- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

America was sold out, it would appear, by a dour FBI spy known to his colleagues as "the mortician." Robert Hanssen, the FBI contends, sold the Soviets and the Russian government U.S. intelligence on Russian double agents, U.S. surveillance techniques, and other highly sensitive information for over 15 years. In doing so, Mr. Hanssen would have transgressed against the security of every American. His alleged betrayal of his great country, in exchange for a fistful of diamonds and cash, is perplexing and deeply disturbing. Indeed, the United States seems considerably more vulnerable in the wake of the Hanssen news.

We may never come to understand what drew Mr. Hanssen to such a treacherous means of enrichment. Surely, with his background and apparent intelligence, he could have become wealthy working in the private sector. So did Mr. Hanssen harbor a deep hatred for his country or an abiding affinity for the Soviet Union? Did he thrive on the threat of detection?

A close look at Mr. Hanssen reveals an eerily dispassionate man, with a contempt for his fellow man and country, but no apparent ideology. Although he seemed to others a deeply religious man and was believed to attend Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Vienna every Sunday, he has not been a member of the church since 1988. Most news sources reported that Mr. Hanssen was also regarded as quite a family man, but an article in The Washington Times indicates an underlying distance between man and wife. "I never saw them together, it was quite strange," neighbor Ena Thomas said of Mr. and Mrs. Hanssen.

And even within the agency, Mr. Hanssen demonstrated some personality traits which could indicate some sociopathic tendencies. He was arrogant and contemptuous of anyone he regarded as his mental inferior, according to colleagues. He seemed emotionally detached and socially awkward. Among his fellow FBI colleagues, he stood out as an eccentric.

Letters Mr. Hanssen wrote to his Russian contacts demonstrate his scorn for America and its intelligence apparatus. "The U.S. can be errantly likened to a powerfully built but retarded child," he said in June, "potentially dangerous, but young, immature and easily manipulated. 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."

Although vetting for personality traits is certainly an inexact science, it seems that Mr. Hanssen's personality profile, if not his carefully guarded spying, should have caught the attention of FBI security. In hindsight, it seems easy to fault the FBI for allowing Mr. Hanssen to do so much damage for so many years. However, the FBI has foolishly shied away from procedures it regards as inexact. Unlike the CIA and National Security Agency, the FBI has no agency-wide program for the ongoing polygraph testing of its employees. FBI Director Louis Freeh has declined to specify whether Mr. Hanssen was ever subjected to a polygraph.

Former FBI and CIA chief William H. Webster has been placed in charge of a blue-ribbon panel to determine which steps should be taken. Fortunately, this review will be done under the Bush administration, which isn't expected to exhibit a Clintonian disregard for security matters. It would appear that the FBI's vetting procedures need to be significantly improved. Surely, there are ways to counteract the inconvenience such procedures might cause agency officials.

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