- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Former FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges of passing highly classified U.S. secrets to the Russians over a 15-year period. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
The accused spy, brought to the federal courthouse in Alexandria under heavy security, clearly declared before Chief U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton that he was "not guilty" when asked how he pleaded to a 21-count federal indictment charging him with espionage and conspiracy. He asked for a jury trial.
Judge Hilton set a trial date of Oct. 29 after Mr. Hanssens Washington attorney, Plato Cacheris, said his client had been advised of his rights and had signed a document waiving a speedy trial. Mr. Hanssen remains under guard at an undisclosed location in Virginia.
Wearing a green jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" stamped on his back in white letters, a gaunt-looking Mr. Hanssen spent only a few minutes in the packed courtroom before being hustled out of the building.
He had been taken to the Alexandria courthouse an hour earlier in a dark van with its windows blacked out, followed by a chase car with heavily armed FBI agents.
In stark contrast to the only photo that has been available of Mr. Hanssen showing him as robust and composed, he appeared pale in court and nodded nervously while talking with Mr. Cacheris as they waited for the judge. The former agent looked briefly around the courtroom.
With the exception of a son-in-law, no members of his immediate family were present.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Cacheris told reporters he would seek to challenge the indictment in several pending motions and, if unsuccessful, "we will be back here on October 29 for trial."
Arrested by FBI agents Feb. 18 as he tried to leave a package of classified documents at a secret drop-off location in a park near his Vienna, Va., home, Mr. Hanssen was indicted by a federal grand jury May 16 on charges of selling U.S. intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia beginning in October 1985.
Fourteen of the 21 counts carry the death penalty.
The indictment came after plea negotiations between prosecutors and Mr. Cacheris broke down over the death-penalty issue. Mr. Cacheris has contended the death penalty is unconstitutional and walked away from the negotiations after the government refused to take it off the table.
The indictment said Mr. Hanssen "betrayed his country for over 15 years and knowingly caused grave injury to the security of the United States." It said he conspired with agents from the Soviet KGB and its successor intelligence agency, the SVR, to deliver to Moscow "information relating to the national defense of the United States" with the intent to harm U.S. national security.
The 27-year FBI veteran, a father of six and devout churchgoer who worked as a counterintelligence agent, is accused of giving his Russian handlers classified information concerning satellites, early-warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attacks, communications intelligence and major elements of defense strategy.
Mr. Hanssens espionage efforts, according to the indictment, also led to Moscows identification of three Russian counterintelligence agents working for the United States and, consequently, to the deaths of two of them.
The indictment said Mr. Hanssen was paid $1.4 million by his Russian handlers in cash and diamonds, including hundreds of thousands of dollars deposited for him in secret bank accounts.
An FBI affidavit said Mr. Hanssen left plastic garbage bags of documents for the Russians on 20 separate occasions at locations in the Washington area and provided more than two dozen computer diskettes, many of them encrypted, containing classified information. During the February arrest operation, FBI agents intercepted a payment of $50,000 in $100 bills for Mr. Hanssen.
Six Russian Embassy officials are believed to have taken part in the spy scheme. In March, four of the Russian suspected handlers were declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows, lead prosecutor in the case, told the judge he would file motions for dealing with highly classified documents in the case under the Classified Information Procedures Act, which gives the court the right to decide how records will be handled during a public trial.
The government faces a serious problem in dealing with the disclosure of some of the U.S. intelligence communitys most sensitive records once the case gets to trial. Seeking to reveal highly classified intelligence programs that prosecutors say were compromised by suspected spies has been a way for defense lawyers to force the government to back down from prosecution and seek a plea deal.
According to a letter to his Russian handlers dated March 14, 2000, retrieved by FBI agents, Mr. Hanssen said that being a spy was a lifelong goal and that he had decided on this course "when I was 14 years old."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide