Paul M. Rodriguez
Issue Dated July 16, 2001
In an exclusive report based on interviews with intelligence sources and analysis of e-mails, Insight sheds light on what may have motivated Robert P. Hanssen to commit some of the worst acts of treason in the history of the United States.
Less than 36 hours before he was arrested by the FBI at a nature park in Northern Virginia, Robert P. Hanssen entered a highly secret counterintelligence facility hidden away in an inconspicuous office building just across the Potomac River from Washington. Hanssen was inside the sanctum sanctorum of U.S. analysts, spies and agents from virtually every agency in the United States’ worldwide net of intelligence.
Why Hanssen, the since-indicted FBI agent accused of selling U.S. secrets to the former Soviet Union and its successor Russian Federation, spent nearly three hours inside this supersecret facility is unknown. Also unknown —apparently even to the FBI — is who Hanssen visited or conferred with and to what he sought access. Nobody inside the building at the time knew Hanssen was under 24-hour surveillance by an elite team of FBI spy hunters. Apparently they weren’t elite enough.
For months Insight has been conducting interviews with sources familiar with a wide variety of information involving the Hanssen case and has obtained exclusive access to electronic notes and messages written by the accused spy. Most striking in all of this is that key witnesses with information about Hanssen’s activities that day, as well as on other days, have not been debriefed by the FBI or the U.S. attorney’s office handling the spy case. “It’s one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen,” says a counterintelligence agent familiar with Hanssen’s Feb. 16 visit to that intelligence center. “It’s as if everybody wants to pretend this never happened, that he wasn’t in the facility. They really don’t want to talk about it.”
The mysterious visit occurred the Friday before Hanssen’s arrest on Sunday, Feb. 18, when the 27-year veteran of the FBI was caught red-handed leaving what have been described as highly classified U.S. secrets at a “dead drop” — a prearranged location where spies leave and pick up information, instructions and money. The Russians had left their own package — containing $50,000 — at a footbridge over Wolftrap Creek at Foxstone Park in Vienna, Va., where Hanssen hid his stash of U.S. secrets.
Hanssen had spent nearly 15 years in counterintelligence work for the FBI and was at the time of his arrest a senior agent. He had been assigned to help coordinate U.S. counterintelligence operations worldwide and keep tabs on foreign spies in the United States. He now is alleged to have done serious damage to scores of U.S. spy operations around the globe, leading directly or indirectly to the deaths of at least two, and maybe five times as many, foreign double agents working for the United States and the arrest of perhaps 22 others. In return he received an estimated $1.6 million in cash and diamonds.
Now come startling new revelations that Hanssen may have been spying long before the FBI has said or even may know. This would be surprising, given the number of people who knew or suspected Hanssen’s alleged treason spanning nearly 20 years before his arrest, Insight has learned. In addition to his wife, Bonnie, several Catholic priests, a marriage counselor and even a former colleague had expressed concern about it. At some point a senior FBI field supervisor was consulted. Moreover, Insight is told, the FBI may have been tipped off within the last five years that a senior FBI agent was a deep-cover mole for the Russians.
These concerns spring from acquaintances who often saw Hanssen at an upper Northwest Washington spiritual center run by Opus Dei, a conservative institution of the Roman Catholic Church. During the era of his espionage activities Hanssen frequently was present at this center, reportedly run by FBI Director Louis Freeh’s brother, John. Hanssen even went for confession to at least two Opus Dei priests, who also heard confessions of spooks, soldiers and diplomats, Insight has been told.
While the confessional is considered sacred and impenetrable by both church and state, it is not unheard of for priests and clergy to share other general information. Given that Freeh’s brother worked at the center, it would not be surprising if a confidant of Hanssen or his wife became suspicious and alerted him or someone with access to him, say Insight’s sources. “It’s not routine but it does happen,” confirmed a senior U.S. official, that leads are received from clergy.
