|Born||April 18, 1944
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Alias(es)||Ramon Garcia, Jim Baker, G. Robertson, "B", Graysuit|
|Charge(s)|| (Espionage Act)and|
|Penalty||Life imprisonment (without parole)|
|Occupation||Former FBI agent and spy for the Soviet Union and later Russia|
|Spouse||Bernadette "Bonnie" Wauck Hanssen|
Robert Philip Hanssen (born April 18, 1944) (K9QVL) is a former American FBI agent who spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for 22 years from 1979 to 2001. He is currently serving a life sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prisons Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colorado, a "Supermax" federal penitentiary in which Hanssen spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.
Hanssen was arrested on 18 February 2001 at Foxstone Park near his home in Vienna, Virginia, and was charged with selling American secrets to Russia for more than US$1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 22-year period. On 6 July 2001, he pleaded guilty to 13 counts of espionage in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He was then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His activities have been described as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history."
Hanssen was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a family of mixed Danish-Polish and German descent. His father, a Chicago police officer, was emotionally abusive to Hanssen during his childhood. For unknown reasons, Howard Hanssen arranged for his son to fail a driver's test. In later life, Robert Hanssen speculated that his father had done this in order to 'toughen him up'. The elder Hanssen constantly disparaged his son and said that Robert would never make anything of his life.
Hanssen graduated from William Howard Taft High School in 1962 and went on to attend Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1966. While at Knox, he took an interest in Russian through elective courses. It was also at this time when Hanssen applied for a cryptographer position in the NSA but was rebuffed due to budget setbacks. Originally set to become a doctor, Hanssen took the opportunity to enroll in the dental school at Northwestern University. He did well academically, but said that he "didn't like spit all that much". He switched his focus to business after three years, and received an MBA in accounting and information systems in 1971. After graduating, he took a job with an accounting firm but quit to join the Chicago Police Department as an internal affairs investigator, specializing in forensic accounting. Hanssen left the department after four years, joining the FBI in January 1976.
Hanssen met Bernadette "Bonnie" Wauck while he was attending dental school in Chicago. Bonnie was one of eight children from a staunchly Roman Catholic family. The couple married in 1968. After Hanssen married, he converted from Lutheranism to his wife's Catholicism, becoming a fervent believer and being extensively involved in Opus Dei.
Hanssen joined the FBI as a special agent on 12 January 1976 and was transferred to the field office in Gary, Indiana. In 1978, Hanssen and his growing family (of three children and eventually six) moved to New York when the FBI transferred him to its field office there. The next year, Hanssen was moved into counter-intelligence and given the task of compiling a database of Soviet intelligence for the Bureau. It was then, in 1979, only three years after joining the FBI, that Hanssen began his career as a Soviet (and later a Russian) spy.
That year, Hanssen approached the GRU (the Soviet military intelligence agency) and offered his services. Hanssen never indicated any political or ideological motive for his activities, telling the FBI after he was caught that his only motivation was the money. During his first espionage cycle, Hanssen told the GRU a significant amount, including information on FBI bugging activities and Bureau lists of suspected Soviet intelligence agents. His most important leak of information was the betrayal of Dmitri Polyakov, code named TOPHAT. Polyakov was a CIA informant for more than 20 years before his retirement in 1980, and passed enormous amounts of information to American intelligence while he rose to the rank of General in the Soviet Army. For unknown reasons, the Soviets did not act on their intelligence about Polyakov until he was betrayed a second time by CIA mole Aldrich Ames in 1985. Polyakov was arrested in 1986 and executed in 1988. Ames was officially blamed for giving Polyakov's name to the Soviets, but Hanssen's role remained unknown until after his arrest in 2001.
Hanssen was nearly exposed in 1981, when Bonnie Hanssen caught her husband in their basement writing a letter to the Soviets. Hanssen admitted to her that he had been giving information to the Soviets (motivated purely by his need for money) and that he had received US$30,000 as payment, but he lied and said that he was only passing along false intelligence. Knowing this, Bonnie insisted that her husband go to confession, as is required in the Roman Catholic faith for those who have committed serious sins. The Opus Dei priest who allegedly heard Robert's confession is said to have told him to give the money to charity as an act of penance. This remains unconfirmed as under the Seal of Confession, “it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner for any reason" (Canon 983.1) under penalty of "latae sententiae excommunication” (Canon 1388.1). Hanssen told his wife that he gave the money to Mother Teresa, but it is unknown if he did so. Hanssen then stopped spying for the Soviet Union until 1985.
