Estrada Says He Was Given U.S. Document
Friday, October 7, 2005
MANILA, Oct. 6 -- Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada says he first met Leandro Aragoncillo during a state visit to Washington in August 2000, when President Bill Clinton invited Aragoncillo and about 20 other Filipinos who worked at the White House to greet Estrada.
Some time later, Aragoncillo met Estrada again -- but this time, he handed the deposed president a three-page internalU.S. analysis of political developments in the Philippines. Estrada said the document had originated at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
The former president's account provides further evidence that Aragoncillo may have stolen U.S. documents while he worked as a military security official in the vice president's office. Officials say the case could represent the first allegation of espionage inside the White House in modern times.
Aragoncillo was charged last month with downloading more than 100 documents while working as an FBI intelligence analyst earlier this year. Officials revealed this week that the probe has expanded to include his earlier years at the White House.
The Justice Department and FBI are investigating whether Aragoncillo stole classified material while assigned to Vice President Cheney's security detail, and provided it to Estrada and other opposition politicians in the Philippines. ABC News has reported that Aragoncillo admitted to stealing records while on Cheney's staff. Authorities are also investigating whether documents were stolen during Vice President Al Gore's tenure.
FBI counterespionage agents are investigating whether Estrada or other opposition politicians recruited Aragoncillo and whether a second defendant -- a former Philippines national police official -- was part of a planned intelligence operation. One official familiar with the probe said Aragoncillo was paid to steal the information.
Court documents filed in New Jersey this week show that Aragoncillo, 46, of Woodbury, N.J., is cooperating with prosecutors and is in the midst of plea negotiations. The second man, Michael Ray Aquino, 39, is not cooperating and was indicted in Newark Thursday on charges of conspiracy to obtain classified information and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
Interviewed by telephone at his secluded vacation estate, where he remains detained on corruption charges, Estrada said he could not remember the date that Aragoncillo gave him the U.S. document. But he said it occurred when Aragoncillo came to see him sometime in the two years after Estrada was ousted as president, in January 2001.
"This document was about the graft and corruption happening in the country. It's nothing new," Estrada said, comparing it to accounts in Philippine opposition newspapers.
Aragoncillo, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was first detailed to the White House as administration chief of the vice presidential security detail in July 1999 and served through February 2002, the Pentagon said.
Bush administration officials have refused to provide further details on the case or to reveal how Aragoncillo gained a top-secret security clearance at both the White House and the FBI. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said during an unrelated news conference Thursday in Washingtonthat aides assigned to the White House complex are generally vetted by the agency they work for, but said he did not have details of the Aragoncillo case.
"We take all investigations, of course, very, very seriously, particularly investigations that might involve jeopardizing very sensitive information relating to the actions of our government," Gonzales said. Michael Feldman, a spokesman for Gore, declined to comment, referring questions to the FBI.