Another bizarre twist in the Hanssen case comes from Alen Salerian, a psychiatrist and family friend of the Hanssens. He has told CBS News and the BBC that the alleged traitor is deeply disturbed and suffers from “demons” related to an addiction to pornography and an abusive father. Salerian — whom the Hanssen family since has fired for giving press interviews he says Hanssen personally approved — claims he has spent some 40 hours with the former FBI agent in his prison cell.
Insight has learned Salerian began reaching out in April “on behalf of Bonnie and the kids” to former friends and colleagues of the alleged spy to try to help Hanssen for “humanitarian” reasons. One of these, who spoke with Insight on condition of not being identified, tells this magazine that when Salerian was asked why anyone should help a traitor the psychiatrist said that Hanssen “is very, very sick and needs your help.” Confronted even more directly with the espionage issue, Salerian responded: “He’s not innocent. He will not deny it.” But Hanssen subsequently entered a not-guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
When Insight spoke with Salerian he said he would not comment, adding: “I’ve already been misled by the press.”
This magazine has learned that Hanssen’s wife of 30 years is cooperating fully with the FBI to help uncover her husband’s personal and career secrets, revealing her own knowledge of his spying back in 1979 and 1980 and her suspicion of espionage in intervening years. This has led the FBI to information that has raised troubling concern that some within the U.S. intelligence community long suspected the FBI veteran’s spy activities. For example, colleagues had raised concerns about Hanssen thumbing through highly classified reports and intelligence documents he should not have been reviewing, including materials from U.S. allies including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Germany. “Sometimes I’d ask him why he was so interested in something,” a colleague tells Insight. “I even mentioned it to one of my managers who also wondered. ... He said to ‘just keep a watch.’”
Regardless of when Hanssen first came under suspicion, his espionage binge is believed to have cost the United States heavily by revealing spy-satellite innovations, computer security at the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA), security details at the State Department, operational tactics and know-how at the CIA and secrets from the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House. “Based on what we know, the damage is incalculable,” says a retired senior intelligence-policy expert who was familiar with the Hanssen probe before it broke in the national press.
“The most troubling aspects of it all,” this retired official tells Insight, “is that Hanssen had access nearly unequal to anyone else in government.” That included not just operational aspects of security and counterintelligence programs but also policy papers, budgets, satellite and reconnaissance imagery, locations of U.S. and foreign spies (friendly and unfriendly) and even the dossiers of many if not most of the United States’ double agents around the world.
Shortly before his arrest, Hanssen was moved to FBI headquarters from a post at the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions (OFM). His new job, which he began in January, was to coordinate the upgrade of the FBI’s intelligence computer systems. He was a recognized expert in such technologies, especially the Linux systems the FBI increasingly is using as part of its IBM mainframe infrastructure. He was elated at the change, especially since he viewed his five-year tenure at the State Department as a dead-end post in which he was surrounded by buffoons.
Hanssen scorned many of his FBI colleagues in addition to the Foreign Service officers at State. In one of scores of computer messages obtained by Insight, Hanssen called legendary counterintelligence (CI) veteran Robert “Bear” Bryant a “nitwit who never did understand CI.”
In another message Hanssen wrote: “The Foreign Service has long resented the existence of OFM because of the position of the intelligence community’s influence. Prior to the most recent changes in the Foreign Missions Act of 1982 (FMA), one of the two top people at OFM was required, statutorily, to have an intelligence-community background. The Clinton administration pushed for changes of language from ‘shall’ to ‘should’ in the FMA [amendments], promising they intended no changes. However, as soon as the language was changed, they immediately eliminated the intelligence-community slot in their chain of command [and] made it a paid consultant’s role. Previously it had been a line-management position.”
Hanssen claimed, “Effectively, these changes have placed OFM’s day-to-day operations solely under the control of State’s Foreign Service deputy director [who], while an excellent choice and a good man, cannot give sufficient time to OFM’s day-to-day operations. His bureau is overbusy trying to upgrade security and cudgel the Foreign Service elites and take at least some regard for security. [The reality though is that] OFM really is the dagger in the side of the State Department. The Clinton administration has allowed State to remove the dagger.”
