- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh announced the arrest with much fanfare during a February 2001 press conference at FBI headquarters - the bureau had taken into custody one of its own as a spy for Russia and the Soviet Union.

Special Agent Robert Hanssen, a veteran FBI counterspy, had for more than 20 years given Moscow hundreds of top-secret U.S. intelligence documents that jeopardized America’s national security, including the names of at least three KGB officers who secretly were working with U.S. intelligence, two of whom were executed later as U.S. spies.

Working in an environment in which FBI senior executives paid little attention to significant deficiencies in the bureau’s internal security system, Hanssen - who used the code name “Ramon” - collected a paltry sum of $600,000 in cash and diamonds from his Russian handlers, much of which the married father of six spent on a stripper.

The Hanssen story is just one of several controversies at the FBI in which the planning, tactics and procedures used by field agents and their managers have come under question.

Unable to explain how Hanssen had operated as a spy for two decades while remaining undetected, Mr. Freeh nonetheless praised the work of federal authorities who ultimately caught the longtime agent red-handed as he tried to leave a package of classified documents for his Russian counterparts at a “dead drop” in Foxstone Park in Northern Virginia, within walking distance of Hanssen’s Vienna home.

A 13-month investigation by a seven-member commission headed by former CIA and FBI Director William H. Webster later concluded that investigators looking for a “mole” inside the U.S. intelligence community were hampered by a fragmented and uncoordinated internal security system and that FBI executives even ignored warnings that Hanssen was a spy.

The commission also found that the FBI never questioned Hanssen when he requested that the hard drive on his computer be fixed and they found a private software package used to hack into computer systems. No questions were raised when officials at the Russian Embassy in the District lodged a formal complaint in the mid-1990s, saying Hanssen had attempted to hand over secret information.

Mr. Freeh asked Mr. Webster to review the FBI’s security programs shortly after the Hanssen arrest. He also ordered sweeping changes in internal security measures, including expanded use of polygraph tests for FBI employees.

The request came after weaknesses in the FBI’s internal security system had been exposed by the arrest, including a policy of not requiring regular polygraph tests for its agents.

Hanssen, like most veteran agents at the time, never underwent routine polygraph examinations that might have detected his activities sooner. FBI officials also missed numerous telltale signs of Hanssen’s spying activities, including his extravagant spending habits.

Now 64, Hanssen was charged with giving secret national security information to Russia and the former Soviet Union. As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His spying has been described as one of the most damaging intelligence failures in U.S. history.

Memo confusion

The Hanssen case was not the first time that Mr. Freeh, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor who gave up a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court in New York to accept the FBI director’s job in 1993, was at the center of a controversy. Nor was it the last time the bureau found itself in that position.

In May 2002, Minneapolis FBI agents who unsuccessfully had sought a warrant nine months earlier to search flight school student Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer did so after learning that FBI agents in Phoenix had outlined similar concerns about other suspected terrorists in Arizona three weeks earlier.

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