OverviewPERSERECEspionage Casesfbi

Return to  HOME  DATES  NAMES  ORGANIZATIONS

Federal Bureau of Investigation

2005 - LEANDRO ARAGONCILLO, a naturalized US citizen of Filipino origin, was arrested on 10 September 2005, charged with passing classified intelligence reports regarding the Philippines to current and former officials of that country during a period when he worked at the White House and, later, in 2005, from his FBI office. The material was passed to MICHAEL RAY AQUINO, a former deputy director of the Philippines National Police and a Philippine national who was then living in New York. Aragoncillo passed documents to Aquino by way of cell phone text messages, email and CDs. The documents then were transferred to opposition politicians in the Philippines. Aragoncillo came to the US in 1982, and joined the Marine Corps in 1983, retiring in 2004 as a sergeant. He had been assigned (1999-2002) to the White House as staff assistant to military advisors in the Office of the Vice President, serving under Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney. President Clinton introduced Aragoncillo to Philippine president, Joseph Estrada, at the White House during Estrada’s official state visit to the US in 2000. Aragoncillo handed Estrada his card. Later he was approached by an Estrada associate and asked to pass along American intelligence that could be used to save Estrada’s presidency. (Estrada was eventually removed from office through impeachment in 2001.) Thus, while working for Cheney, Aragoncillo began stealing information about Filipino politicians and American policy towards the Philippines. He would walk out of the White House on a fairly regular basis with disks of classified documents in his bag and even use the White House fax to send documents directly to the Philippines. When his White House assignment ended in 2002, Aragoncillo sought positions in other parts of government, eventually in 2004 landing a job as an intelligence analyst at the FBI’s Information Technology Center. From there he resumed sending classified documents via his courier, Aquino, to Filipino opposition politicians, who were trying to overthrow Estrada’s successor, President Gloria Arroyo. The FBI’s investigation began after Aragoncillo intervened with US immigration officials on behalf of Aquino, who was facing deportation for overstaying his visa. Suspicious officials notified the FBI, who began an audit of Aragoncillo’s computer activities at his FBI office. They discovered that he had been making unauthorized queries of FBI databases and printing or downloading classified documents related to the Philipppines. Aragoncillo was sentenced on 16 July 2007 to 10 years in prison, Aquino to six years and four months. In February 2009 it was determined that Aquino’s sentence was based on a mistaken interpretation of federal guidelines and that his new sentence would range from 36 to 46 months, to include time already served since September 2005.

cicentre.com n.d., “Espionage/Spy Case: Leandro Aragoncillo and Michael Ray Aquino”
FoxNews.com 12 Sep 2005, “FBI Analyst, Filipino Charged With Spying”
New York Times 13 Sep 2005, “Two Men are Charged with Passing Secrets to Philippines”
Reuters 18 Jul 2007, “Ex-Cheney Aide Gets 10 Years in Prison in Spy Case”
Newsday.com 6 Feb 2009, “Court Vacates Sentence of Filipino in Spy Case”


2001 - ROBERT PHILIP HANSSEN, an agent for the FBI for 27 years, was charged on 20 February 2001 with spying for Russia for more than 15 years. He was arrested in a park near his home in Vienna, Virginia, as he dropped off a bag containing seven Secret documents at a covert location. For most of his FBI career Hanssen had worked in counterintelligence, and he made use of what he learned in his own espionage career. He was charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. Specifically, Hanssen provided first the Soviets and then the Russian government over 6,000 pages of classified documents and the identities of three Russian agents working for the US. Two of these sources were tried in Russia and executed. According to court documents, the FBI employee provided information on “some of the most sensitive and highly compartmented projects in the US intelligence community” as well as details on US nuclear war defenses. In return, the Russians paid him $1.4 million over the period of his espionage activities, including over $600,000 in cash and diamonds and $800,000 deposited in a Russian bank account. Hanssen was identified after the US obtained his file from a covert source in the Russian intelligence service. However, the Russians never knew Hanssen’s true name. To them, he was known only as “Ramon” or “Garcia.” It is believed that Hanssen was involved with the Soviets beginning in 1979, broke off the relationship in 1980, but again volunteered to engage in espionage in 1985 by sending an unsigned letter to a KGB officer in the Soviet Embassy in Washington. The letter included the names of the three Soviet double-agents working in the US. Although Hanssen’s motives are unclear, they seem to have included ego gratification, disgruntlement with his job at the FBI, and a need for money. He and his wife struggled to provide for their large family on an agent’s salary and by 1992 had incurred debts of over $275,000. Hanssen exploited the FBI’s computer systems for classified information to sell and kept tabs on possible investigations of himself by accessing FBI computer files. Friends and coworkers were at a loss to explain how this supposedly deeply religious father of six and ardent anti-Communist could have been leading a double life. A large part of his illegal income is believed to have been used to buy expensive gifts and a car for a local stripper. In July 2001, a plea agreement was reached by which Hanssen would plead guilty to espionage, fully cooperate with investigators, but avoid the death penalty. On 11 May 2002, the former FBI agent was sentenced to life in prison.

