FBI Agent Accused of Spying

Wednesday, February 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is trying to calculate the national security damage allegedly wrought by one of its own agents, Robert Philip Hanssen, accused of spying for Russia for more than 15 years. FBI Director Louis Freeh says the intelligence losses appear to be ``exceptionally grave.''

An FBI affidavit describing Hanssen's alleged spying said he passed along to Soviet and later Russian agents 6,000 pages of documents — a virtual catalogue of top secret and secret programs.

Attorney General John Ashcroft asked former CIA and FBI Director William Webster to convene a panel of experts to review internal security procedures within the FBI and recommend changes.

``The attorney general views the case very seriously,'' said Mindy Tucker, Ashcroft's spokeswoman. ``The fact that there are still countries that are interested in stealing our intelligence secrets shows that we need to take steps to review our security measures so that this doesn't happen again.

``It's even more disturbing because this is someone who knew how things worked,'' said Tucker. Hanssen was a counterintelligence expert.

Intelligence experts estimate that Hanssen's disclosures were highly damaging.

``It appears that there's tremendous damage to technical collection capabilities,'' Paul Redmond, former head of counterintelligence for the CIA, said on CNN. ``The other category is the losses of human sources ... if it's true he was a spy ... (he) compromised numerous sources.''

The case marked the third time that an FBI agent has been accused of espionage, and it brought a quick reaction from President Bush and members of Congress on Tuesday.

``Allegations of espionage are a reminder that we live in a dangerous world, a world that sometimes does not share American values,'' Bush said in a statement he read to reporters on Air Force One. Declaring that espionage remains a threat to the nation even with the Cold War gone, the president added: ``To anyone who would betray its trust, I warn you, we'll find you and we'll bring you to justice.''

``This could be a very, very, very serious case of espionage,'' said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. ``Here's an agent who is a veteran of the FBI, who's been doing counterintelligence for a long time. He knows a lot. He could have given them a lot.''

Freeh told a news conference: ``The full extent of the damage done is yet unknown, because no accurate damage assessment could be done during the course of the covert investigation without jeopardizing it. We believe, however, that it was exceptionally grave. The criminal conduct alleged represents the most traitorous actions imaginable against a country governed by the rule of law.''

Freeh said security measures need to be tightened, and he ordered an internal review to be headed by William Webster, a former FBI and CIA director.

``We don't say, at this stage ... that we have a system that can prevent this type of conduct,'' Freeh said.

Hanssen, a 25-year FBI agent, was arrested Sunday night at a park in suburban Virginia after dropping a package of documents for his Russian contacts, authorities said. FBI agents confiscated $50,000 hidden for him at a nearby drop site.

An FBI affidavit alleged that Hanssen betrayed his country for about $1.4 million in cash and diamonds.

A court hearing was set for March 5 for the father of six, who was charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. Hanssen, who could face the death penalty, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on Tuesday to have the charges read and was ordered held without bond.

He was not asked how he pleaded to the charges but outside the courthouse his lawyer, Plato Cacheris, told reporters: ``At this point, not guilty.''

In one letter cited in the FBI's affidavit, the writer, allegedly Hanssen, said he was encouraged by the memoirs of the notorious British-Soviet double agent Kim Philby.

``I decided on this course when I was 14 years old,'' the letter stated. ``I had read Philby's book.''

The FBI affidavit said Hanssen and CIA spy Aldrich Ames identified to the Russians three of their double agents, leading to the execution of two of them. The document also said Hanssen ``compromised dozens of United States government classified documents,'' including those involving:

—The National Measurement and Signature Intelligence Program, which involves activities and technologies including acoustic intelligence, radar intelligence, nuclear radiation detection, infrared intelligence, radio frequencies and effluent-and-debris sampling. This program is not only classified ``top secret'' but subject to further restricted handling under a category designated ``Sensitive Compartmented Information.''

—A highly classified and tightly restricted analysis of the foreign threat to a classified U.S. government program. The program is classified ``top secret/SCI.''

—The FBI Double Agent Program, ``top secret.''

—The Intelligence Community's Comprehensive Compendium of Future Intelligence Requirements, ``top secret.''

—A study on recruitment operations of the KGB, the Soviet/Russian intelligence agency, against the CIA, ``secret.''

—An assessment of the KGB's effort to gather information on certain U.S. nuclear programs, ``top secret.''

—A CIA analysis of the KGB's First Chief Directorate, ``secret.''

The affidavit said Hanssen also compromised a technical program ``of enormous value'' and ``specific communications intelligence capabilities, as well as several specific targets.'' And he disclosed FBI counterintelligence techniques, sources, methods and operations, the bureau said.

He also tipped off the KGB to the FBI's secret investigation of Felix Bloch, a foreign service agent suspected of spying for Moscow in 1989, the FBI said. The KGB was then able to warn Bloch, the agency said. Justice Department prosecutors were never able to find key evidence that Bloch passed secret documents.