WASHINGTON – A grand jury indicted a former Filipino police officer Thursday on charges of taking classified information from an FBI analyst and passing it to Filipino government opponents.
Michael Ray Aquino (search), 39, and a resident of Queens, N.Y., was charged with conspiracy and being an unregistered foreign agent.
The indictment follows an investigation into a former Marine security official, Leandro Aragoncillo (search), 46, who is accused of downloading classified information and passing it on to Filipino political opposition forces while he worked in the vice president's office during both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
An order filed Monday by a U.S. magistrate said federal prosecutors and Aragoncillo agreed to delay presenting his case to a grand jury to allow time to negotiate a plea. A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in New Jersey told FOX News that Aragoncillo’s activities in all his government roles are under investigation.
Aragoncillo's public defender, Chester M. Keller (search), declined to say if his client was cooperating with investigators. "It's just too sensitive right now," Keller said.
Aquino lawyer Mark A. Berman (search) said his client, a former deputy director of the Philippines National Police, rejected a plea deal.
Both men were taken into custody on Sept. 10 and held without bail after Aragoncillo was said to be "outed" by the FBI when he intervened in the Feds' attempt to deport his alleged co-conspirator, Aquino. Immigration officials notified the FBI, and the FBI discovered the alleged espionage.
Aragoncillo enlisted in the Marines in September 1983, and retired in 2004 after serving 21 years of service. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In July 1999, Aragoncillo was hired by former Vice President Al Gore to vice presidential security detail. He spent 31 months as an administration chief, staying on when Vice President Dick Cheney came into office.
After leaving the White House, Aragoncillo worked as an intelligence analyst for the FBI center in Fort Monmouth, N.J. From May to Aug. 15 of this year, he allegedly printed or downloaded 101 classified documents relating to the Philippines, of which 37 were classified "secret," according to the criminal complaint.
During his stint during the Clinton administration, Aragoncillo was the point person to interact with Philippine officials and media when former Philippine President Joseph Estrada (search) visited the United States. Estrada, who was forced from office four years ago, has admitted to receiving documents from Aragoncillo while in Manila, which matches the timetable for when Aragoncillo was working in the White House.
Newark U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said no evidence shows that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration has involvement, but he would not say if the suspects were in contact with opposition leaders. The Asian nation has suffered rumors of a possible coup after Arroyo was accused of criminal involvement in last year’s elections.
Aragoncillo is accused of sending classified information to members of the Filipino opposition in attempt to overthrow the Philippine government. The classified information allegedly reports comments by U.S. officials that say Arroyo may not be able to withstand a coup.
The White House is aware of the investigation and asked that further questions be directed to the FBI, administration officials said Thursday.
Scott McClellan (search) declined Thursday to discuss the investigation or Aragoncillo's specific duties while he worked in the offices of Gore and Cheney. "We're not going to have anything further on it," he said.
Some intelligence experts say the spying may not have caused the worst damage to the United States, but the probe could harm relations with foreign counterparts.
“It’s serious, it’s not life threatening to use, but people could be hurt, our relationships could be badly strained and our ability to keep secrets, of our own secrets, could come into question,” Judge William Webster, former FBI and CIA director, told FOX News.
The stolen information does not appear to be a threat to national security, William Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor, adding that the leaking of sensitive discussions by administration officials is a problem.
“We don’t know how serious it might be,” Sullivan told FOX News. “Such disclosures are always problematic.”
At least Aragoncillo appears to be cooperating with federal investigators, Sullivan added.
One intelligence expert, however, said the White House will have to review the potential that additional documents were leaked to foreign governments.
"The real concern here is how somebody, through all these years...was able to slip through the cracks," Greg Esslinger (search), a former FBI special agent, told FOX News.
Philippine Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales (search) said his office requested copies of the documents from the FBI, but has heard no response.
"A crime has been committed in the United States," he told The Associated Press in Manila. "Two Filipinos are involved and we don't know what classified documents they got, so we want to know because it might affect the national security situation in this country."
He added that some information from Aragoncillo’s charge sheet show some details that were leaked could pose a security threat.
Gonzales said he contacted Philippine Ambassador to the United States Albert del Rosario Thursday, who told him that the embassy would stay informed about the case.
FOX News’ Megyn Kendall and the Associated Press contributed to this report.