New York Times 21 Feb 2001, “F.B.I. Agent Charged as Spy Who Aided Russia for 15 Years”
Washington Post 25 Feb 2001, “’A Question of Why,’ Contradictory Portrait Emerges of Spying Suspect”
Washington Post 6 Jan 2002, “From Russia with Love”
Los Angeles Times 7 May 2002, “U.S. Authorities Question FBI Spy’s Candor”


1984 - RICHARD W. MILLER, first member of the FBI to be indicted for espionage, was arrested with two accomplices, SVETLANA and NIKOLAI OGORODNIKOV, on 3 October 1984. According to news reports, Miller provided classified documents to the Ogorodnikovs, two pro-Soviet Russian émigrés, and demanded $50,000 in gold and $15,000 cash in return. Miller, who was faced with financial difficulties, is alleged to have been sexually involved with Svetlana Ogorodnikov and was preparing to travel with her to Vienna at the time of his arrest. A search of Miller's residence uncovered several classified documents. At the time of their trial the Ogorodnikovs were accused of having been “utility agents” for the KGB since 1980. After a 10-week trial, and in an agreement with Federal prosecutors, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. Nikolai Ogorodnikov was immediately sentenced to eight years imprisonment. His wife later received a sentence of 18 years. Miller pleaded innocent and after 11 weeks of testimony, a mistrial was declared. Following a second trial which ended on 19 June 1986, Miller was found guilty of espionage and bribery. His claim that he was trying to infiltrate the KGB as a double agent was rejected by the jury. On 14 July 1986, Miller was sentenced to two consecutive life terms and 50 years on other charges. This conviction following his second trial was overturned in 1989 on the grounds that US District Judge David Kenyon erred in admitting polygraph evidence. Miller was granted bail in October 1989 while awaiting a new trial on charges that he passed Top Secret FBI data to the Soviet woman who was his lover. Miller was forbidden to leave the Los Angeles area without special permission and underwent therapy as ordered by the Probation Department. On October 9, 1990, he was convicted on all counts of espionage for the second time and, on 4 February 1991, was sentenced to 20 years in Federal prison. On 28 January 1993, a Federal Appeals Court upheld his conviction. On 6 May 1994, Miller was released from prison following the reduction of his sentence to 13 years by a Federal judge.

Washington Post 4 Oct 1984, “FBI Agent Charged in Espionage”
Washington Post 5 Oct 1984, “Accused Spies Portrayed as Incompetents”
Time Magazine 15 Oct 1984, “Spy vs. Spy Saga”
Los Angeles Times 5 Feb 1991, “Miller Gets 20-Year Term for Spying”


1996 - EARL EDWIN PITTS, a senior FBI agent, was arrested on 18 December 1996 at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and charged with providing classified information to the Russian intelligence services from 1987 until 1992. He is believed to have received $224,000 from Russian intelligence services for his activities. Pitts allegedly turned over Top Secret documents to the KGB (and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the SVRR), including a list of FBI assets who were providing intelligence on Russia. Pitts’ betrayal of trust began in July 1987 when, as a newly assigned agent to the New York City field office, he wrote to a Soviet representative assigned to the Soviet Mission at the United Nations and asked to meet a KGB officer. From 1988 to 1992 Pitts allegedly, on nine occasions, provided documents to his handler, KGB officer Aleksandr Karpov. Each meeting was followed by an unexplained deposit in one of several bank accounts in the Washington area. After 1992 Pitts became inactive as a foreign agent. He was identified as a mole when Karpov himself became a double agent for the FBI. At this time the FBI set up a sting operation against Pitts and, using agents posing as Russians, easily gained his agreement to renew his espionage activities. Over a period of 15 months, Pitts made 22 drops of classified documents to undercover FBI agents and was paid $65,000. The FBI was also informed of Pitts’ involvement by his wife, Mary Colombaro Pitts, who confided her suspicions about her husband’s activities to another FBI agent. Earl Edwin Pitts pleaded guilty to two counts of espionage in February 1997 following the discovery of a computer disk with a letter to his supposed Russian handler. On 23 June, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison by a Federal judge who stated that the former agent was guilty of “the most egregious abuse of trust.” When asked why he spied, Pitts cited a number of grievances he had against the FBI and stated that he “wanted to pay them back.”