Given such dissatisfaction, and nearing an optional early-retirement date of April/May 2001, Hanssen thought the use of his skills in computer-system design and software at the new posting would be a feather in his cap. In fact, according to a Washington Post story, he reached out to private computer-security firms, including one headed by a former high-ranking Soviet-era defector named Viktor Sheymov, who now runs a U.S. company called Invicta Networks. Hanssen set up meetings for colleagues to learn the latest computer-security concepts —something he made a point of emphasizing were desperately in need of attention at the FBI. Yet he quickly began to show doubts about the new job and why it had been given to him.
Indeed, on the day he was arrested, he included with the stolen secrets he left bundled in a plastic trash bag a note to his Russian handlers indicating his fear that the jig was up.
Hanssen was under surveillance and probably knew it — which is why many federal law-enforcement and intelligence officials contacted by Insight say they are surprised he was allowed to retain the intelligence pass that allowed him continued access to virtually the whole U.S. intelligence apparatus. “Maybe they could track or find the documents and information he might have stolen on these visits, but they sure as hell couldn’t identify everybody he met,” laments a very worried and angry senior intelligence official.
And detailing any and all contacts is important. Consider the day of his arrest. Rather than wait for Hanssen to retrieve his booty only a short distance away from his dead drop, the FBI swooped in and nabbed the suspected turncoat. “Why would you do that?” asks a high-ranking Justice Department official familiar with some aspects of the Hanssen case. “It’s bothered many of us that they [the FBI] didn’t wait to see if Hanssen would pick up his money and then see who would pick up his package. It’s not as if he could have gotten away,” the official tells Insight. “Not even a fly could have escaped the net cast. It just doesn’t make any sense, unless we knew at higher levels that the pickup would never occur.”
Outside of a very small and elite group of FBI agents directly involved in the Hanssen probe, nobody inside the FBI or at any of the other intelligence agencies knew what was transpiring. And that included senior officials at the CIA, where Hanssen reportedly also visited in the weeks just before his arrest, according to a CIA official who recalls seeing him at the agency shortly before the arrest.
Hanssen also visited the State Department to meet with former colleagues and, Insight has learned, to access secret diplomatic cable traffic and current intelligence-gathering data. But the FBI has yet to interview several of these with direct knowledge of Hanssen’s activities at State. Worse yet, they tell Insight, when they tried to inform their superiors they were told to keep it quiet and not file any reports to the security services. “I was worried that just talking with him after he left would get me in trouble,” recalls a State Department aide who asked not to be named. “I tried to tell my unit supervisor and he said somebody would get in touch with me. I’ve not been called in yet,” says this State Department employee.
Another source has volunteered to prosecutors that he would like to discuss his concern about a computer he believes Hanssen might have used, but neither the prosecutors nor the FBI have followed up, Insight has learned. That is important because this magazine has confirmed that the FBI has scoured even the computers at Hanssen’s children’s school on the theory he may have used them for clandestine activities. How many others?
This is not to say that there has been no governmentwide review with debriefings and reconstruction of Hanssen’s likely options and activities during his entire career. In fact, the careers of more than a dozen intelligence officials are reported to be in jeopardy. “There are two or three people under suspicion right now,” confirms a senior U.S. official, “and there are many who when questioned have revealed information that may have comprised themselves in other matters,” this source tells Insight. “All I can tell you is that this is having a major impact in every agency, not just ours.”
One of the current unknowns is what the Russians did or did not know about Hanssen. “Louis Freeh says the Soviets/Russians didn’t know who Hanssen was. How does Louis know that?” asks a senior counterintelligence analyst. “Clearly, if you’re Soviet/Russian intel and you’ve got a guy feeding your dead drops, you’re going to want to find out who he is. And you have the assets to be able to do that. Every serious intel service would make it a high priority to establish [such a source’s] bona fides. They would want to determine for sure that he was for real and not a plant.”
