Thursday, October 6, 2005

Poor vetting procedures by the FBI and Marine Corps are being blamed for the compromise of intelligence secrets to the Philippines by a former Marine who worked in the White House, U.S. officials say.

The FBI has expanded its investigation of FBI analyst Leandro Aragoncillo, 46, a former Marine gunnery sergeant charged last month with spying. The investigation initially was thought to have been limited to the passing of 101 classified U.S. reports to three current and former Philippine officials from May to July.

Mr. Aragoncillo, who as a Marine served on the vice-presidential security details of both Al Gore and Dick Cheney between 1999 and 2002, now is suspected of passing classified documents taken from Mr. Cheney’s office in 2001, officials said.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said yesterday.

A federal grand jury in Newark, N.J., yesterday indicted former Philippine police intelligence official Michael Ray Aquino, who was arrested Sept. 10 along with Mr. Aragoncillo, for conspiracy to provide classified information to Philippine officials and opposition politicians.

U.S. officials have identified former Philippine President Joseph Estrada as a recipient of the information. He has told reporters in Manila that he received documents from Mr. Aragoncillo between mid-2001 and 2003.

A Marine Corps spokesman had no comment on whether the service is conducting a separate investigation into Mr. Aragoncillo.

Political instability is growing in the Philippines over charges that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo rigged elections.

Although the espionage case involves the compromise of classified law-enforcement, intelligence and foreign-policy documents, it is not considered as serious as the Moscow spy case of FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying, one official said.

The FBI hired Mr. Aragoncillo last year to work at the Fort Monmouth Information Technology Center. The computer facility in New Jersey is involved in some intelligence analysis work.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, highlighted FBI intelligence shortcomings. Since then, the agency has hired more than 540 intelligence analysts as part of an effort to improve its threat analysis, a Justice Department inspector general’s report says. The FBI plans to hire a total of 747 intelligence analysts.

The rapid hiring of so many analysts is thought to be one cause for the compromise involving the Philippines, said intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

FBI intelligence analyst applicants are required to undergo background investigations and polygraph and drug tests.

The penetration of the FBI by a foreign agent is the second major intelligence failure to emerge in recent months.

U.S. secrets also were compromised to China in the case of Katrina Leung, a paid FBI informant for more than two decades who U.S. officials say was a double agent for Beijing and who revealed secrets about U.S. intelligence operations to Beijing.

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