According to a sentencing motion, in the summer of 2000 then-President of the Philippines Joseph Estrada visited the U.S. and the Clinton administration hosted him at a State Dinner at the White House. Aragoncillo was in attendance and was introduced to Estrada. He even handed out his business card to members of the Philippine delegation.
It was the beginning of a troubled time.
That same fall, Estrada was accused of corruption and he was impeached. According to the motion, to steady his newly unstable footing, the Philippine president and his cohorts thought of Aragoncillo and his proximity to what they hoped would be beneficial information about their region. A representative called Aragoncillo and asked him to provide them information.
That's all it took. Aragoncillo agreed to do it.
In January of 2001, court papers show that Aragoncillo traveled to the Philippines and dined with Estrada at the Malacanang Palace. When he returned, he began pilfering and transmitting documents to Estrada and other co-conspirators.
The indictment and the sentencing motion both note that Aragoncillo's years as a spy was made up of clandestine meetings, an alias, code words, and computer misuse. Documents show that he stole classified information from the White House and from the famed Situation Room. He even was brazen enough to send documents he was not authorized to access to his contacts from a White House fax machine.
According to court papers, Aragoncillo walked out of the White House on a fairly regular basis with classified documents in a disc in his bag. He stole information about the Philippine economy, confidential U.S. intelligence sources and even terrorist threats against U.S. military personnel stationed in the Philippines.
That information well went dry for the conspirators when Aragoncillo's stint at the White House came to a natural end in 2002. He later retired from the Marine Corp. in 2004.
However, Aragoncillo wasn't done yet.
Over time, Aragoncillo applied for jobs at the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI to "maintain regular access to documents and information classified for national security," according to the indictment.
In July of 2004, he began his new job as an intelligence analyst with the FBI. In September, he began searching the FBI's Automated Case System, which is the agency's main database, for classified documents relating to the Philippines and its new president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The sentencing motion showed that he began accessing, downloading and printing classified documents that belonged to the FBI, the Department of Defense, the CIA and the U.S. State Department. Court papers noted that many of the stolen documents held national defense information.
Aragoncillo's first misstep was when his U.S.-based contact, Aquino, was arrested in March of 2005 for overstaying his tourist visa. Aquino has quite a history, himself. A trained intelligence officer in the Philippines, he was in the U.S. avoiding an investigation that implicated him in the kidnapping and murders of a publicist and his driver. The bodies had been burned and were only identifiable by their dental records.
Instead of lying low, Aragoncillo actually went to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office and vouched for Aquino, identifying himself as an FBI employee.
Immigration agents thought it was odd and reported it to the FBI, which soon began to take a look at the queries Aragoncillo had been running. When they saw that he had been running searches and downloading information that had nothing to do with his job, they began to look deeper. The government reported that investigators then found a discarded e-mail on his FBI account that referred to one or two Hotmail accounts, a Yahoo account and an alias. With court orders, the government went to both Hotmail and Yahoo. Once they saw those e-mails, they automatically began collecting the e-mail addresses of his co-conspirators. That led them to IP addresses and then actual physical addresses.
Aquino left three years worth of e-mails -- more than 2,000 messages -- in his account. It was a virtual treasure trove of information.
At that point, investigators set up real-time monitoring, gathering a mounting pile of evidence against Aragoncillo, Aquino and the other conspirators.
In September, while investigators were watching, Aragoncillo downloaded and transmitted a document regarding a political coup in another country. One of the names on the document was Condoleezza Rice.
The sentencing motion noted that when Aragoncillo e-mailed out the information on the coup, he wrote, "The attached info could be used a 'guidance', if and when you intend to install a military council and later transition to a 'civilian cabinet.'" Later in a telephone call about the document, Aragoncillo called it a "blueprint on how to" execute a coup.
Within a week, the feds descended on Aragoncillo's and Aquino's homes, executing search warrants and arresting both men. Documents showed that Aragoncillo hadn't even deleted many of his e-mail messages and Aquino had neatly stored information on CDs that he kept in his house.
Aragoncillo pleaded guilty last spring. Aquino also cut a deal. Charges have not been brought against the other conspirators but the investigation continues.
The prosecutor filed a classified brief to the court outlining what the government says is the damage done to the United States in the four years of espionage that touched two governments, several federal agencies and even the White House.