Hanssen was transferred to the Washington, D.C., office in 1981 and moved to the suburb of Vienna, Virginia. His new job in the FBI's budget office gave him access to all kinds of information involving many different FBI activities. This included all the FBI activities related to wiretapping and electronic surveillance, which were Hanssen's responsibility. He became known in the Bureau as an expert on computers.
In 1983, Hanssen transferred to the Soviet analytical unit, which was directly responsible for studying, identifying, and capturing Soviet spies and intelligence operatives in the United States. Hanssen's section was in charge of evaluating Soviet agents who volunteered to give intelligence to the US, to determine if they were genuine or double agents. In 1985, Hanssen was again transferred to the FBI's field office in New York, where he continued to work in counter-intelligence against the Soviets. It was after the transfer, while on a business trip back to Washington, that he resumed his career in espionage. This time, he became an operative for the KGB.
On 1 October 1985, he sent an anonymous letter to the KGB offering his services and asking for US$100,000 in cash. In the letter, Hanssen gave the names of three KGB agents in the United States secretly working for the FBI: Boris Yuzhin, Valery Martynov, and Sergei Motorin. Unbeknownst to Hanssen, all three had already been exposed earlier that year by another mole, CIA employee Aldrich Ames. Martynov and Motorin were executed, and Yuzhin was imprisoned for six years, and eventually emigrated to the United States. Since the FBI attributed the leak to Ames, the trail to Hanssen was diverted. The 1 October letter was the beginning of an active, long espionage period for Hanssen. He remained busy with KGB correspondence over the next several years.
In 1987, Hanssen was recalled yet again to Washington. He was given the task of making a study of all known and rumoured penetrations of the FBI in order to find the man who had betrayed Martynov and Motorin. This meant that he was looking for himself. For obvious reasons, Hanssen ensured that he did not unmask himself with his study, but in addition, he also turned over the entire study, including the list of all Soviets who had contacted the FBI about FBI moles, to the KGB in 1988. Also in 1987, Hanssen, according to a government report, "committed a serious security breach" by revealing secret information to a Soviet defector during a debriefing. The agents working underneath him reported this security breach to a supervisor, but no action was taken.
In 1989, Hanssen handed over extensive information about American planning for Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT), an umbrella term for intelligence collected by a wide array of electronic means, such as radar, underwater hydrophones for naval intelligence, spy satellites, and signal intercepts. When the Soviets began construction on a new embassy in 1977, the FBI dug a tunnel beneath the Soviet embassy, right under their decoding room. The FBI planned to use it for eavesdropping, but never did for fear of being caught. Hanssen disclosed this detailed information to the Soviets in September 1989 and received a US$55,000 payment the next month. On two occasions, Hanssen gave the Soviets a complete list of American double agents.
In 1989, Hanssen compromised the FBI investigation of Felix Bloch. Bloch was a State Department official who had served all over the world for more than 30 years when he came under suspicion in 1989. Bloch was seen by French intelligence agents meeting a known KGB operative and giving him a black bag. Bloch was a stamp collector and tried claiming that the bag contained stamp albums. In May 1989, eight days after the meeting of Bloch with the KGB operative, Hanssen warned the KGB that Bloch was under investigation. In June, the operative called Bloch and said that he could not see Bloch anymore, specifically saying, "A contagious disease is suspected". The FBI believed that the call was a veiled warning. Felix Bloch maintained his innocence through an aggressive investigation that continued for months afterward. The FBI was unable to produce any hard evidence, and as a result, Bloch was never charged with a crime (although the State Department later terminated Bloch's employment and denied pension to him). The failure of the Bloch investigation, and the FBI's suspicion of how the KGB found out about the Bloch investigation, drove the mole hunt that eventually led to the arrest of Robert Hanssen.
In 1990, Hanssen's brother-in-law, Mark Wauck, who was also an FBI employee, recommended to the bureau that Hanssen be investigated for espionage. This was because Bonnie Hanssen's sister Jeanne Beglis had found a pile of cash sitting on the Hanssens' dresser in 1990 and then told Wauck. Five years earlier in 1985, Bonnie had told her brother that her husband once talked about retiring in Poland, then part of the Eastern Bloc and under Soviet domination. Wauck also knew that the FBI was hunting for a mole and so after some hesitation, Wauck spoke with his supervisor, who took no action.
The Soviet Union broke up into 15 countries, ceasing to exist in December 1991. Hanssen, possibly worried that he could be exposed during this time of upheaval in Russia, broke off communications with his handlers that same month and was out of contact for years.
