FBI Missed Internal Signs of Espionage


By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 21 minutes ago

By the government's own account, FBI analyst Leandro Aragoncillo was spying
in plain sight. He rummaged through FBI computers for intelligence reports
unrelated to his work and then e-mailed the classified documents to
opposition leaders in the Philippines.

He had traveled more than a dozen times to the Asian country on personal
business since 2000. And records show he carried debt of at least a
half-million dollars ‹ on Marine retirement pay and an entry-level FBI

But for at least seven months, the bureau that makes catching spies its No.
2 mission after fighting terrorism missed signs of espionage in its own
ranks ‹ again.

Safeguards the FBI put in place after it was rocked by the Robert Hanssen
spy scandal in 2001 failed to raise red flags about Aragoncillo's
activities, according to interviews and court papers reviewed by The
Associated Press.

It took outside help ‹ U.S. customs officials separately developed
suspicions about Aragoncillo ‹ to alert the FBI. The bureau soon discovered
he was sending sensitive U.S. intelligence assessments about the
Philippines' government to Filipino opposition leaders, court records say.

One such document, obtained by the AP, described Filipino President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo, a U.S. ally in the war on terror, as "a weak reactive
leader" with an "overbearing personal style." The report was labeled an
"informal assessment by a senior USG (U.S. government) policymaker." Arroyo
has demanded an explanation from the U.S. Embassy.

Those who helped the FBI after Hanssen's deadly betrayal to Russia are
astonished that Aragoncillo appeared to exploit some of the same weaknesses
that were supposed to have been fixed.

"I don't know why they had to wait until somebody turned him in," said
former Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, a member of the panel that
investigated FBI security after Hanssen. "They should have been policing
their systems. The question is, how could he get by that long?"

Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., whose House
Intelligence Committee received a classified briefing on Aragoncillo,
agreed. "Bells and whistles should have gone on some place, and they
didn't," she said.

The FBI acknowledged it did not suspect Aragoncillo until the tipoff from
Customs but said it eventually would have detected its analyst's behavior.

"I'm confident our security procedures would have picked this up," said
Leslie Wiser Jr., head of the FBI's New Jersey office and a lead
investigator in the 1994 spy case against CIA officer Aldrich Ames. "I'm
glad we didn't have to wait for that; we'll take it any way we can."

The Justice Department inspector general has told Congress he was reviewing
the adequacy of the FBI's spy-catching techniques even before Aragoncillo's
arrest. That probe is continuing.

Meanwhile, Aragoncillo's lawyers and prosecutors are trying to wrap up a
plea deal that would secure a guilty plea and his cooperation. Prosecutors
have said Aragoncillo has "essentially admitted" to taking classified

The 47-year-old was born in the Philippines and became a naturalized U.S.
citizen in 1991. He served 21 years in the Marines, ultimately as a gunnery
sergeant. He worked at the White House on the security detail for Vice
Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney between 1999 and 2002 before joining the
FBI as a civilian intelligence analyst at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

He is not charged with espionage, which carries a maximum penalty of capital
punishment, as plea discussions continue. Instead, he's charged in court
papers with conspiring to reveal government secrets, acting as a foreign
agent and improperly using FBI computers. Those charges carry a maximum of
25 years.

Aragoncillo declined on three occasions through his lawyer, U.S. public
defender Chester Keller, to speak with AP.

Prosecutors have not identified a motive for Aragoncillo, except to say that
he was deeply in debt and appeared loyal to former Philippines President
Joseph Estrada. In one e-mail message cited in court records, Aragoncillo
allegedly wrote to the former president, "I would rather you take over, if
the constitution would suggest."

By the time FBI agents arrested him, Aragoncillo had downloaded at least 101
classified documents related to the Philippines, officials said.

It wasn't supposed to happen that way.

After the FBI in 2001 arrested Hanssen, who admitted spying for Moscow for
cash and diamonds over two decades, the agency was instructed to adopt tough
new safeguards to catch spies in its ranks. "We've moved to address that,"
FBI Director Robert Mueller promised in April 2002.

But despite similarities to Hanssen, Aragoncillo's activities failed to
trigger alarms with any of the FBI's new computer monitoring, financial
checks, polygraph tests and rules on foreign travel.

Paul Moore, who shared a carpool with Hanssen when both worked at FBI
headquarters, said he never suspected his co-worker was a Russian spy.
Inside the FBI, Moore said, "suspicion isn't automatic. You tend to find
explanations for anomalous behavior."


Associated Press writer Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this story from

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