then a staff assistant to the Vice President's Military Advisors and possessed a Top Secret security clearance.
Aragoncillo said that Representative No. 1 contacted him in or about October 2000, and requested information about the U.S. government's views about the Philippines. Aragoncillo stated that Representative No. 1 appealed to his sense of loyalty to the Philippines and its people in requesting the information. As a result of Representative No. 1's appeals, Aragoncillo agreed to begin supplying Representative No. 1 with national security- classified documents and information.
From that time forward, and continuing through his service with the OVP and the FBI, Aragoncillo admitted to gathering and providing classified documents and information to Executive Official No. 1, Senator No. 1 and the other co-conspirators.
Aragoncillo also admitted that in telephone, e-mail and text message exchanges with Senator No. 1, he advised that the information he was transferring would be useful in assisting Senator No. 1 and his associates in their attempts to destabilize and overthrow the president and government of the Philippines. In one telephone conversation, for example, Aragoncillo admitted that he told Senator No. 1 that the documents were like a "blueprint" on how to engineer a coup. In response, Aragoncillo said that Senator No. 1 told him that the document was "a good reference" and that Senator No. 1 "would print it because we are preparing something like this."
Among other specific admissions by Aragoncillo:
– That on Jan. 12, 2001, he met Executive Branch Official No. 1 at the Malacanang Palace.
– That on June 1, 2001, he gathered classified "Situation Reports" from the OVP, and transmitted them to Representative No. 1.
– That on April 17, 2001, and Jan. 29 and Feb. 6, 2002, he gathered documents classified "Top Secret" and "Secret," respectively, containing national defense information relating to terrorist threats to U.S. government interests in the ROP and exercises involving the U.S. military in the Philippines.
– That he sought positions with the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency, to gain access to classified documents and information that would be useful to his co-conspirators.
– That beginning in September 2004, he began gathering classified documents from FBI computers located at Fort Monmouth relating to the ROP, and thereafter he transmitted classified documents and information to his co-conspirators until his arrest on September 10, 2005.
– That from approximately January to April 2005, he transmitted by e-mail approximately 30 documents classified "Secret" and "Confidential" to Senator No. 1 and Aquino, including documents containing national defense information.
– That on Feb. 28 and Aug. 4, 2005, and on other occasions, he transmitted documents to his contacts containing classified information about confidential intelligence sources of the U.S. government.
– That approximately two weeks before his arrest, on Aug. 25, 2005, he sought to return to his position as a Staff Assistant in the OVP.
Christie credited Special Agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Leslie Wiser, Jr., in Newark, N.J., for their investigation of the espionage case.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karl H. Buch and Michael Buchanan, of the U.S. Attorney's Office Criminal Division, and Clifford I. Rones, senior trial attorney, U.S. Department of Justice in Washington.