Yet, according to the FBI, the Russians didn’t know anything more about Hanssen than that he was a deeply plugged-in asset using the name “Ramon Garcia” or “B” or “Jim Baker” or “G. Robertson” — all aliases employed by the alleged traitor. Only when the CIA scored a major coup by allegedly obtaining a secret Russian file on Hanssen did the FBI figure out who “Ramon” was — allegedly based on documents he was alleged to have secured.
“You and I could run an operation to figure it out,” says the senior counterintelligence analyst. “It’s just too easy for the Russians to run operations in D.C. It defies credulity that they would accept this guy without knowing his identity.” The FBI, this source says, “is in a state of denial” about the penetration. “The indictment has been crafted for political spin, not operational reasons ... to gloss over FBI failure.”
Meanwhile, the Bush administration ordered more than two dozen Russians to leave the United States, at least some of them believed to have worked with Hanssen. And more than 200 (and maybe as many as 400) FBI agents have been assigned to re-create Hanssen’s daily movements during his long career back to when he joined the bureau after service with the Chicago Police Department’s internal-affairs unit. His father was a legendary member of the city’s Red Squad that tracked down and kept tabs on communists and suspected communists.
Bonnie Hanssen has told friends that she believes her husband’s treachery was his way of “getting back at his father.” This payback theme is repeated by Salerian, who says Hanssen suffers from something the psychiatrist calls “factor x.”
After attending William Howard Taft High School in Chicago during the radical 1960s, when Hanssen was an amateur radio operator and part of a group of top-tier science students allowed to take college-level biology courses, he went to the small and liberal Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. Upon graduation he briefly attended the Northwestern University School of Dentistry in Chicago before dropping out, according to a high-school reunion letter, because he didn’t like spittle. He earned a master’s degree in accounting, became a certified public accountant and joined the Chicago Police Department and then the FBI. Somewhere in between he learned Russian.
After a brief stint in the Midwest, Hanssen was assigned to the New York City field office of the FBI and soon moved to counterintelligence work. He is said to have earned the nickname “Digger” from an incident in which a suspect was taken to a cemetery late one night and forced to dig a grave. According to the story he has told others, one of the FBI agents present then put a gun to the man’s head and said that if he did not tell the truth the grave would be his forever. Whether the story is true, or the nickname was a product of Hanssen’s lugubrious aspect, it stuck. He also was called “Doctor Death,” supposedly because of his sallow complexion and preference for dark suits.
“Digger” mastered his world and delighted in trying to show associates how much smarter he was than his superiors. Once, while in Washington at meetings about computer security, he made his point that the FBI had serious security holes in its systems by breaking into the office computer station of his boss. The next day when he revealed what he had done he was reprimanded and then brought in to show the resident experts how it was done and what to do to prevent it.
One of the computer messages obtained by Insight may shed further light on Hanssen’s mind-set. “I don’t think I am risking the case,” he wrote in explaining details of an ongoing and highly classified counterintelligence operation to a nongovernment associate. “You need to understand two things: 1) the real world; and 2) what it is like living with secret knowledge —withering, devastating, insight which you can’t tell anyone even when they make fun of you for holding such a ridiculous position.”
Whatever may have been behind his betrayal — and well before his plum assignment at the State Department in 1995 as the senior FBI agent in charge of monitoring virtually every suspected foreign spy in the United States and counterintelligence operations at home and many abroad — Hanssen knew what he was talking about concerning computers and secrets of state. Using his own server system operated from his home in Vienna, Va., at http://orion.clark.net, which was based on the Linux operating system, Hanssen mastered a variety of encryption technologies for his own uses and for selected friends.
Evidence of how good he became can be gleaned from the many computer diskettes he allegedly left for his Russian handlers. They were so baffled at the technology he used to hide the data that they required his help to learn how to decode it.
Hanssen reveled in such secrets and was unabashed when commenting on counterintelligence techniques. Consider this computer message discussing the arrest of Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist suspected of passing some of the most sensitive secrets of U.S. nuclear weaponry to Red China: “I listen to these congressmen and I shake my head. They just don’t get it,” Hanssen wrote. “I listen to them saying this is a counterintelligence failure on national TV, and I say they just don’t get it.”