Hanssen started his efforts at spying again in 1992, this time for the Russian Federation. He made a very risky approach to the GRU, with whom he had not been in contact since his initial foray into espionage in 1979–81. Hanssen, who in the past had always taken care to keep his face and his name hidden from the Russians, this time went in person to the Russian embassy and physically approached a GRU officer in the embassy's parking garage. Hanssen, carrying a package of documents, identified himself as "Ramon Garcia" (the pseudonym he had used in his communications with the Soviets), a "disaffected FBI agent", and offered his services as a spy. The Russian officer, who evidently did not recognize the "Ramon Garcia" codename as belonging to the spy, got into his car and drove off. The Russians then filed an official protest with the State Department, believing the man in the garage to be a double agent. Despite showing his face, giving away his code name, and revealing that he was in the FBI, Hanssen escaped arrest because the FBI's investigation did not get anywhere.
Hanssen continued to take risks in 1993. That same year, he hacked into the computer of a fellow FBI agent, Ray Mislock, printed out a classified document from Mislock's computer, and brought the document to Mislock, saying, "You didn't believe me that the system was insecure." This prompted an internal investigation by superiors. However, FBI officials believed him when he told them that he was merely demonstrating flaws in the FBI's security system. Mislock has since theorized that Hanssen actually went into his computer to see if the FBI was investigating him, and invented the document story to cover his tracks.
Hanssen expressed interest in a transfer to the new National Counterintelligence Center, founded in 1994 and charged with coordinating counterintelligence activities. But when a superior told him that he would have to take a lie detector test to join, Hanssen changed his mind. Three years later, convicted FBI mole Earl Edwin Pitts told the Bureau that he suspected Robert Hanssen of being a spy because Hanssen had broken into another agent's computer. Pitts was the second FBI agent to mention Hanssen by name as a possible mole (the first having been the brother-in-law Mark Wauck), but the FBI simply wrote this off as a reference to the Mislock incident, and again, no action was taken.
Hanssen was sent in 1995 to the Office of Foreign Missions at the State Department, as the senior FBI liaison, with the task of coordinating travel by foreign diplomats in the United States. On his weekly visits back to FBI headquarters he frequently visited Johnie Sullivan, Chief of the National Security Division's (NSD) Intelligence Information Services (IIS) Unit. Hanssen mostly wanted to chat about his interest in computer security technology and the new Intelink-FBI network that Sullivan's unit was building and installing throughout the Bureau's major field offices.
In 1997, IT personnel from the IIS Unit were sent to investigate Hanssen's FBI desktop computer following a reported failure. Johnie Sullivan, NSD's IIS Unit Chief, ordered the computer impounded after it appeared to have been tampered with. A digital investigation by Sullivan and his IT staff found that an attempted hacking had taken place using a password cracking program installed by Hanssen which caused a security alert and lockup. Following confirmation by the FBI CART Unit, Sullivan filed a report with Office of Professional Responsibility requesting further investigation of Hanssen's attempted penetration of the Bureau's high-security network operated by the National Security Division. Hanssen claimed all he wanted to do was connect a color printer to his computer, but needed the password cracker to get around the administrative password. The FBI believed his story and Hanssen was let off with a warning never to do it again. However, Sullivan felt that Hanssen's story was grossly inconsistent with the evidence and refused to withdraw the security violation report. The report was first ridiculed and later ignored by the NSD Security Countermeasures Unit.
During the same time period, Hanssen would go onto the FBI's internal computer case record and search to see if he was under investigation. He was indiscreet enough to type his own name into FBI search engines. Finding nothing, he decided to resume his spy career after eight years without contact with the Russians. He established contact with the SVR (the successor to the Soviet-era KGB) in the fall of 1999. He continued to do highly incriminating searches of FBI files for his own name and address. In November 2000, he sent his last letter to the Russians.
The existence of two moles working simultaneously – Aldrich Ames at CIA and Hanssen at FBI – complicated counterintelligence efforts in the 1990s. Ames was arrested in 1994, and his capture explained many of the asset losses American intelligence suffered in the 1980s, including the arrest and execution of Martynov and Motorin. However, two cases stuck out and remained unsolved. For one, the Felix Bloch case remained a mystery. Ames had been stationed in Rome at the time of the Bloch investigation and the mysterious telephone warning. Authorities were satisfied that Ames had no knowledge of the case, as he did not work for the FBI and is not thought to have had access to the case files. In addition, the exposure of the tunnel under the Russian embassy in Washington was a second intelligence failure that could not be blamed on Ames.
