- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

Federal investigators obtained hundreds of letters and computer messages they believe were sent between FBI Special Agent Robert P. Hanssen and his Russian handlers that are providing leads to other possible spies, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The communications were obtained by the FBI and CIA counterintelligence as part of what FBI Director Louis J. Freeh called "an intelligence coup" several months ago. He did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, President Bush said yesterday he is "disturbed" by the espionage case but would not say if Mr. Hanssen's reported spying activities on behalf of Moscow damaged U.S.-Russia relations.
"I intend to deal with Mr. Putin in a very straightforward way, to be up front with him on all matters," Mr. Bush told reporters at his first White House news conference. "I am, of course, disturbed about the espionage, the alleged espionage that took place."
Mr. Bush said he has confidence in Mr. Freeh despite the 16-year spying case, viewed as the most damaging in the FBI's history.
The spy letters form the basis of the espionage charges against Mr. Hanssen, and excerpts of some of the most important were disclosed in an FBI affidavit made public Tuesday.
They reveal how Russia's intelligence agency directed their agent, identified in the letters as "B" and who investigators say is Mr. Hanssen, to help in recruiting other officials with access to intelligence information as spies.
The leads contained in the letters have prompted FBI and CIA investigations of people who may have been recruited.
Investigators are tracking down a former U.S. government official who was mentioned by Mr. Hanssen in a 1991 letter to the KGB as a possible spy recruit.
The FBI affidavit stated that "B" had recommended the recruitment of "a particular named individual who he described as an 'old friend.' " The FBI said Mr. Hanssen had been a friend of the person since he was a teen-ager.
Asked yesterday about whether other spies are operating in the United States, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said: "You never say never because you don't know."
A 1990 letter from the KGB to Mr. Hanssen asked him to "give us some good leads to possible recruitments" of "interesting people in the right places."
However, there is no evidence so far that Mr. Hanssen was part of a spy ring involving other people, law-enforcement officials said.
Mr. Hanssen, a 27-year veteran of the FBI, stated in one letter dated June 8, 2000, to his "Dear Friends" that he had set up a cipher code system for communicating with his handlers and was worried that he had used the decrypting "key" several times.
In another letter from 1988 three years after he volunteered to spy for Moscow "B" stated that he needed to take precautions to avoid being uncovered. "My security concerns may seem excessive," he stated. "I believe experience has shown them to be necessary. I am much safer if you know little about me. Neither of us are children about these things. Over time, I can cut your losses rather than become one."
Mr. Bush said the case shows that "there are people who don't particularly care what America stands for and people who are interested in our secrets."
"We ought to be concerned about espionage in America," Mr. Bush said. "We will find spies and we will prosecute them. I'm pleased that they caught the spy. Now the courts must act."
Mr. Shelby said in an interview with The Washington Times that his panel will conduct an investigation of the Hanssen case, with its first hearing with Mr. Freeh and CIA Director George J. Tenet set for Wednesday.
"I'm interested in finding out why it took the FBI so many years to identify who the mole was, especially in the sensitive area of counterintelligence," Mr. Shelby said. "The Bureau did a good job after they had a lead, and moved expeditiously. But the question is why it took so long."
Mr. Shelby said the case so far appears extremely damaging. Among the questions he wants answered in the committee's inquiry are why the FBI security system broke down, and why FBI agents were not given polygraph, or lie-detector, tests like other intelligence agencies.
Mr. Shelby also said he will review whether the FBI left its agents "too long in sensitive positions."
The letters reveal a highly technical relationship between Mr. Hanssen and the KGB and later its successor, the SVR. Much of the exchanges are about spying techniques secret drop-off and pickup locations where documents and money were left.
The letters also reveal Moscow's spying priorities. In 1991, the KGB wanted to know U.S. intelligence "plans to respond to domestic turmoil in the Soviet Union" and new U.S. communications intelligence efforts.

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