- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

Former FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen, described as one of the "most disturbing and appalling turncoats" in U.S. history, pleaded guilty yesterday to spying for Russia after cutting a deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty.
Hanssen, looking pale and wearing green overalls with the word "prisoner" stamped on his back, entered the plea in a high-security courtroom before U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton in Alexandria, admitting to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy dating back more than 20 years.
In exchange for his promise to cooperate with prosecutors over the next six months during extensive questioning by the FBI, CIA and other U.S. intelligence officials to determine the extent of the damage he caused as a spy, the government agreed to drop six counts of an indictment handed down in May and waive the death penalty.
"Guilty," Hanssen told Judge Hilton when asked for a plea in the case. Questioned on whether he understood the charges against him, Hanssen replied: "Yes, I've gone over it in detail, sir."
Hanssen, a 27-year FBI veteran who spent more than half his law-enforcement career as a counterintelligence agent, pleaded guilty to 13 separate acts of espionage against the United States, one count of conspiracy and one count of attempted espionage.
He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing tentatively scheduled for Jan. 11, based on his full cooperation with law-enforcement debriefers. He is expected to be sentenced to the federal detention center in Allenwood, Pa.
Several observers in the packed courtroom were FBI agents, some of them Hanssen's former colleagues. At one point, he looked at the agents — crowded into the first two rows — and smiled. They did not return the smile.
Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, after the hearing, told reporters Hanssen "betrayed the trust of his country on the highest level imaginable," adding that the plea agreement "ensures that he will be held fully accountable for his actions."
Mr. Thompson also said the decision to forgo the death penalty was a "difficult one" based on the "gravity of Hanssen's betrayal and the strength of the government's case." But he said prosecutors determined that U.S. interests would best be served by pursuing a course allowing the government to "fully assess the magnitude and scope of Hanssen's espionage activities, an objective we could not achieve if we sought and obtained the death penalty against him."
U.S. Attorney Ken Melson, whose office prosecuted the case, described as "shocking" Hanssen's courtroom admission of spying against the United States.
"He betrayed his country, he betrayed his fellow Americans, for no reason other than greed, and he caused irreparable damage to the national security of the United States," Mr. Melson said. "His plea of guilty today brings to a close one of the most disturbing and appalling stories of a turncoat imaginable."
Mr. Melson also disputed claims by defense attorneys that Hanssen was a "winner" in this case, having avoided execution.
"Despite what his attorney said in court, that Mr. Hanssen was a winner in this, he is not a winner, and he will never be a winner," he said. "He disgraced himself, and he disgraced his badge. The reassuring news is that Hanssen will spend the rest of his natural life under the watchful eye of a prison guard."
Mr. Melson said Hanssen, being held at an undisclosed Virginia location, personally participated in the plea negotiations and was able to satisfy the prosecutors, the FBI and the CIA that information he had was worth a deal. He said interrogations would continue over the next several months "to determine and fully gauge the damage he caused to our national security."
Under terms of the agreement, Mr. Melson said Hanssen is expected to be candid and truthful about his spying activities in the interrogations — which will include polygraph tests if prosecutors want to test his truthfulness.
"If we determine he is withholding information, the government has the authority, under the plea agreement, to terminate the plea and use whatever statements he made during his debriefings up to that point against him … and proceed to trial" where the death penalty would become an option again, he said. "Those are the key elements of the plea agreement."
Ruben Garcia, the FBI's acting deputy director, said the agreement "calls for an appropriate punishment, demands the truth be told, protects national-security information, and allows for compassion towards innocent parties."
The plea agreement, hammered out by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows, lead prosecutor, and Hanssen's Washington attorney, Plato Cacheris, allows for the payment of survivor's benefits to his wife, Bonnie, and their six children — as long as he and she continue to cooperate in the investigation.
The agreement also lets Mrs. Hanssen keep her home in Vienna, Va., and the family's three vehicles. Her payments will amount to about 55 percent of Hanssen's annual salary, although no figures were mentioned in court. Mr. Melson said the survivor's annuity was guaranteed in 1996 by Congress, which said if a spouse fully cooperates with the government, he or she is entitled to the annuity.
Mr. Cacheris said his client will tell authorities he began spying for the Soviet Union in 1979, six years earlier than the indictment charges. He said the spying continued until 1992, when he began a seven-year layoff. In 1999, he said, Hanssen resumed spying but had a premonition he would be caught.
He told reporters Hanssen felt remorse over his spying activities, saying he wanted "to make amends." He said he wanted to tell the FBI "what he had done and how he had done it."
"That is matters of interest to them," he said.
Under terms of the agreement, Hanssen cannot write or help author any books, articles, films or documentaries, and cannot give media interviews without FBI permission.

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