Robert Philip Hanssen, double agent, 1944-2023

When authorities arrested Robert Hanssen, the FBI’s most excessive profile double agent had only one query for his colleagues: “What took you so lengthy?”

Hanssen, who was discovered lifeless this week in his cell in a Colorado supermax jail, was serving out a life sentence after being discovered responsible of spying for Moscow for greater than $1.4mn, for greater than twenty years.

Hanssen’s case was dubbed “probably the worst intelligence catastrophe in US historical past” in a authorities report. He compromised greater than 50 FBI human sources (together with a number of who had been later executed), handed over hundreds of categorised paperwork and revealed prime secret intelligence gathering strategies in addition to the US technique for responding to nuclear battle.

Outwardly, Hanssen was a suburban father and patriot, who drove his six youngsters round in previous automobiles and was dedicated to Opus Dei, a conservative motion inside the Catholic church. However the spy led a secret life which impressed half a dozen books and a number of other movies for tv and cinema.

“What made him so egregious was that he was within the uncommon class of people that had nice entry . . . and he so blatantly betrayed that belief,” mentioned Paul McNulty, a former senior Justice Division official who oversaw the case.

The son of a Chicago police officer, Hanssen dropped out of dental college and joined the FBI in 1976. He emulated former director J Edgar Hoover by carrying darkish fits, however his fast mood and dour method made him unpopular.

Hanssen first began working for Soviet navy intelligence within the late Nineteen Seventies, serving to to blow the duvet of prime US double agent Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet basic who was later executed. His work in US counterintelligence gave him entry to categorised data and an understanding of simply how poorly the FBI guarded its nascent laptop databases.

The agent’s treachery prolonged to his private life too. He allowed a buddy to spy on himself and his spouse Bonnie whereas that they had intercourse, and he struck up a weird friendship with a stripper who he took on journeys and purchased presents for, at the same time as he lectured her about going to church.

Hanssen went dormant within the early Nineteen Eighties, after Bonnie caught him making an attempt to cover some papers of their residence in Scarsdale, New York. She confronted him, made him meet with their priest and donate the Soviet spying proceeds to charity.

However as his FBI profession stalled, Hanssen began working for Moscow once more. His handler lavished reward and cash on him, taking part in on his want for acceptance. 

“There was definitely a monetary profit, however Hanssen was much more advanced psychologically. He held very conservative views and was deeply non secular however on the identical time, he betrayed his nation. It was a really unusual set of competing beliefs and behaviours,” mentioned Preston Burton, one in every of his defence attorneys.

The stacks of money that Hanssen saved round the home ultimately roused the suspicions of his brother in legislation, who additionally labored for the FBI. He reported Hanssen to their superiors within the early Nineties. However nothing occurred.

FBI investigators go away the home of Robert Hanssen in Vienna, Virginia, in 2001 © Manny Ceneta/AFP/Getty Photographs

As a substitute, after the autumn of the Soviet Union, Hanssen stepped again from spying for practically a decade. When he obtained again in contact in 1999, the Russians had been ecstatic, writing “pricey buddy: welcome!”

By now, the FBI had been on the path of a superspy who had been passing hundreds of paperwork to Russia since no less than 1985. After mistakenly specializing in a CIA officer, they linked a fingerprint on a rubbish bag used for doc drops to Hanssen. He was moved to a bogus job in a bugged workplace, and assigned an assistant who was secretly tasked with keeping track of him.

By February 2001, Hanssen, whose each transfer was being monitored by a workforce of 300, was spooked. He wrote a letter to his Russian handlers warning that “one thing has aroused the sleeping tiger”, saved it on an encrypted laptop disk and wrapped in a rubbish bag, together with categorised paperwork.

After he dropped the bundle in a Virginia park, he was arrested. He pleaded responsible to fifteen counts of espionage, and agreed to speak about his betrayal to flee the dying penalty.

Throughout his debriefing, Hanssen was scathing concerning the FBI’s inner safety, saying “It was pathetic . . . What I did was felony, however it’s felony negligence.”

“In some methods, Hanssen is the architect of the trendy FBI,” mentioned Eric O’Neill, who wrote a ebook about his work because the younger agent assigned to win Hanssen’s confidence. “He uncovered the numerous flaws of the FBI, and the FBI rebuilt in a manner that may by no means permit one other Hanssen.”

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