Spy Suspect Confined To Jail

Tuesday, March 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal judge said Monday that the government's case against spy suspect Robert Philip Hanssen was "extraordinarily strong" and ordered Mr. Hanssen confined to jail.

Mr. Hanssen, who appeared at a hearing wearing a green jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" printed across the back, did not contest his confinement under an agreement forged with prosecutors.

With his lawyer cupping his elbow, Mr. Hanssen stood when U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan asked whether he understood he was entitled to contest detention but had waived that right. "I do, your honor," he said.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that law-enforcement officials believe Mr. Hanssen may have alerted Moscow to a secret tunnel built under the Russian embassy by American intelligence agencies for eavesdropping.

Judge Buchanan said she could see no conditions for releasing Mr. Hanssen, accused of espionage, because he was a flight risk and posed a threat to the safety of the community.

She noted that Mr. Hanssen, 56, was carrying his passport when he was arrested Feb. 18. She said the government had presented ample evidence to support keeping him jailed.

"I find the government case extraordinarily strong," Judge Buchanan said at the hearing, which lasted just several minutes.

Mr. Hanssen could get life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows spoke briefly, telling Judge Buchanan that Mr. Hanssen posed "an exceptionally grave danger to the U.S."

Plato Cacheris, Mr. Hanssen's lawyer, told the judge: "We do not subscribe to the facts Mr. Bellows has presented."

Monday's hearing only dealt with Mr. Hanssen's detention. He did not enter a plea. But before the hearing, Mr. Cacheris told reporters that his client would plead innocent.

The government alleges that since 1985, the veteran FBI agent has passed to Soviet and later Russian contacts 6,000 pages of top-secret documents containing information about how the United States conducts intelligence operations, which foreign agents it has targeted, and technical information about communications and surveillance.