Robert Philip Hanssen (born April 18, 1944) is a former American FBI agent who spied for the Russian KGB against the United States for more than 20 years. He is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day at the Supermax Federal Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.
Hanssen was arrested on February 18, 2001, at Foxstone Park near his home in Vienna, Virginia, charged with selling American secrets to Moscow for more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 22-year period. On July 6, 2001, he pled guilty to 15 counts of espionage in federal court. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole. His activities have been described as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history.
Hanssen attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and studied chemistry and Russian. He enrolled in Northwestern University Dental School. He did well academically but said that he "didn't like spit all that much". He switched to business after three years, and received an MBA. After graduating, he took a job with an accounting firm but quit to join the Chicago Police Department as an internal affairs investigator, specializing in forensic accounting. Hanssen left the Department after two years, transferring to the FBI in January 1976.
Hanssen met Bonnie Wauck while he was attending dental school in Chicago. Bonnie was one of eight children from a staunchly Catholic family. The couple married in 1968, and Hanssen converted to Roman Catholicism, becoming a fervent believer. Hanssen would eventually join the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, in which the Wauck family was active.
That year, Hanssen approached the GRU (the Soviet military intelligence agency) and offered his services. Hanssen neither then nor later indicated any ideological motive for his crimes, telling the FBI after he was caught that his only motivation was the money. Hanssen told the GRU much during this first espionage cycle, including information on FBI bugging activities and Bureau lists of suspected Soviet intelligence agents, but his most important information was the betrayal of Dmitri Polyakov, code named TOPHAT. Polyakov was a CIA informant for more than twenty years before his retirement in 1980, passing enormous amounts of information to American intelligence while he rose to the rank of General in the Red Army. For reasons that remain unclear, the Russians did not act on their intelligence about Polyakov until he was betrayed a second time by Aldrich Ames in 1985. Polyakov was arrested in 1986 and executed two years later. Ames was blamed for giving Polyakov's name to the Russians, and Hanssen's role remained unknown until after his arrest in 2001.
In 1981, Bonnie Hanssen caught her husband in their basement writing a letter to the Russians. Hanssen admitted to her that he'd been giving information to the Russians (motivated purely by his "need" for money) and that he'd received $30,000 as payment, but he lied and said that he was only passing along false intelligence. Bonnie insisted that her husband go to confession. The Opus Dei priest who heard Robert's confession told him to give the money to charity as an act of penance. Hanssen told his wife that he gave the money to Mother Teresa, but it is unknown if he actually did so.
Hanssen was transferred to the Washington, D.C., office in 1981 and moved to the suburb of Vienna, Virginia. His new job in the FBI's budget office gave him access to all kinds of information involving many different FBI activities, including all the FBI activities related to wiretapping and electronic surveillance, which were Hanssen's responsibility. He became known in the Bureau as an expert on computers. In 1983, Hanssen transferred to the Soviet analytical unit, which was directly responsible for studying, identifying, and capturing Soviet spies and intelligence operatives in the United States. Among other tasks, Hanssen's section was charged with evaluating Soviet agents who volunteered to give intelligence to the U.S., studying them to determine if they were genuine or double agents.
In 1985, Hanssen was again transferred to the FBI's field office in New York, where he continued to work in counterintelligence against the Soviets. It was then, after the transfer but while on a business trip back to Washington, that he resumed his career in espionage. This time, he would be an operative for the KGB. On 01 October 1985, he sent an anonymous letter to the KGB offering his services and asking for $100,000 in payment. In the letter, Hanssen gave the names of three KGB agents in the United States secretly working for the FBI: Boris Yuzhin, Valery Martynov, and Sergei Motorin. Unbeknownst to Hanssen, all three had already been revealed earlier that year by another mole, CIA employee Aldrich Ames. Martynov and Motorin were executed, and Yuzhin was imprisoned for six years, eventually emigrating to the United States. Because the FBI attributed the leak to Ames, the trail to Hanssen was diverted. The 01 October letter was the beginning of an active espionage period for Hanssen. He was busy with KGB correspondence over the next several years.
In 1987, Hanssen was recalled yet again to Washington. He was tasked with making a study of all past penetrations or rumored penetrations of the FBI in order to find the man who had betrayed Martynov and Motorin. He was looking for himself. Not only did Hanssen ensure that his study did not unmask himself, he turned over the entire study, including the list of all Soviets who had contacted the FBI about FBI moles, to the KGB in 1988. Also in 1987, Hanssen, according to a government report, "committed a serious security breach" by revealing secret information to a Soviet defector during a debriefing. The agents working underneath him reported this security breach to a supervisor, but no action was taken.
