- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

A veteran FBI counterspy arrested on espionage charges was a longtime "mole" who gave Moscow large volumes of secret U.S. intelligence documents for more than 15 years in exchange for cash and diamonds, federal officials said yesterday.
Special Agent Robert Philip Hanssen was arrested Sunday as he tried to leave a package of classified documents for his Russian SVR intelligence agency handlers at a "dead drop" a secret drop-off location in Foxstone Park, within walking distance of his Vienna, Va., home.
An FBI affidavit in the case made public yesterday stated that Agent Hanssen, 56, began spying for the KGB in October 1985.
At that time, he provided the Soviet Embassy in Washington with the names of three KGB officers who were secretly working with U.S. intelligence, two of whom were later executed as U.S. spies.
According to a letter to his Russian handlers dated March 14, 2000, that was retrieved by FBI agents, Agent Hanssen stated that being a spy was a lifelong goal.
"I decided on this course when I was 14 years old," Agent Hanssen was quoted in the affidavit as stating. "I'd read [British mole H.A.R. Kim] Philby's book. Now that is insane, eh!"
The special agent was considered by his neighbors to be a reserved oddity, with several saying yesterday they did not even know he was an FBI agent and that he was rarely with his wife, Bernadette.
"I never saw them together; it was quite strange," neighbor Ena Thomas said.
According to an associate, Agent Hanssen is a devoutly religious man who was part of the conservative Roman Catholic group Opus Dei, had a brother in the priesthood and was the father of six children. Some neighborhood youths said Mrs. Hanssen taught theology part time at an area high school.
President Bush called the case "extremely serious" and "deeply disturbing."
In Moscow, Russian government spokesmen had no comment on the case. U.S. officials said Russian intelligence officers linked to the case had been identified.
The spy case, according to intelligence officials and experts, could prove to be one of the most damaging intelligence failures in U.S. history because Agent Hanssen operated undetected for so long and supplied such a wide variety of intelligence on U.S. spying operations, both human and technical.
Another letter to the Russians revealed Agent Hanssen disclosed to Moscow that State Department official Felix Bloch was suspected of spying for Russia, allowing the KGB to warn him and derail the FBI's investigation.
He also stated in a letter to the SVR that he could have warned them about the arrest of Stanislav Gusev, the Russian intelligence officer caught last year listening to an electronic bug that had been planted in a State Department conference room.
The FBI affidavit in the case stated that Agent Hanssen left packages of documents for the Russians on 20 occasions at locations in the Washington area and provided more than two dozen computer diskettes, many of them encrypted, containing classified documents.
"The full extent of the damage done is yet unknown because no accurate damage assessment could be done during the course of the covert investigation without jeopardizing it," said FBI Director Louis J. Freeh at a news conference yesterday. "We believe, however, that it was exceptionally grave."
The affidavit by FBI Agent Stefan A. Pluta said Agent Hanssen "compromised numerous human resources of the United States intelligence community."
Documents obtained from a clandestine search of the special agent's computers, including a handheld personal digital assistant, revealed code names for drop-off points for documents.
During the arrest operation Sunday, FBI agents intercepted a payment of $50,000 in $100 bills intended for Agent Hanssen. In the course of his career, investigators believe he received more than $600,000 in cash and diamonds at least two worth more than $40,000 for the information he provided.
The affidavit stated that Agent Hanssen communicated once in 1986 with his KGB handler through a classified advertisement that appeared in The Washington Times. The ad was a listing for a used car with the telephone number of a phone booth he used to talk secretly to the KGB.
Agent Hanssen's view of the United States was captured in one letter obtained by the FBI.
"The U.S. can be errantly likened to a powerfully built but retarded child, potentially dangerous, but young, immature and easily manipulated," he stated. "But don't be fooled by that appearance. It is also one which can turn ingenious quickly, like an idiot savant, once convinced of a goal."
On more than 70 occasions, Agent Hanssen searched the FBI's computers using key words that included his name and address to see if FBI counterspies suspected him of being a spy.
Agents tracked Agent Hanssen to dead-drop sites in Fairfax County named "Ellis" and "Lewis." Mr. Hanssen communicated with his Russian handlers using a variety of code-names, including "B," "Jim Baker," "G. Robertson" and "Ramon Garcia."
Mr. Freeh said Agent Hanssen operated so clandestinely that Russian intelligence did not learn the identity of their agent or his agency until yesterday's announcement of his arrest.
Key law-enforcement figures yesterday used the language of treason in describing the case.
"A betrayal of trust by an FBI agent, who is not only sworn to enforce the law, but specifically to help protect our nation's security, is particularly abhorrent," Mr. Freeh said. "This kind of criminal conduct represents the most traitorous action imaginable against a country governed by the rule of law."
Attorney General John Ashcroft called the case a very serious breach of U.S. national security. "Let me be clear: Individuals who commit treasonous acts against the United States will be held fully accountable."
If convicted of the charges, Agent Hanssen could be executed, a possibility he alluded to in a letter to the Russians.
"I have proven inveterately loyal and willing to take grave risks which even could cause my death," he said. "I ask you to help me survive."
U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey said no decision has been made on whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty.
Former intelligence official Kenneth deGraffenreid said the case is "gut-wrenching betrayal" but could spur security improvements.
"It gives President Bush the opportunity to finally break the cycle of systemic security failures that have plagued the United States for decades," said Mr. deGraffenreid, who was director of intelligence for the National Security Council during the Reagan administration.
Mr. deGraffenreid said there have been "hundreds" of recommendations for security improvements made over the years in the aftermath of numerous spy cases, but that few were implemented.
Officials close to the case said counterintelligence officials had been searching for a mole inside the U.S. government for many years, but a break described by Mr. Freeh as an "intelligence coup" came several months ago and gave investigators leads that eventually pointed to Agent Hanssen.
Mr. Freeh said the FBI obtained "original Russian documentation of an American spy who appeared to be Hanssen a premise that was soon to be confirmed when Hanssen was identified by the FBI as having clandestinely communicated with Russian intelligence officers."
The FBI chief added that Agent Hanssen's activities represented a breakdown in FBI security and that accountability for the failure "stops with me."
"None of the internal information or personnel security measures in place alerted those charged with internal security as to his activities," Mr. Freeh said. "In short, the trusted insider betrayed his trust without detection."
At an arraignment hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., yesterday, Agent Hanssen appeared before a magistrate looking disheveled and unshaven. U.S. Magistrate Theresa Carrol Buchanan at one point ordered him to stand up, reminding Agent Hanssen that he is a defendant.
Agent Hanssen, dressed in a black turtleneck shirt and gray pants, stared at reporters and courtroom visitors before being led away.
A preliminary hearing in the case is set for March 5, according to Agent Hanssen's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, who also defended convicted spy Aldrich Ames.
Mr. Cacheris told reporters that Agent Hanssen is "quite upset" and "emotional."
Mr. Cacheris described the case as just beginning. "I've been handed a lot of materials; I haven't read it yet."
As for the government's case, Mr. Cacheris said: "They always talk that they've got a great case, but we'll see."
Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this report.

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