ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen pleaded guilty Friday to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy to spy for Russia as part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty.
Appearing in green coveralls and a shirt with 'prisoner' stamped on the back, Hanssen, 57, told U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton that he spied for Moscow.
When asked how he pleaded, Hanssen replied: ``Guilty.'' Asked whether he understood the charges against him in the agreement that he had entered into with the government, he replied, ``Yes, I've gone over it in detail, sir.''
Hanssen's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, told the judge that his client had spied intermittently since 1979, but took several breaks, including one from 1992 to 1999.
``He was not a person who spied constantly for 20 years,'' Cacheris said of Hanssen.
He said that Hanssen had resumed spy activities in 1999, but when the end was near, ``he had a premonition that he was going to be arrested. He said that he had been examined by a psychiatrist who advised against a mental defense, pleading insanity. .. It would have been an uphill battle to plead innocent, because of all of the charges.''
The plea agreement calls for Hanssen to get life in prison, but he was not sentenced Friday. His lawyers asked Hilton to consider Jan. 11, 2002, as the sentencing date.
Cacheris told the court that the plea agreement was a victory for both his client and the government. ``The death penalty has been removed,'' he said. And Hanssen promised to report all factors involved in his spying activities, first for the Soviet Union and then for Russia.
He pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage and six counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Cacheris revealed that, contrary to original belief, Hanssen had begun his spying activities in 1979. It was first thought that he had started in 1985.
Cacheris said Hanssen voluntarily ceased those activities in 1981, but picked them up again in 1985 and continued until approximately 1991-92.
During that time, he said, Hanssen transmitted sensitive classified information to his Russian handlers.
Talking to reporters outside the courthouse, Cacheris said that Hanssen has information the governments wants.
``How he did what he did is important for the government to know,'' Cacheris said.
``They're (the government) going to learn things they did not know,'' he said.
Cacheris said he hoped that Hanssen would be sent to a federal prison at Allenwood, Pa., because it would be convenient for Hanssen's family to visit him there.
``His family very much stands with him,'' Cacheris said. He said that Hanssen's wife and his family, would get Hanssen's federal retirement benefits, under terms of the agreement.
Hanssen initially pleaded innocent, in May, after plea negotiations broke down.
The Hanssen's live in Vienna, Va., a Washington suburb. Hanssen has been detained at an undisclosed facility since his arrest in March.
The 25-year FBI veteran is accused of giving Soviet and later Russian agents thousands of pages of classified documents detailing some of the nation's most closely held secrets about weapons systems, defense plans and how it spies on other countries.
Hanssen allegedly disclosed the identities of Russian agents secretly working for the United States who later were executed.
In exchange, the Russians paid Hanssen over $600,000 in cash and diamonds and set up an escrow account for him in a Moscow bank worth at least $800,000, the government has alleged in court documents.
Hanssen was indicted on 21 counts of espionage, 14 of which carried the death penalty.
A plea agreement would give the government a full confession from Hanssen and avoid a trial that could reveal sensitive intelligence secrets. Hanssen would avoid execution.
Officials hope to learn details about Hanssen's Russian handlers, what information he gave them and how he avoided getting caught. The briefings could help officials identify former or current moles.
The interviews could also help investigators track down the money Hanssen received.
What Hanssen did with the money he got hasn't been spelled out, although following his arrest, a former stripper said the FBI agent gave her almost $80,000 in gifts, including a trip to Hong Kong and a Mercedes.