A former FBI intelligence analyst pleaded guilty Thursday to passing classified information to plotters allegedly trying to overthrow Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In a federal court hearing, the former analyst, Leandro Aragoncillo, outlined five years of efforts to pass top secret and secret information. He worked as a military aide to vice presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney starting in 1999 and later became a civilian employee of the FBI.
Aragoncillo, 47, did not identify by name the current and former Philippine officials to whom he gave secrets, though he implicated former Philippine police official Michael Ray Aquino, who was arrested with him in September.
Aquino is accused of passing information from Aragoncillo about Filipino leaders to current and former officials of that nation.
Federal prosecutors identified among the participants in the plot former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former House of Representatives Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Newark. The efforts appear related to efforts to unseat Arroyo, according to FBI charges.
Estrada last week denied suggestions by U.S. prosecutors that he conspired with Aragoncillo to overthrow Arroyo.
Plea agreement eliminates death penalty
Aragoncillo, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in the Philippines, pleaded guilty to a four-count indictment. The top charge, conspiracy to transmit national defense information, can carry the death penalty, but under the plea agreement, Aragoncillo faces 15 to 20 years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 14.
U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said outside court that the government did not seek the death penalty because no physical harm resulted from the leaked information.
However, “it was information that had the potential to compromise U.S. national security,” Christie said.
Aragoncillo public defender Chester M. Keller said outside court that his client never intended to harm the United States. “It was his sole intention to help the people of the Philippines,” said Keller, who added that his client did not receive any money for his efforts.
Previously worked at the White House
Aragoncillo worked at the White House from 1999 to 2001 and was assigned to the vice president’s office. He became a civilian FBI employee in 2004 at Fort Monmouth in central New Jersey.
According to the FBI complaint, he began sending classified information and documents in January. He was suspended by the FBI after his arrest.
Aquino lawyer Mark A. Berman has said Aquino “is not a supporter of the present president” and was friends with an opposition Philippine senator. The politician has said he received “shallow” information from Aquino and Aragoncillo.
Berman also has said that Aquino had known Aragoncillo for about a year at the time of their arrests and had received information from Aragoncillo, but that nothing was marked “classified.”
In October, Aquino pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. At the time, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl H. Buch said the government intended to bring additional charges against Aquino, a Philippine national who had been living in New York.