Washington Post 19 Dec 1996, “Senior FBI Agent Charged With Spying for Russians”
Washington Post 19 Dec 1996, “Espionage Suspect Depicted as Eager to Sell His Loyalty”
Washington Post 2 Mar 1997, “Spy Case Sealed by 1990 Letter; Computer Disk Held Agent’s Memo to KGB”
Washington Post 24 Jun 1997, “Ex-FBI Agent Gets 27 Years for Passing Secrets to Moscow”


2003 - JAMES J. SMITH, an FBI agent, and KATRINA M. LEUNG, a Chinese-American business woman and Los Angeles socialite, were both arrested 9 April 2003 for illegal activities involving US classified information. Smith, 59, was charged with gross negligence in allowing Leung access to classified material, and Leung, 49, with illegally obtaining secret documents that would be an advantage to China. Leung was one of the FBI’s most highly paid assets; she was paid $1.6 million for working as an informant from the early 1980s until 2002. However, it was alleged that for at least 10 years Leung was also spying for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against the US. Moreover, she had for 20 years been involved in an intimate relationship with Smith, her FBI handler. Smith routinely debriefed Leung and on occasion took classified documents to her home and left them unattended. Leung surreptitiously photocopied some of them; these same copies were later recovered from her home by the FBI. In 1991 Smith learned from the FBI that Leung was suspected of providing classified information to PRC intelligence services without authorization from the FBI, yet he continued to vouch for her and allow her access to classified materials. On her arrest, Leung was not charged by federal prosecutors with espionage (because the government could not prove she passed information to China) but with illegally copying classified documents she took from Smith’s briefcase. In May 2004 Smith plea-bargained, pleading guilty only to lying about the long-time sexual affair. Four additional felony charges were dropped, which spared him from prison, but he was also barred from contact with Leung’s defense lawyers because of concerns over classified information being revealed in open court. In addition, he agreed to cooperate with the government in its investigation of Leung. However, in January 2005 the case against Leung was thrown out on the grounds that she would not be able to get a fair trial without access to Smith. She ultimately pleaded guilty to two minor charges: lying to the FBI and failing to report taxable income. She spent three months in jail and 18 months in home detention, served three years’ probation and 100 hours of community service, and paid a $10,000 fine. At the same time that Leung had her affair with Smith, she was also having a sexual relationship with another FBI agent, then working in San Francisco, William Cleveland Jr. He was not arrested or charged alongside Smith and Leung, but two days after Leung’s arrest in 2003, he resigned his security job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Washington Post 13 May 2004, “Ex-Handler of Alleged FBI Spy Cuts Deal”
New York Times 7 Jan 2005, “All Charges are Dismissed in Spy Case Tied to F.B.I.”
Latimes.com 5 Feb 2005, “Judge Urged to Reverse Decision Ending FBI Espionage Case”
Washington Post 25 May 2006, “FBI Officials are Faulted in Chinese Spying Case”


1988 - DOUGLAS TSOU, a Chinese-born former FBI employee, was indicted in 1988 on one count of espionage following his admission that in 1986 he had written a letter to a representative of the government of Taiwan in which he revealed the identity of an intelligence officer of the People's Republic of China. According to testimony at the trial (which was delayed until October 1991), the unidentified agent operating in Taiwan had unsuccessfully approached the FBI with an offer to work as a double agent. Although the information Tsou passed to a Taiwanese representative in Houston was classified as Secret, Tsou claimed that he considered the information to be declassified since the offer was not accepted. Motivation for his acts of espionage was likely loyalty to government of Taiwan. Tsou fled to Taiwan when the communists rose to power on the mainland in 1949 and moved to the US 20 years later where he became a naturalized citizen. He worked for the FBI from 1980 to 1986, first in San Francisco and later in Houston. On 4 October 1991, Tsou was found guilty as charged. However, prosecutors claimed that this represented only the tip of the iceberg of what Tsou gave to Taiwanese officials during his six years with the FBI. On 2 January 1992, Tsou was sentenced to a 10-year Federal prison term.

Houston Chronicle 22 Jan 1992, “Ex-FBI Translator Sentenced for Passing Secrets to Taiwan"


Return to  HOME  DATES  NAMES  ORGANIZATIONS