He continued, “This is a security failure and a tremendous counterintelligence success. Counterintelligence investigates the enemy, or if you will in the modern world, the opposition, to learn their capabilities, intentions, methods and focus. It is not security work. Security protects. It does not attack. CI attacks the actor. It attacks the opposition intelligence structures. It is not speculative. CI feeds security because it helps them focus on meaningful measures and safeguards. Using CI to help security is just smart security. Now in this case, CI learned what the Chinese were doing early on. It tried repeatedly to convey the importance of that to DOE [Department of Energy, which runs Los Alamos]. No one listened. Whose fault is that? DOE had different agendas — social agendas, economic agendas. They didn’t want to hear. They refused to secure the labs.”
In another note he wrote about the failure of the United States actively to recruit and maintain good spies or double agents. “All our double-agent cases never make it out of the assumed controlled category because we can never make them convincingly productive. The KGB assumes they are bad and runs them for their productivity, such as it is, and to keep us busy with nonproductive work, though also on speculation as real ones at times come through. They [the Russians] are right in this,” Hanssen wrote, “because they have gotten more good agents by that method than any other. Generally it’s immediately obvious — a real agent grabs everything in his safe and brings it. Our DAs [double agents] bring one or two documents to each meeting. There is a big gulf” as a result in good information, Hanssen complained.
In yet another note, Hanssen’s distaste for his colleagues is evident. Returning to his State Department office from Union Station in Washington, Hanssen said he “ran into the gay and lesbian rally. Most of it was over and being taken down. Two of the dikes [sic] are pushing hand trucks with boxes from their booth down Constitution Avenue. I recognized the first. It was [name and position withheld by Insight] in the National Security Division of the FBI.” He then went on to complain that, from his perspective, it was no wonder the FBI was falling apart.
In another writing, Hanssen notes that the NSA e-mail system became infected with the ILOVEYOU virus. “Now everyone is asking how did it get into a system which supposedly is secure.” He attributed it to sloppy bureaucrats, a Clinton White House that did not keep budgets up to snuff and the injection of politics into the business of spycraft.
Lamenting Clinton-era politicization of intelligence regarding China, he wrote: “NSA was instructed not to report derogatory comments about the president by other world leaders because the administration thought they might leak. Furthermore, this administration selectively and actively tries to blind national collection means which have proved embarrassing. The NSA representative to OFM said [he/she] personally saw reports that were highly relevant to ongoing negotiations, e.g., that the opposite side had no intention of carrying out promises they made because they didn’t trust Clinton to keep his word, because the White House had instructed that no reports of comments by foreign leaders derogatory to Clinton could be issued.”
Hanssen continued: “[He/she] also complained that currently the Justice Department is returning FISA court applications groundlessly — wrong typeface (the same one NSA’s always used) etc. It has gotten to the point that the FISA court judges are considering instructing NSA to go around Justice and make their applications direct without Justice review because the administration is obstructing collection on places such as China where the take could embarrass the president. Such collection initially tipped the intelligence community to Clinton’s illegal fund raising. I believe they don’t want this to happen again,” Hanssen declared.
The reference to FISA is to the Federal Intelligence Special Appeals Court that is composed of senior federal judges who meet in secret to approve (or disapprove) wiretaps and other black-bag jobs related to U.S. intelligence and federal law-enforcement needs.
Hanssen never was much of a social butterfly like some of his colleagues and took care to present himself as deeply religious and devout — hence the Bible-study and daily-prayer books he kept on his desk at the State Department, along with classified documents strewn in a seemingly haphazard but orderly way. Yet Salerian told a contact in early May that Hanssen resents the portrait painted of him by the FBI and the press as some kind of religious nut case. According to Salerian, Hanssen is sincere in his religious convictions but suffers from a psychological disorder that requires medical attention.
