Two Men Are Charged With Passing Secrets to Philippines
By RONALD SMOTHERS
NEWARK, Sept. 12 - A Federal Bureau of Investigation intelligence analyst and a former top Philippines law enforcement official were charged in federal court on Monday with espionage.
Arrested were the F.B.I. analyst, Leandro Aragoncillo, 46, of Woodbury, N.J., a naturalized United States citizen who was born in the Philippines, and Michael Ray Aquino, 39, of Queens, a former deputy director of the Philippines National Police under the government of the former president Joseph Estrada. The two men are accused of passing classified agency information to government officials in Manila in a case that appeared related to the Philippines' fractious internal politics.
According to affidavits by F.B.I. agents, Mr. Aragoncillo passed copies of classified F.B.I. documents about the Philippines to Mr. Aquino between February and August of this year by way of cellphone text messages and e-mail messages through Hotmail and Yahoo accounts.
Both men were ordered held without bail by United States Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz. Mr. Aquino, who was in the United States on an expired six-month tourist visa that was issued in 2001, also faces possible deportation.
Messages intercepted by investigators were heavily edited in the court affidavit but appeared to deal with F.B.I. information about the domestic political turmoil in the Philippines. The ultimate destination of the information, according to the court papers, were three unnamed public officials in the Philippines.
United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie declined to characterize the information that the two men are said to have passed. While the information did not involve terrorism or national security directly, he said: "Crimes like these strike at the heart of our national security because they involve our keeping our secrets secret. These defendants will face the full weight of federal prosecution."
Mr. Aquino has long been the subject of attempts by the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to link him with the 2000 kidnapping and slaying of a Manila public relations executive and his driver. While he has never been officially charged, Mr. Aquino has, in his absence, been at the center of several court proceedings to implicate him and a current opposition lawmaker, Senator Panfilo Lacson, in the 2000 crimes and other corruption charges.
Officials at the Philippines Embassy did not return two telephone calls seeking comment on the arrests and their possible implications for the country's politics. Recent news reports from Manila have portrayed the Arroyo government as under political siege by a number of former Estrada administration officials and Senator Lacson, who have joined in a coalition with former members of Mrs. Arroyo's cabinet, the Catholic Church and supporters of the former president Corazón Aquino.
Mr. Aquino is not related to the former president.
According to United States Marine Corps records, Mr. Aragoncillo joined the corps in 1983 and served as a unit diary clerk for much of his 21 years in the service. He retired as an administration chief. During that time he was stationed in Japan, at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and in the Quantico, Va., headquarters of the vice presidential security detail. He earned six good conduct medals and other citations.
Leslie G. Wiser Jr., the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s Newark office, said Monday that the agency's investigation of Mr. Aragoncillo began after he contacted American immigration officials on behalf of Mr. Aquino, who had overstayed his tourist visa. Mr. Aragoncillo identified himself to immigration officials as an F.B.I. employee, according to Mr. Wiser, and attempted to vouch for Mr. Aquino, who was facing deportation hearings.
Immigration officials notified the F.B.I., Mr. Wiser said, and the agency began an audit of Mr. Aragoncillo's computer activities.
Asked if Mr. Aragoncillo's motive was financial or political, Mr. Christie said early indications were that both were involved, but that the investigation was continuing.