In 1989, Hanssen handed over extensive information about American planning for Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT), an umbrella term for intelligence collected by a wide array of electronic means, such as radar, underwater hydrophones for naval intelligence, spy satellites, and signal intercepts. Later that year, he disclosed to the Soviets information detailing an expensive, elaborate effort to spy on their Washington embassy. When the Soviets began construction on a new embassy in 1977, the FBI dug a tunnel beneath the embassy, right under their decoding room. They planned to use it for eavesdropping, but never could because the fear of being heard was too great. Hanssen told the Soviets of the tunnel in September 1989 and received a $55,000 payment the next month. On two occasions, Hanssen gave the Soviets a complete list of American double agents.
Also in the very busy year of 1989, Hanssen compromised the FBI investigation of Felix Bloch. Bloch was a State Department official who had served all over the world for more than thirty years when he came under suspicion in 1989. Bloch was seen meeting a known KGB operative and giving him a black bag. (Bloch, a stamp collector, later said that the bag contained stamp albums.) In May 1989, eight days after the meeting where Bloch passed the bag, Hanssen told the KGB that Bloch was under investigation. In June, the operative called Bloch and said that he could not see Bloch anymore, saying, "A contagious disease is suspected." The FBI believed that the call was a warning. Felix Bloch maintained his innocence through an aggressive interrogation and an investigation that continued for months afterward. The FBI never found any hard evidence, and Bloch was never charged with a crime. The failure of the Bloch investigation, and the FBI's knowledge that somehow the KGB had found out an investigation was underway, would drive the mole hunt that eventually led to the arrest of Robert Hanssen.
In 1990, Hanssen's brother-in-law, Mark Wauck, who was also an FBI employee, reported to the bureau that Hanssen should be investigated for espionage. Bonnie Hanssen's sister Jeanne Beglis found a pile of cash sitting on the Hanssens' dresser in 1990. She told their brother, Mark Wauck. Five years before, in 1985, Bonnie had told her brother that her husband once talked about retiring in Poland, then part of the Eastern Bloc and under Soviet domination. Wauck also knew that the FBI was hunting for a mole. After some hesitation, Wauck spoke with his supervisor, who took no action.
In 1991, Hanssen had an incident with a female agent. Agent Kimberly Lichtenberg, whom Hanssen had physically intimidated in minor ways in the past such as leaning over her desk, went to Hanssen's office for a meeting on a minor administrative matter. When Lichtenberg left his office without being dismissed, Hanssen, a big man, followed her, grabbed her by the arm, and physically dragged her back to his office, screaming at her all the way. Lichtenberg suffered sprained tendons in her left arm. She filed a civil suit, which was dismissed. Lichtenberg received a letter of censure for leaving Hanssen's office, while Hanssen also received a letter of censure and was suspended for five days. No further action was taken.
Shortly after the Lichtenberg incident, Hanssen made a very risky approach to the GRU, whom he had not been in contact with since his initial foray into espionage, 1979–81. Hanssen, who had always taken care to keep his face and his name hidden from the Russians, went in person to the Russian embassy and approached a GRU officer in the embassy's parking garage. Hanssen, carrying a package of documents, identified himself as "Ramon Garcia", a "disaffected FBI agent", and offered his services as a spy. The Russian officer, who evidently did not recognize the "Ramon Garcia" code name, got into his car and drove off. The Russians then filed an official protest with the State Department, believing the man in the garage to be a double agent. Amazingly, despite showing his face, giving away his code name, and revealing that he was in the FBI, Hanssen escaped arrest when the FBI's investigation went nowhere.
Hanssen continued to take long chances in 1993. That same year, he hacked into the computer of a fellow FBI agent, Ray Mislock; printed out a classified document from Mislock's computer; and brought the document to Mislock, saying, "You didn't believe me that the system was insecure." FBI officials believed him when he told them that he was merely demonstrating flaws in the FBI's security system. Mislock later theorized that Hanssen went into Mislock's computer to see if the FBI was investigating him, and invented the document story to cover his tracks.
Hanssen expressed interest in a transfer to the new National Counterintelligence Center, founded in 1994 and charged with coordinating counterintelligence activities. But when a superior told him that he'd have to take a lie detector test to join, Hanssen changed his mind.
Three years later, convicted FBI mole Earl Edwin Pitts told the Bureau that he suspected Robert Hanssen of being a spy because Hanssen had broken into another agent's computer. Pitts was the second FBI agent to mention Hanssen by name as a possible mole (the first being Mark Wauck), but the Bureau wrote this off as a reference to the Mislock incident and, again, no action was taken.
