May 4, 2006

Ex-official guilty of spying from Cheney’s office

By Christine Kearney

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A Philippine-born former
White House official pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that
he took top secret documents from Vice President Dick Cheney's
office and turned them over to Philippine opposition figures.

Leandro Aragoncillo, 47, faces 15 to 20 years in prison
under federal sentencing guidelines for his plea on conspiracy,
transmission and retention of national defense information and
unauthorized use of a computer.

Aragoncillo, a U.S. citizen and former Marine, worked in
the White House as administration chief of the security detail
assigned to the Vice President from 1999 to 2002 where he held
a top security clearance. He later took a job as an
intelligence analyst with the FBI in New Jersey.

He admitted in court to passing on documents classified as
top secret, secret and confidential that included information
relating to terrorist threats against U.S. government interests
and military personnel in the Philippines.

Prosecutors called his guilty admission a "plea agreement"
but refused to say if he would testify against another
defendant in the case, Michael Ray Aquino, a former senior
Philippine police intelligence officer accused of taking
documents from Aragoncillo.

The case has caused a political scandal in the Philippines
because the stolen documents were used by opponents of
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to try to oust her.

Prosecutors named former Philippine President Joseph
Estrada, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former House of
Representatives Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella as unindicted
co-conspirators in the plot.

Aragoncillo, who worked in the vice president's office
first under Al Gore and then Cheney, "took an oath to protect
his country (as a Marine) and instead decided to betray his
country," said U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.

"He took information that was very sensitive to our
national security," Christie said.

Defense lawyer Chester Keller issued a statement saying,
"It was never his intention to harm or compromise the United
States. It was his sole intention to help the people of the

The White House had no comment on the plea.