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Former official guilty of spying from Cheney's office

Written by: Staff

NEWARK, NJ, May 4 (Reuters) A Philippine-born former White House official pleaded guilty today to charges that he took top secret documents from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and turned them over to Philippine opposition figures.

Leandro Aragoncillo, 47, faces 15 to 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines for his plea on conspiracy, transmission and retention of national defense information and unauthorized use of a computer.

Aragoncillo, a US citizen and former Marine, worked in the White House as administration chief of the security detail assigned to the Vice-President from 1999 to 2002 where he held a top security clearance. He later took a job as an intelligence analyst with the FBI in New Jersey.

He admitted in court to passing on documents classified as top secret, secret and confidential that included information relating to terrorist threats against US government interests and military personnel in the Philippines.

Prosecutors called his guilty admission a ''plea agreement'' but refused to say if he would testify against another defendant in the case, Michael Ray Aquino, a former senior Philippine police intelligence officer accused of taking documents from Aragoncillo.

The case has caused a political scandal in the Philippines because the stolen documents were used by opponents of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to try to oust her.

Prosecutors named former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, Sen Panfilo Lacson and former House of Representatives Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella as unindicted co-conspirators in the plot.

Aragoncillo, who worked in the vice president's office first under Al Gore and then Cheney, ''took an oath to protect his country (as a Marine) and instead decided to betray his country,'' said US Attorney Christopher Christie.

''He took information that was very sensitive to our national security,'' Christie said.

Defence lawyer Chester Keller issued a statement saying, ''It was never his intention to harm or compromise the United States. It was his sole intention to help the people of the Philippines.'' The White House had no comment on the plea.

Reuters VJ VP0350

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