Although Hanssen faced no serious disciplinary action for his confrontation with Kimberly Lichtenberg, it did end his prospects of advancing to higher supervisory positions. Instead, he was sent in 1995 to the Office of Foreign Missions at the State Department, as the senior FBI liaison, tasked with coordinating travel by foreign diplomats in the United States.
In 1997, IT personnel fixing Hanssen's computer after it crashed found a password breaker, a program used to hack through computer passwords. His excuse was that he wanted to connect a color printer to his machine and needed the password breaker to get around the administrative password. The FBI believed this story, and Hanssen was let off with a warning not to do it again.
Periodically between 1997 and 1999, Hanssen would go onto the FBI's internal computer case record and search to see if he was under investigation. He was indiscreet enough to type his own name into FBI search engines. Finding nothing, he decided to resume his spy career after eight years without contact with the Russians. He reconnected with the SVR (the successor to the Soviet-era KGB) in the fall of 1999. Incredibly, he continued to do highly incriminating searches of FBI files for his own name and address. In November 2000, he sent his last letter to the Russians.
In 1994, after Ames, the FBI and CIA formed a joint mole-hunting team to find the suspected second intelligence leak. They formed a list of all agents known to have access to cases that were compromised, the FBI code name for the suspect was Graysuit. Some promising suspects were cleared, and the mole hunt found other penetrations such as CIA officer Harold James Nicholson, but Hanssen escaped detection.
By 1998 the hunters had zeroed in on the wrong man: Brian Kelley, a CIA operative. Kelley had himself identified the KGB agent that took a bag from Felix Bloch, but now he, Kelley, was suspected of being the long-time leak that had blown the Bloch case, the FBI tunnel, and so many other intelligence operations. The CIA and FBI searched his house, tapped his phone, and had him followed. In November 1998 they had a man with a foreign accent come to Kelley's door, warn him that the FBI knew he was a spy, and tell him to show up at a metro station the next day in order to escape. Kelley reported the incident to the FBI. In 1999 the Bureau finally called Kelley in for questioning and directly accused him of being a Russian spy. Over the next two days the FBI interrogated his ex-wife, two sisters, and three children. Kelley and his family denied everything. He was then placed on administrative leave, where he would remain, falsely accused, for nearly two years, until after Robert Hanssen was arrested.
A full year after interrogating Brian Kelley, and having failed to either bring a case against him or find another suspect, the FBI decided on another tactic: buy the mole's identity. They searched for likely candidates and found one: a Russian businessman and former KGB agent whose identity remains classified. An American company cooperated by inviting him to the United States for a business meeting. He came to New York and the FBI offered him a large sum of money if he would give the name of the mole. The Russian said that while he did not know the name, he had the actual KGB/SVR file, which he had spirited out of headquarters. The file covered the mole's correspondence with the KGB from 1985 to 1991 and included a tape recording of "Ramon Garcia". The FBI agreed to pay seven million dollars for the file and set up the KGB officer and his family with new identities in the United States. In November 2000 the FBI finally obtained the file, consisting of a package the size of "a medium-sized suitcase". Among the host of documents and computer disks was an audiotape of a July 21, 1986 conversation between the mole and a KGB agent.
That November, the FBI listened to the tape. They expected to hear the voice of Brian Kelley, still the prime suspect. The voice on the recording was definitely not Kelley. FBI agent Michael Waguespack, listening to the tape, recognized the voice as familiar but could not remember who it was. Rifling through the rest of the file, they found notes of the mole using a quote from General George S. Patton about "the purple-pissing Japanese". FBI agent Bob King remembered Robert Hanssen using that same quote. Waguespack listened to the tape again and recognized it as the voice of Robert Hanssen.
The FBI finally had its man. Once knowing the name, everything else fit – places, cases, dates, references to Chicago and Mayor Daley. But that was not all. Also in the file was one of Hanssen's original packages for the KGB, complete with trash bag, and with two fingerprints belonging to Robert P. Hanssen.
The FBI placed Hanssen under round-the-clock surveillance and soon discovered that he was again in contact with the Russians. In order to bring him back to FBI headquarters, where he could be monitored and kept from sensitive data, they promoted him in December and gave him a new job supervising FBI computer security. In January Hanssen got an office and an assistant, Eric O'Neill, who was actually a young FBI employee assigned to watch Hanssen. O'Neill ascertained that Hanssen was using a Palm III PDA to store his information; when he was able to obtain Hanssen's PDA briefly and have agents download and decode its encrypted contents, the FBI had its "smoking gun.
