FBI Agent Accused of Russia Spying
Tuesday, February 20th 2001, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) â€” A veteran FBI agent was accused Tuesday of spying for Moscow for more than 15 years and giving the KGB the names of three Russian intelligence agents working for the United States in exchange for up to $1.4 million in cash as well as diamonds.
President Bush read a statement to reporters traveling with him on Air Force One, in which he called it ``a difficult day for those who love our country.'' He added: ``To anyone who would betray its trust, I warn you, we'll find you and we'll bring you to justice.''
``Individuals who commit treasonous acts against the United States will be held fully accountable,'' said Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Robert Philip Hanssen, 56, is only the third FBI agent ever accused of spying. The government charged him with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage. He was arrested at a park near his home in Vienna, Va., Sunday night and arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
``The arrest of Robert Hanssen for espionage should remind us all, every American should know that our nation, our free society is an international target in a dangerous world,'' Ashcroft said. ``In fact, the espionage operations designed to steal vital secrets of the United States are as intense today as they have ever been.''
According to a 100-page affidavit, Hanssen voluntarily became an agent of the KGB in 1985 while assigned to the intelligence division of the FBI field office in New York City and as supervisor of a foreign counterintelligence squad.
He independently disclosed the identity of two KGB official who, first compromised by Aldrich Ames, had been recruited by the government to serve as ``agents in place'' at the Soviet embassy in Washington. When these two KGB returned to Moscow, they were tried on espionage charges and executed. The third was imprisoned and ultimately released, said FBI Director Louis Freeh.
The FBI director said agents covertly intercepted $50,000 in cash intended for Hanssen. Overall, Freeh said, Hanssen had received more than $650,000 in cash, as well as diamonds, and an additional $800,000 had been set aside for him in an overseas escrow account.
``This was his bread and butter for many, many years,'' said Freeh.
Hanssen kept his identity a secret even from the Russians, who did not learn his name or his employer until his arrest, Freeh said. The agent monitored the FBI's own security systems to see if authorities had any suspicions about him. He apparently came under suspicion only late last year.
``The trusted insider betrayed his trust without detection,'' Freeh said.
Ashcroft said he and Freeh had agreed to immediately launch a review of FBI practices.
Freeh said Hanssen's alleged conduct ``represents the most traitorous actions imaginable.'' He said the full extent of the damage done is not yet known ``because no accurate damage assessment could be conducted without jeopardizing the investigation. We believe it was exceptionally grave.''
Freeh credited the government for catching Hanssen ``red-handed'' in turning over secret documents but could not explain how the agent was able to work for the Russians undetected for 15 years.
``We don't say at this stage that we have a system that can prevent this kind of conduct,'' he said, adding that the bureau must rely on the integrity of people who take the oath of public service.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and the Justice Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows said Hanssen could face the death penalty if convicted and could be fined up to $2.8 million â€” twice his alleged personal gain from the activities of which he is accused.
The FBI agent was also charged with passing classified documents to agents for the KGB on March 20, 1989, with the intent of injuring the United States. The charges contended that Hanssen has been spying since October 1985, and that his espionage continued until his arrest. A hearing was set for March 5.
Plato Cacheris, Hanssen's attorney, said he believes federal authorities ``always talk like they have a great case, but we'll see.''
Asked how Hanssen would plead, Cacheris said ``at this point not guilty,'' but he added ``it's very embryonic.''
Cacheris, asked if Hanssen's case was related to that of convicted spy Aldrich Ames, replied: ``There's not a connection but there is some relevant material.''
In an affidavit, FBI agent Stefan A. Pluta said Hanssen ``compromised numerous human resources of the United States intelligence community'' and three of the sources ``were compromised by both Hanssen and former CIA officer Aldrich Ames, resulting in their arrest, imprisonment, and, as to two individuals, execution.''
The affidavit said Hanssen also compromised ``dozens of United States government classified documents,'' including those involving the U.S. government's double-agent program, a study on KGB recruitment operations against the CIA, an analysis of KGB operations and ``a highly classified and tightly restricted analysis of the foreign threat'' to a top-secret U.S. program.
Pluta said Hanssen also compromised the intelligence community's ``specific communications intelligence capabilities, as well as specific targets.''
``He compromised numerous FBI counterintelligence techniques, sources, methods and operations and FBI operational practices and activities targeted against'' Russian intelligence agencies. The affidavit said Hanssen disclosed to the KGB the FBI's secret espionage investigation of Felix Bloch, which led the KGB to warn Bloch that he was under investigation and ``completely compromise'' the probe.
Among secrets allegedly disclosed by Hanssen included U.S. methods for conducting electronic surveillance. He also may have confirmed for the Russians information originally supplied to them by Ames, the source said.
Nancy Cullen, a neighbor, described Hanssen's neighborhood as being in shock with news of the arrest. ``They go to church every Sunday â€” if that means anything ... '' She said the Hanssens were regulars at the Memorial Day block party and called Hanssen ``very attractive ... not overly gregarious.''
Cullen said Hanssen's wife, Bernadette, teaches religion classes part-time at a Catholic high school.
The Hanssens' $300,000 middle-class split-level home of brown brick and cedar was encircled by yellow police tape Tuesday. A dozen FBI agents wandered in and out, carrying in electronic equipment. Neighbors briefly filled the cul-de-sac to watch the activity.
In 1997, Earl Pitts, who was stationed at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., was sentenced to 27 years in prison after admitting he spied for Moscow during and after the Cold War. The only other FBI agent ever caught spying was Richard W. Miller, a Los Angeles agent who was arrested in 1984 and later sentenced to 20 years in prison. His sentenced was reduced to 13 years and he was released in 1994 after serving nine years.