Whether this is true or a legal ploy is hard to tell. But David Major, a 24-year FBI veteran and former Hanssen supervisor, told USA Today that “none of this is an excuse for what happened, nor does it justify it. ... He did it, diabolically and brilliantly, no matter what the reason.” That also is the view of Bonnie Hanssen concerning her husband’s earlier spying (and what she’s learned since his arrest), as well as concerning his reported proselytizing of a stripper he met at a downtown Washington club frequented by lawyers, lobbyists and FBI agents.
Hanssen spent more than $100,000 on gifts, plane tickets and clothes for the stripper and once took her on a trip to Japan while on business. The relationship, which Hanssen and the woman have said was not sexual, caused a major disruption in his marriage and additional counseling for the troubled former agent and his beleaguered wife.
Besides meeting the dancers at the strip club, where FBI agents often gathered for bachelor parties and farewells, Hanssen also used it (and a strip club next door along M Street in Northwest Washington) for meetings with U.S. intelligence and federal law-enforcement agents.
It was in the two clubs where, according to a source with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department familiar with local cops who serve as bouncers, Hanssen tried to lure not only his stripper friend but a second nude dancer away from the seedy lifestyle. One intelligence official tells Insight he not only knew about one of the strippers but warned Hanssen that it was a dangerous liaison. The official often worked with Hanssen in one of several senior interagency groups (SIGs). These groups generally met at least once or twice a month and reviewed not only operational matters but also budgets ... and gossip.
Hanssen often would regale trusted colleagues and associates with tales of daring intrigue and give behind-the-scenes briefings on topics in the news (as he did on the Wen Ho Lee case). For example, when it was discovered that a Soviet diplomat was part of a conspiracy to plant and monitor a sophisticated bugging device in a secure conference room at the State Department, he told a colleague he wasn’t surprised given that one of the cleaning companies employed a fair number of Soviet émigrés. At the same time, he chastised his Russian handlers for not alerting him to their bugging effort since he was in a position to have ensured its success.
To get to his office suite at 2510C in the main State Department building, which required a code to open the electronic lock, Hanssen would walk by an open area containing intelligence agents from a variety of U.S. facilities before passing doors numbered 106, 107 and 108. Once inside he had a window overlooking the inner courtyard roof where he could see industrial air conditioners and equipment used to communicate worldwide. On his L-shaped desk were two computers, one linking him to the FBI’s main data banks, where he had virtually unfettered access, and a second that tied him into the State Department’s intelligence and intergovernmental security systems. His Knox College diploma hung on the wall along with two diplomas from Northwestern University. Nearby his small desk was a chest-high security safe and a bedraggled houseplant, a small guest chair and a magazine table.
Hanssen often would type into his computers, especially the FBI system, the names of suspected foreign spies or names in the news to see if there was any dirt on them. He’d sometimes joke about this and always feign great surprise when there was a hit on a name. He could tell at a glance whether something was active and even what level of secrecy was attached to it. His security level allowed him total access. According to the FBI, Hanssen used these systems to avoid detection for so long because he could tell where secret teams were operating and who was under surveillance. He kept steady watch on his dead drops and the movement of his Russian counterparts.
With Hanssen’s assets at home and abroad now frozen, his immediate family is in a state of financial hardship on top of the emotional drain. It’s been tough on his wife and their six children, especially the two who still are in school and living at home. While the church at which the Hanssens long worshipped has put out a helping hand, many parishioners hold important government posts and have had to keep their distance. In fact, the list of members is a who’s who of the national-security community. The same is true of the exclusive Catholic school the children attend along with one of the children of Louis Freeh and those of other “gray suits” in the shadow world of intelligence.
While authorities at the State Department officially deny that security calamities at their headquarters — such as missing laptop computers and the discovery of a bug in a secure conference room — had anything to do with Hanssen, unofficially many are worried. Hanssen not only had access to secure computers but also to the conference rooms and other security sites inside the sprawling complex. The same was true of the FBI headquarters and virtually all of the intelligence-community facilities.
