- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

It has been known for some time that Robert Hanssen's espionage activities, which spanned 22 years while he operated as a spy for the Soviet Union and Russia, were the most damaging in the history of the FBI, where Hanssen served as a counterintelligence officer for 25 years. Confirming that the 6,000 pages of documents and dozens of computer disks Hanssen gave to the Soviets and Russians over the years included the details of "extraordinarily sensitive intelligence operations," a recently released report by a special commission investigating the FBI's security problems highlighted the ease with which Hanssen committed his espionage. "As shocking as the depth of Hanssen's betrayal," the seven-member commission, which was headed by former FBI and CIA Director William Webster, concluded in its report, "is the ease with which [Hanssen] was able to steal material he described as 'tremendously useful' … to hostile foreign powers."

The report, which covered some years during which Mr. Webster himself served as FBI director, reveals that FBI senior executives paid little attention to significant deficiencies in the bureau's internal security system. Moreover, FBI executives, according to the report, gave low priority to security matters. Security training, for example, was virtually nonexistent at the bureau, which routinely failed to correct longstanding security problems. Having documented extensive FBI technology and management problems that led to internal security breakdowns, the commission, which was appointed by Attorney General John Ashcroft, concluded that there had been "pervasive inattention to security" at the FBI.

The commission's 13-month probe, during which Hanssen was debriefed several times by Mr. Webster's panel, found that the spy repeatedly made unauthorized use of FBI computers to search files in an effort to obtain confidential information on first lady Hillary Clinton, her daughter, Chelsea, and FBI Director Louis Freeh. The FBI's security system never detected those attempts. Mr. Hanssen also brazenly retrieved classified information from computers at offices where he did not even work. Using only routine security clearances, he was also able to search through classified documents. After downloading sensitive information, he had no problems removing it from FBI headquarters, where, he explained, "security was lax."

Perhaps most "shocking" to use the Webster report's word were the repeated failures by the FBI to uncover Hanssen's actions, despite numerous telltale signs. The report revealed that, in 1993, Hanssen had offered to sell classified information to a Russian officer. Apparently believing the offer was a setup, the Russians complained to U.S. officials. That led to an FBI investigation, which failed to detect Hanssen even though the spy managed to secretly track the investigation by perusing the case file on the FBI's database. In another case, Hanssen gave conflicting explanations about the financing of an addition to his house. He acknowledged to the commission that his longtime subterfuge could have been uncovered if only the FBI had not regularly violated the presidential order regarding financial disclosure that was issued in the wake of the espionage scandal involving CIA agent Aldrich Ames.

Mr. Webster is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. That should mark the beginning of far more intensive congressional oversight of the FBI's security practices, which proved to be utterly inadequate for more than two decades, and probably longer than that.

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