In 1994, after Ames, the FBI and CIA formed a joint mole-hunting team to find the suspected second intelligence leak. They formed a list of all agents known to have access to cases that were compromised. The codename of the FBI for the suspected spy was Graysuit. Some promising suspects were cleared, and the mole hunt found other penetrations such as CIA officer Harold James Nicholson, but Hanssen escaped being noticed.
By 1998, using FBI criminal profiling techniques, the hunters had zeroed in on the wrong man: Brian Kelley, a CIA operative. Kelley had identified the very KGB agent who took the bag from Felix Bloch, but now found himself suspected to be the leak who had blown the case to the Soviets. The CIA and FBI searched his house, tapped his phone, and put him under surveillance. In November 1998 they had a man with a foreign accent come to Kelley's door, warn him that the FBI knew he was a spy, and tell him to show up at a metro station the next day in order to escape. Kelley instead reported the incident to the FBI. In 1999 the Bureau even called Kelley in for questioning and directly accused him of being a Russian spy. Over the next two days the FBI interrogated his ex-wife, two sisters, and three children. Kelley and his family denied everything, and his CIA career was badly damaged. He was eventually placed on administrative leave, where he remained, falsely accused, for nearly two years, until after Robert Hanssen was arrested.
A full year after interrogating Brian Kelley, and having failed to either bring a case against him or find another suspect, the FBI decided on a new tactic: buying the mole's identity. They searched for possible candidates to buy off and found one: a Russian businessman and former KGB agent whose identity remains classified to this day. An American company cooperated by inviting him to the United States for a business meeting. He came to New York and the FBI offered him a large sum of money if he would give the name of the mole. The Russian responded that he did not know the name, but that he could get the actual KGB/SVR file, which he had secretly taken out of headquarters. The file covered the mole's correspondence with the KGB from 1985 to 1991 and even included an audiotape of the voice of "Ramon Garcia". The FBI agreed to pay US$7 million for the file and set up the KGB officer and his family with new identities in the United States. In November 2000 the FBI finally obtained the file, consisting of a package the size of "a medium-sized suitcase". Among the host of documents and computer disks was an audiotape of a 21 July 1986 conversation between the mole and a KGB agent.
When the FBI listened to the tape, they expected to hear the voice of Brian Kelley, still the prime suspect. However, the voice on the recording was definitely not Kelley. FBI agent Michael Waguespack, listening to the tape, recognized the voice as familiar but could not remember who it was. Rifling through the rest of the file, they found notes of the mole using a quote from General George S. Patton about "the purple-pissing Japanese". FBI analyst Bob King remembered Robert Hanssen using that same quote. Waguespack listened to the tape again and recognized it as the voice of Robert Hanssen.
The FBI finally had its man. Once the name was known, everything else fell into place – locations, cases, dates, references to Chicago and Mayor Daley etc. All these factors were a perfect match with Hanssen's activities during the time period. Also in the file was one of Hanssen's original packages for the KGB, complete with trash bag and with two fingerprints on it, which when tested were shown to be Hanssen's. The weight of evidence against Hanssen was overwhelming and conclusive.
The FBI placed Hanssen under round-the-clock surveillance and soon discovered that he was again in contact with the Russians. In order to bring him back to FBI headquarters, where he could be monitored and kept from sensitive data, they promoted him in December and gave him a new job supervising FBI computer security. In January, Hanssen got an office and an assistant, Eric O'Neill, who was actually a young FBI employee assigned to watch Hanssen. O'Neill ascertained that Hanssen was using a Palm III PDA to store his information. When O'Neill was able to obtain Hanssen's PDA briefly and have agents download and decode its encrypted contents, the FBI had its "smoking gun".
Hanssen realized in his final days with the FBI that something was wrong. In early February, he asked a friend of his at a computer technology company for a job. Hanssen also believed he was hearing noises on his car radio that indicated his car was bugged, although the FBI was later unable to reproduce the noises Hanssen claimed to have heard. In the last letter he ever wrote to the Russians (which was picked up by the FBI when he was arrested), Hanssen said that he had been promoted to a "do-nothing job...outside of regular access to information", and that "Something has aroused the sleeping tiger."
However, his suspicions did not stop him from making another drop. After dropping a friend at the airport on February 18, 2001, Hanssen drove to Virginia's Foxstone Park. He placed a white piece of tape on a park sign, which was a signal to his Russian contacts that there was information at the dead drop. He then followed his usual routine, taking a package that consisted of a sealed garbage bag full of classified material and taping it to the bottom side of a wooden footbridge over a creek. The FBI, having caught him in the act, swooped in and arrested Hanssen on the spot. Upon the arrest, Hanssen realized his espionage days against the FBI were over, and said, "What took you so long?" The FBI waited two days for any of Hanssen's SVR handlers to show up at the Foxstone Park site. When they failed to do so, the Justice Department announced the arrest on February 20.