Hanssen worked on many high-profile cases, such as the defection of Sheymov; he was a debriefer at the same time he was keeping his Russian handlers abreast of the debriefings. Ditto with the Aldrich Ames case, with which Hanssen was involved, having access to virtually the entire internal-damage assessment file, details of which were passed along to Russia, including the names of double agents under suspicion.
Hanssen kept in safes at his office many classified documents that he never should have had and often carried such documents home. This reportedly is how his wife discovered in 1979 that her husband had begun a secret life as a double agent. Although he assured her he had stopped, Insight has learned, Bonnie Hanssen confided her suspicions over the years to trusted friends and clergy. Perhaps it was his understated dress and the old cars he drove that fooled his U.S. bosses. But his wife became nervous as repairs to their middle-class home were needed — and completed. How can we afford this, she’d often ask, only to be reassured by her husband.
Astonishingly, despite the family’s steady accumulation of debt, the FBI appears never to have done a financial background check on the Hanssens, let alone subjected him to a polygraph test. Freeh, Insight is told, felt that requiring established agents such as Hanssen to take lie-detector tests and submit periodically to background reports was humiliating and disrespectful. New agents, however, were subjected to this routinely.
Curiously, when the FBI finally raided the Hanssen home it did not raid the homes of relatives, something that has baffled some counterintelligence and security experts. Perhaps there are computer systems or hidden documents stashed with relatives who have no clue about their nature and purpose.
The same thing can be said of computers at other locations at which Hanssen worked, sometimes for friends. At the FBI he was closely linked to computer-system reforms as early as the middle 1980s. Could he have written into the systems special codes known only to him? Older hands at the FBI are worried about this, but at least publicly the FBI says it’s not a problem. The bureau nonetheless continues to scour its systems for clues.
The Washington Times recently reported that Hanssen is suspected of selling FBI software and hardware design systems to the Russians that later may have gone to terrorist groups such as the one headed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. This raises prickly issues for the FBI, not only because it suggests its entire internal-security system has been penetrated for years but also because the FBI software that Hanssen reportedly sold to the Russians is said to be a version of the PROMIS software system developed by the Inslaw Co. — a system the FBI (as well as the Justice Department) has for years denied using. Bill Hamilton, Inslaw’s founder, has been in legal disputes with the U.S. government since the mid-1980s concerning payments for early versions of his software system that the government claimed it didn’t need and hasn’t been using (see “Nothing Is Secret,” Jan. 29).
Other troubling issues abound, according to Insight’s sources. As with the Ames case involving penetration of the CIA, the known and suspected leaks of U.S. secrets attributed to Hanssen don’t explain away penetration of U.S. security uncovered during the last decade by the FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies. Neither Ames nor Hanssen could have been responsible for many of these breaches — which means there are other spies still hidden. Suspects are being scrutinized throughout the U.S. intelligence services. More arrests are expected soon, say FBI sources.
Then there’s the curious matter of the hiring of Plato Cacheris as Hanssen’s lead defense attorney. How is it possible that Hanssen was arrested late on a Sunday evening and Cacheris showed up in court the next Tuesday as the attorney of record? Was Cacheris tipped off, or maybe even employed prior to Hanssen’s arrest? After all, he also was the lead lawyer for Ames. And how is the high-powered Cacheris being paid for his massive legal effort on Hanssen’s behalf? Cacheris isn’t talking about this; neither is the Hanssen family.
If the charges are true, say counterespionage insiders, expect Hanssen to cut a deal to save his life and show off how much smarter he was and still is than his FBI colleagues — all those agents and officials at headquarters he told confidants were dopes and nitwits. He’ll certainly say it wasn’t they who caught him and probably try to chalk it up to a weak link or turncoat in Russia. And expect his disdain for the U.S. intelligence agencies to grow as he trickles out details of the damage he has caused so his family will get his pension, health-insurance benefits and maybe even other compensation.
“Life is full of rich and terrifying insights,” Hanssen wrote in an e-mail. Indeed it is.
By Paul M. Rodriguez