Hanssen realized in his final days with the FBI that something was wrong. In early February, he asked a friend of his at a computer tech company for a job. Hanssen believed he was hearing noises on his car radio that indicated his car was bugged. (The FBI was unable to reproduce the noises Hanssen said he heard.) In the last letter he ever wrote to the Russians (which was picked up by the FBI when he was arrested), Hanssen said that he had been promoted to a "do-nothing job...outside of regular access to information", and that "Something has aroused the sleeping tiger.
However, his suspicions did not stop Hanssen from making another drop. After dropping his good friend Jack Hoschouer off at the airport on February 18, 2001, Hanssen drove to Virginia's Foxstone Park. He placed a white piece of tape on a park sign – this was a signal to his Russian contacts that there was information at the dead drop. He then followed his usual routine, taking a package that consisted of a sealed garbage bag full of classified material and taping it to the bottom side of a wooden footbridge over a creek. The FBI, having caught him in the act, swooped in and arrested Hanssen on the spot. Upon the arrest, Hanssen realized his espionage days against the FBI were over, and said on the spot, "What took you so long?" The FBI waited two days for any of Hanssen's SVR handlers to show up at the Foxstone Park site. When they failed to do so, the Justice Department announced the arrest on Feb. 20.
The priest at the Oakcrest School said that Hanssen had regularly attended a 6:30 a.m. Daily Mass for more than a decade. Opus Dei member Father C. John McCloskey III said Hanssen also occasionally attended the daily noontime Mass at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. After going to prison Hanssen claimed he periodically admitted his espionage to priests in confession. He urged fellow Catholics in the Bureau to attend Mass more often, and denounced the Russians (for whom he was spying) as "godless".
However, there was a second side to Hanssen's private life much as there was a second side to his professional life. Unbeknownst to his wife, he secretly videotaped their sex life and shared the videotapes with his close friend, Jack Hoschouer. He also explicitly described the sexual details of his marriage on Internet chat rooms, giving information sufficient for those who knew them to recognize the couple. At Hanssen's suggestion, Hoschouer would sneak outside when he was visiting their home and watch Robert and Bonnie having sex through a window. Later, Hanssen hid a videocamera in the bedroom and hooked up a closed-circuit TV line so Hoschouer could peep on the Hanssens from the comfort of his living room.
Hanssen frequently visited DC strip clubs, often with Hoschouer. He spent a great deal of time with a Washington D.C. stripper named Priscilla Sue Galey. She went to Hong Kong with Hanssen on a trip and on a visit to the FBI training facility in Quantico, VA. He gave her money, jewels and a used Mercedes, but cut off contact with her prior to his arrest, when she fell into drug abuse and prostitution. Galey said that although she offered to sleep with him, Hanssen declined, saying that he was trying to convert her to Catholicism.
In the words of David Major, one of his superiors at CI3, Hanssen was "diabolically brilliant". He refused to use the dead drop sites that his handler, Victor Cherkashin, suggested and instead picked his own. He even designated a code to be used when dates were exchanged. A "6" was to be added to each part of a drop time (e.g., January 6 (01/06) at 1:00 pm would be July 12 (07/12) at 7:00 pm, that is 01+6=07 for the month, 06+6=12 for the day, and 1+6=7 for the time).
Despite these efforts at caution and security, he could at times be incredibly reckless. He once said in a letter to the KGB that it should emulate the management style of Mayor Richard J. Daley – a comment that easily could have led an investigator to look at people from Chicago. He took the huge risk of recommending to his handlers that they try to recruit his closest friend, Jack Hoschouer, a colonel in the Army. Hanssen's mistake in using the Patton quote about "the purple-pissing Japanese" led directly to his downfall. His later career showed an increasing carelessness, with the 1993 approach to the GRU and the cracking of Ray Mislock's computer the most notable incidents.
In an early letter to Cherkashin, he claims, "[a]s far as the funds are concerned, I have little need or utility for more than the 100,000". Hanssen never divulged why he made his deals with the Soviets. Sources have reasoned, however, that he felt that his skills were underused and sought acceptance and appreciation from his peers that never materialized; therefore, he began to spy for the KGB, which recognized his lack of friends and attempted to compensate. For example, his handlers would often make small talk with him.
Hanssen also was the subject of a 2002 made-for-television movie, Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story, starring William Hurt as Hanssen. Robert Hanssen's jailers allowed him to watch this movie, but Hanssen was so angered by the film that he turned it off.
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