FBI called vulnerable to spying
Six years after turncoat Robert Hanssen's arrest, the agency's internal security is deficient, a Justice report says.


By Richard B.Schmitt, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 2, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Six years after one of its own agents was caught spying for Russia, the FBI remains vulnerable to espionage from its own ranks, according to a Justice Department report.

Since the 2001 arrest of double agent Robert Hanssen, the agency has taken a number of steps to improve internal security. But its ability to track turncoats may work better in theory than in practice, according to the report that gives mixed grades to the agency and its handling of threats from within.

As an example, the department's Office of Inspector General singled out the case of former FBI intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo, who was convicted on espionage-related charges last year for sending dozens of classified documents to opposition leaders in the Philippines.

FBI supervisors failed to act promptly on concerns of rank-and-file employees about Aragoncillo, according to the watchdog office's report, and the bureau began investigating aggressively only after it was alerted by another agency.

The case highlights "deficiencies" in the FBI's effort to establish an effective internal security program, wrote Glenn A. Fine, the inspector general. It also shows "mixed progress" in implementing security measures the inspector general's office recommended four years ago in response to the discovery that FBI agent Hanssen had been spying for the KGB for two decades.

"We found that Aragoncillo's conduct should have been detected and investigated significantly earlier than it was," Fine said.

The 2003 report faulted the FBI for bungling the Hanssen investigation. While with the FBI, the former agent had revealed the names of dozens of undercover agents, at least two of whom were subsequently executed. Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison in 2002.

The inspector general's first report made recommendations to address what he viewed as long-standing and deep flaws in the FBI's internal security program. In the report released Monday, Fine said that although the bureau had made "significant progress" in implementing most of his suggestions, it had still not fully implemented several crucial recommendations.

The bureau agreed to implement two such proposals only recently, Fine said: creating a unit to focus exclusively on security breaches and naming an official from outside the agency to evaluate counterespionage evidence.

Fine said that the bureau failed to act on his recommendation to establish a central repository for derogatory information about FBI employees. He said agency efforts to improve its "background re-investigation" program had been mixed.

FBI spokesman John Miller said the agency would "continue to work with the [inspector general] to make additional progress toward implementing these recommendations and in our efforts regarding espionage activities on the whole."

Aragoncillo, a former Marine sergeant once assigned to Vice President Dick Cheney's security detail, began work in July 2004 as an intelligence analyst at the FBI's Ft. Monmouth Information Technology Center in New Jersey.

He was arrested in September 2005 and charged with mishandling national defense information. Also charged was a former Philippines national police officer, Michael Ray Aquino, to whom Aragoncillo e-mailed dozens of classified documents, including analyses of the Philippines political situation by U.S. officials.

While Aragoncillo's activities did not come close to matching Hanssen's betrayal, the inspector general found problems with how several of the recommendations worked in practice in his case.

The bureau failed to investigate large debts that Aragoncillo had incurred and a "substantial payment" he made to one creditor a few months before he joined the bureau.

He was given access to a highly sensitive information program in October 2004, even though an FBI background check had earlier determined that he was ineligible to see such material because two of his siblings were not U.S. citizens.

The agency also failed to promptly investigate complaints by co-workers and others, the report found.

One analyst walking past Aragoncillo's cubicle in November 2004 noticed that he was conducting a search using such words as "Philippines" and "corruption" even though he was supposed to be working on terrorism cases. The analyst reported his concerns to an internal security officer, who brushed off the warning.

Fine said the FBI did not view Aragoncillo as a potential problem until it received a call from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in March 2005. ICE agents reported that Aragoncillo was attempting to improperly intercede in the case of his friend Aquino, who had been arrested for overstaying his visa.

The FBI began an inquiry but, even then, it took security officials three months to make the connection with the earlier report about his suspected computer misuse.

"It seems like we dropped the ball on this in a big way," the chief of the FBI technology center where Aragoncillo worked said at one point, according to the inspector general's report.

Aragoncillo pleaded guilty last year to four federal charges, including conspiracy to transmit national defense information. He was sentenced in July to 10 years in prison.