FBI insists it is fixing problems underscored by Hanssen spy case

Friday, August 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI says it learned a lot from spy Robert Hanssen and is moving aggressively to fix security weaknesses and ensure the integrity of its employees, two of the major problems found by a Justice Department inspector general probe of the case.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said the agency is putting together a much more centralized counterintelligence oversight system, improving controls on sensitive information and setting up a single office to expose any internal ``moles'' in the bureau.

Yet the report by agency Inspector General Glenn A. Fine warns that ongoing security flaws _ such as an inability of agents to immediately know if someone reads their sensitive computer files _ make the bureau vulnerable.

``We believe that what is needed at the FBI is a wholesale change in mind-set and approach to internal security,'' the report said. ``The defects in the FBI's security program were the product of decades of neglect.''

Fine's conclusions are contained in a 31-page summary of a 674-page top-secret report that included extensive interviews with 200 people, including Hanssen and his family and friends, and a review of 360,000 pages of documents. The summary was released Thursday.

The report makes 21 recommendations for change at the FBI.

Among the changes spurred by Hanssen's arrest in early 2001, officials say, are far more frequent polygraph testing, financial disclosures for employees and a central electronic system to monitor the actions of employees with access to sensitive computer files.

Hanssen spied for the Soviet Union and Russia between 1979 and 2001. The report shows he often was reckless in his efforts but went undetected because of numerous failings in the FBI.

During his 25-year FBI career, Hanssen never took a polygraph test and underwent only one financial background investigation. For his spying, Moscow paid him with two Rolex watches, $600,000 in cash and diamonds, and was promised $800,000 more.

Besides giving away U.S. secrets, Hanssen is believed responsible for the deaths of at least three U.S. spies overseas. He pleaded guilty in May 2002 and was sentenced to life in prison.

The report said there were plenty of red flags about his activities:

_In 1987, while serving in an FBI Soviet Analytical Unit, Hanssen ``committed a serious security breach'' by disclosing classified information to a Soviet defector he was debriefing. While colleagues tried informally to begin restricting his access, nothing was documented and no formal action was taken.

_In August 1990, Hanssen's brother-in-law, Mark Wauck, also an FBI agent, reported to his superiors in the Chicago FBI office that Hanssen's wife, Bonnie, had found an unexplained $5,000 in his dresser drawer. The supervisor, however, ``readily dismissed'' Wauck's request for follow-up.

_In early 1992, after becoming head of the National Security Threat List Unit dealing with economic espionage, Hanssen hacked into an FBI computer system to access sensitive Soviet documents. After growing nervous, Hanssen reported that he had done it to test the system's security ``and no one questioned'' the ruse.

_Hanssen was sent by the FBI to the State Department in 1995, where he stayed six years until his arrest. He was under virtually no supervision, and no one even knew whether he came to work. At one point, he attempted to install software on his computer to break passwords and was discovered by FBI technicians. Hanssen's explanation was that he was trying to connect a color printer, and again nothing was done.

The report faults the FBI for putting too much trust in its agents, underscored by the bureau's eight-year search for a mole in the U.S. government that had compromised U.S. spies and foreign informers, double agent programs and recruitment operations in Russia. The FBI was convinced the mole was a CIA officer.

That mole turned out to be Hanssen.

``The FBI trusted that its employees would remain loyal throughout their careers. The Hanssen case shows the danger of that approach,'' the report said.