With the representation of Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris, Hanssen negotiated a plea bargain that enabled him to escape the death penalty in exchange for cooperating with authorities. On 6 July 2001, he pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of espionage in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Hanssen was then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His wife, along with their six children, received the survivor's part of Hanssen's pension, $38,000 per year.
Hanssen is Federal Bureau of Prisons prisoner #48551-083. He is currently serving his sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prisons Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colorado, a "Supermax" federal penitentiary where he spends 23 hours per day in solitary confinement.
Hanssen never told the KGB or GRU his identity and refused to meet them personally, with the exception of the abortive 1993 contact in the Russian embassy garage. The FBI believes the Russians never knew the name of their source. He went by the alias "Ramon" or "Ramon Garcia" when corresponding with the Soviets. He passed intelligence and received payments through an old-fashioned dead drop system where Hanssen and his KGB handlers would leave packages in public places and place unobtrusive but visible marks in the area to let the other party know that a package was waiting.
In the words of David Major, one of his superiors at the FBI, Hanssen was "diabolically brilliant". He refused to use the dead drop sites that his handler, Victor Cherkashin, suggested and instead picked his own. He even designated a code to be used when dates were exchanged. Six was to be added to the month, day and time of a designated drop time, so that, for example, a drop scheduled for January 6 at 1pm would be written as July 12 at 7pm.
Despite these efforts at caution and security, he could at times be reckless. He once said in a letter to the KGB that it should emulate the management style of Mayor Richard J. Daley – a comment that easily could have led an investigator to look at people from Chicago. He took the risk of recommending to his handlers that they try to recruit his closest friend, a colonel in the Army. In an early letter to Cherkashin, he claims, "As far as the funds are concerned, I have little need or utility for more than the $100,000."
According to USA Today, those who knew the Hanssens described them as a close family. They attended Mass weekly and were very active in Opus Dei. Robert Hanssen's three sons attended The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland, an all-boys preparatory school. His daughters attended Oakcrest School for Girls, an independent Roman Catholic school. Both schools are associated with Opus Dei. Hanssen's wife, Bonnie, taught religion at Oakcrest.
The priest at the Oakcrest School said that Hanssen had regularly attended a 6:30am daily mass for more than a decade. Opus Dei member Father C. John McCloskey III said Hanssen also occasionally attended the daily noontime Mass at the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. After going to prison, Hanssen claimed he periodically admitted his espionage to priests in confession. He urged fellow Catholics in the Bureau to attend mass more often, and denounced the Russians as "godless," even though he was spying for them.
However, there was a second side to Hanssen's private life much as there was a second side to his professional life. Unbeknownst to his wife, and at Hanssen's suggestion, a friend would watch the Hanssens having sex through a bedroom window. He also began to secretly videotape their sexual encounters and shared the videotapes with him. Later, Hanssen hid a video camera in the bedroom that was connected to a closed-circuit television line so that his friend could observe the Hanssens from his guest bedroom.He also explicitly described the sexual details of his marriage on Internet chat rooms, giving information sufficient for those who knew them to recognize the couple.
Hanssen frequently visited DC strip clubs, and spent a great deal of time with a Washington, D.C., stripper named Priscilla Sue Galey. She went to Hong Kong with Hanssen on a trip and on a visit to the FBI training facility in Quantico, Virginia. He gave her money, jewels and a used Mercedes, but cut off contact with her before his arrest, when she fell into drug abuse and prostitution. Galey claims that although she offered to sleep with him, Hanssen declined, saying that he was trying to convert her to Catholicism.
He is talked about in Ronald Kessler's book the "The secrets of the FBI" in chapter 15 called catching Hanssen. Also in chapter 16 called "breach". The story of Eric O'Neill's role in the capture of Robert Hanssen was dramatized in the film Breach, released 16 February 2007 in which Chris Cooper played the role of Hanssen and Ryan Phillippe played O'Neill.
The 2007 documentary Superspy: The Man Who Betrayed the West describes the hunt to trap Robert Hanssen. Hanssen also was the subject of a 2002 made-for-television movie, Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story, written by Norman Mailer and starring William Hurt as Hanssen. Robert Hanssen's jailers allowed him to watch this movie, but Hanssen was so angered by the film that he turned it off.
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