- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

INTO THE MIRROR:THE LIFE OF MASTER SPY ROBERT P. HANSSEN
By Lawrence Schiller
HarperCollins, $25.95,
317 pages

There was every reason to hope that "Into the Mirror: The Life of Master Spy Robert P. Hanssen," would contain new information and insights. After all, Lawrence Schiller and Norman Mailer, who worked together on the book, previously collaborated on "The Executioner's Song," the stunning, Pulitzer Prize-winning work based on the life of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, and "Oswald's Tale," a book in which they traced Lee Harvey Oswald's path from a tortured childhood to an infatuation with Russia, and on to Dallas and death.
For this project, Mr. Schiller wrote the book based on the screenplay Mr. Mailer has crafted for a forthcoming three-part TV miniseries on Hanssen's life. One notices quite early that this tale of the spy who "created the greatest breach of security in the history of the United States" is delivered in a narrative that might work better as a film. One can only hope, however, that the book's central symbol the mirror will figure less awkwardly and less often than it does here. In Hanssen's times of crisis with his father, his church, his marriage, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Russians, Mr. Schiller has him looking into the mirror, speaking his mind , and once in a while, it speaks back to him. It's a bit much.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the sneakiest, kinkiest, deadliest, and as of the May 15th sentencing which did not include the death penalty the luckiest spy of them all? Well, Robert Hanssen, of course, the smirking, lying father of six who worked for the Russians for over 20 years, posed as a devout Catholic and joined the ultra-conservative Opus Dei, lavished gifts on a Washington, D.C., prostitute and mailed nude photographs of his wife to a friend and advanced to secretly planting a video camera in their bedroom so that the same friend could watch while the Hanssens had sex.
These are now-familiar facts of the Robert Hanssen story that came to light after Hanssen was arrested on espionage charges on Feb. 18, 2001. Shortly thereafter, several books were rushed into print. Two of these "The Bureau and the Mole" by David Vise and "The Spy Next Door" by Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman, are works in which all this information is covered, and covered exhaustively. Reviewed in these pages, "The Spy Next Door" was credited with being the superior book, with its careful attention to the counterespionage efforts that led to Hanssen's exposure. On the other hand Mr. Vise was criticized for the inordinate space devoted to the career of Louis Freeh. Mr. Vise was also taken to task because of his penchant for mindreading in the style of Bob Woodward.
Earlier, "The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold: The Secret Life of FBI Double Agent Robert Hanssen" by Adrian Havill appeared. In it, the author also covered the same ground with a few additional nuggets gleaned from a different pack of sources. Fromthat book we learned about Hanssen's efforts to apply for a new job just weeks before his arrest.
The question that hovers over "Into the Mirror" is, of course, what was the need for this book. Besides the aforementioned works, there have been countless articles written about when Hanssen started spying, how he did it, his pseudo-devoutness and his quirky personal life. Surely all of this ought to have sated the public lust for spy lore and, worse, for information about other people's sex lives. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be true.
Mr. Schiller and, by extension Mr. Mailer, can make a good case that no one to date has deeply plumbed the mind and motivation of Hanssen. Although Hanssen was a loner, he apparently had significant life-shaping ties to his difficult father, his wife, his best friend Jack Hoschouer, and his eldest daughter Jane. Mr. Schiller attempts to flesh out these major players as they have not been before. Bonnie Hannsen, Robert Hanssen's wife comes across a little spunkier than one might have imagined. Mr. Hoschouer comes across as a believable clod. And Jane, the daughter, makes a brief and memorable appearance, though one that does not allow her to become a fully realized character. Still, in this book she is able to make readers even angrier than they already may be about the careless harm Hanssen inflicted on his innocent family.
But when these individuals speak it is impossible to know what is true and what is invention. Did Hanssen's father call him a "brilliant four-eyed cream puff" when he was young. Did the same overbearing, critical parent really tell Bonnie, "your bridegroom is a loser." Did Hanssen just announce one day, "I'm fully convinced I am going to convert" [to Catholicism.] Readers will question the authenticity of these conversations because one gets the overwhelming feeling that in the end it is all too pat, too one-dimensional, too sensational. The repeated scenes of and allusions to steamy sex do little to heighten the book's crediblity.
As for the facts of Hanssen's spying, they are subordinated here to the personal side of Hanssen's life. Yes we learn how Hanssen went from a wretched childhood in which his father was tough on him to become a good student. We follow him to dental school and his shift to accounting, through his time as a Chicago police officer to his joining the FBI in 1976. We see him send his first missive to the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) in 1979 and watch him repent afterwards, promising a priest he will never spy again, and then of course returning to spy some more.
But readers do not come away knowing how he eluded detection for all those years. There is no real window here on FBI operations or of Hanssen' role there. As for the Russians, they are reduced to a couple of awkward conversations in which they say things like "Do not forget our old Russian saying: Another man's soul is darkness."
Mr. Schiller is no Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and so it is probably too much to ask for serious introspection from Hanssen, a man too unreliable to trust anyway. But the mirror moments throughout the book do little to shed light on anything. They are goofy in the extreme, artificially engaged to fill in the gaps, gaps of motivation that no one, least of all Robert Hanssen, will ever be able to explain.
So it is not plausible when, early in the book, the young Bob after a dressing down from his father gazes at his reflection and notices: "Now a new look came into his face. He had seen it before, when he studied himself closely in the mirror … He liked to call it the bad look. It showed up only when he wished he could kill his father. Then he did not feel weak. He felt stronger than anyone alive. But that feeling wasn't real. He could get it only by looking in the mirror."
The mirror is a prop and it cannot humanize or explain this evil man, and it cannot and does not do much for this slight book.



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