A federal grand jury yesterday indicted veteran FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen on 21 counts of conspiracy and espionage.
The 57-page indictment, handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, charges Mr. Hanssen with selling U.S. intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia over a 15-year period.
It came after plea negotiations between federal prosecutors and Mr. Hanssens defense attorneys broke down over the governments refusal to waive the death penalty in exchange for information from the accused spy.
Mr. Hanssen, according to the indictment, “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 who worked as a counterintelligence agent, is accused of giving his Russian handlers highly classified documents and information concerning satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence and major elements of defense strategy, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The indictment said Mr. Hanssen delivered the information to his handlers in plastic garbage bags.
The Russian handlers, the indictment said, left bags with cash and diamonds in return, and also deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars for him in secret bank accounts.
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 agents had been identified first by convicted CIA spy Aldrich Ames.
The indictment seeks $1.4 million from Mr. Hanssen, the amount he is believed to have received in cash from his Russian handlers. Fourteen of the 21 counts carry the death penalty if he is convicted.
Arraignment for the 57-year-old resident of Vienna, Va., is scheduled for June 1 before U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton. He is the third FBI agent ever to be accused of espionage.
Mr. Hanssen was arrested by FBI agents Feb. 18 as he tried to leave a package of classified documents for his Russian SVR intelligence agency handlers at a “dead drop” a secret drop-off location in Foxstone Park within walking distance of his home, the FBI said.
An FBI affidavit in the case said Mr. Hanssen began spying for the KGB in October 1985. At that time, according to the affidavit, he provided the Soviet Embassy in Washington with the names of the three KGB officers who were secretly working for the United States.
According to a letter to his Russian handlers dated March 14, 2000, retrieved by FBI agents, Mr. Hanssen wrote that being a spy was a lifelong goal.
“I decided on this course when I was 14 years old,” he was quoted in the affidavit as saying. “Id read Philbys book. Now that is insane, eh!”
The FBI affidavit said Mr. Hanssen left packages 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 documents.
At the time of the arrest, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said the full extent of the damage done by Mr. Hanssen was unknown, but he believed it was “exceptionally grave.”
During the arrest operation in February, FBI agents intercepted a payment of $50,000 in $100 bills for Mr. Hanssen. In March, four of his suspected Russian handlers were declared persona non grata and ordered out of the country. They were among six Russian Embassy officials believed to have taken part in the suspected spy scheme.
U.S. Attorney Ken Mellon, who announced the indictment, declined to comment on the plea negotiations.
“We will continue to vigorously pursue this case until Mr. Hanssen is properly brought to justice,” Mr. Mellon told reporters outside the Alexandria courthouse. He said Attorney General John Ashcroft would have to approve any decision to seek the death penalty.
Mr. Hanssens attorney, Plato Cacheris, told reporters earlier this week he expected his client would be indicted in the case. He said government attorneys had “more than enough time to resolve the issue of the death penalty.” He has argued that the death penalty is not justified in this case.
Mr. Cacheris rejected a government offer to extend the negotiations for another 30 days after prosecutors refused to remove the death penalty option from the table. The indictment does not mean that negotiations cannot resume at a later date.
A preliminary hearing in the case had been scheduled for Monday, the last day the government could bring an indictment. That hearing has been canceled.