The discovery that a former White House staff member allegedly used his top secret clearance to steal classified intelligence documents indicates there are serious gaps in high-level White House security, a former White House counterterrorism expert says.
"What it means is that there is a hole in White House security," Richard Clarke, a former White House adviser who is now an ABC News consultant. "There are two kinds of people at the White House: Those that have been very well-vetted and those that have been extremely well-vetted and have access to the top secret computer network. This man had access to the top secret computer network."
Sources tell ABC News that Leandro Aragoncillo, a U.S. Marine most recently assigned to the staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, stole classified material from the vice president's office, included damaging dossiers on the president of the Philippines, and then passed them on to opposition politicians planning a coup in the Pacific nation. Sources said a former Philippine president has admitted that he received some information from the alleged spy. The case was first reported by ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross.
Aragoncillo, 46, worked undetected at the White House for almost three years. Both the FBI and CIA are calling it the first case of espionage within the White House in modern history.
Allegedly Used White House Clearance
Federal investigators say Aragoncillo is a naturalized citizen from the Philippines. Aragoncillo worked at the White House from 1999 to 2001 and was assigned to the vice president's office under both Al Gore and Cheney.
Last year, after leaving the Marines, Aragoncillo was caught by the FBI while he worked for the bureau at an intelligence center at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Aragoncillo began sending classified information and documents in January while working at Fort Monmouth, according to an FBI complaint. From May to Aug. 15 of this year, the complaint said, he printed or downloaded 101 classified documents relating to the Philippines, of which 37 were classified "secret." He sent some of the material to Michael Ray Aquino, a former deputy director of the Philippines national police who lives in New York City, the complaint said.
"The information was transferred mostly by e-mails," said U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie. Sources told ABC News that he was suspected after a surveillance camera recorded suspicious activity by him.
Both Aragoncillo and Aquino were arrested Sept. 10 at their homes and ordered held without bail following an appearance before a federal magistrate. Aquino is expected to be indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey today.
Security Upgrade Needed at White House
Since his arrest, officials say Aragoncillo has started to cooperate, authorities said, and has admitted to spying while working on Cheney's staff.
Clark said Aragoncillo's arrest suggests the White House needs to improve and upgrade its security-vetting process for employees.
"Lie-detector tests can be beaten. They are largely a myth as to their effectiveness," said Clarke. "What it says about the computer network [Aragoncillo allegedly accessed] is that they don't have at the White House or at the FBI the kind of basic software that not only do American banks operate to find the insider threat, but I know of one piece of insider threat monitoring software that was sold to Bangladesh," he continued.
"So here we have a Third World country that's operating advanced software to find the insider threat doing anomalous things and the White House and the FBI apparently don't have it."
According to friends, in addition to his work for Cheney and Gore, Aragoncillo claimed he also worked with President Clinton and Condoleezza Rice when she was the national security adviser. Officials are now trying to learn how he landed the job in the White House, when he allegedly started spying, and how he escaped detection for so long.
Reported by ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross. ABC News' Vic Walter, Avni Patel and Rhonda Schwartz contributed to this report.