20 Years Ago — FBI Robert Hanssen Is Arrested (February 18 2001)

“F.B.I. officials knew as far back as the mid-1980’s that Robert P. Hanssen, the longtime agent and convicted Russian spy, had repeatedly mishandled classified data and violated procedures but did nothing to prompt an investigation, a Justice Department report released today states. The report from the department’s inspector general provides many previously undisclosed details about how the F.B.I. missed numerous signals that could have led to Mr. Hanssen’s capture years earlier.”

New York Times (August 15 2003)

February 18  2021 — Robert Philip Hanssen is a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States from 1979 to 2001. His espionage was described by the Department of Justice as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.” He was sentenced to 15 life terms without the possibility of parole. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: This Day in History — CIA Aldrich Ames Arrested by FBI in Arlington, Virginia (February 21, 1994)

RELATED POST: One Year Ago — Ex-CIA Officer Suspected of Spying for China [Jerry Chun Shing Lee]

RELATED POST: The “FAREWELL DOSSIER”: Geopolitical consequences on the end of the Cold War


RELATED POST: The search for the “Fifth Man” — Spooks and Chess Players

“In the whole march of history, a little espionage doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.”

Robert Philip Hanssen

Hanssen was arrested on February 18, 2001, at Foxstone Park near his home in Vienna, Virginia, and was charged with selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union and subsequently the Russian Federation for more than US$1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 22-year period.

On July 6, 2001, in order to avoid the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

He was sentenced to 15 life terms without the possibility of parole. His activities have been described by the Department of Justice’s Commission for the Review of FBI Security Programs as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.”

The existence of two Russian moles working in the U.S. security and intelligence establishment simultaneously—Ames at the CIA and Hanssen at the FBI—complicated counterintelligence efforts in the 1990s. Ames was arrested in 1994; his exposure explained many of the asset losses American intelligence suffered in the 1980s, including the arrest and execution of Martynov and Motorin. However, two cases—the Bloch investigation and the embassy tunnel—stood out and remained unsolved. Ames had been stationed in Rome at the time of the Bloch investigation, and could not have had knowledge of that case or of the tunnel under the embassy, as he did not work for the FBI.

The FBI and CIA formed a joint mole-hunting team in 1994 to find the suspected second intelligence leak. They formed a list of all agents known to have access to cases that were compromised. The FBI’s codename 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 notice.

By 1998, using FBI criminal profiling techniques, the pursuers zeroed in on an innocent man: Brian Kelley, a CIA operative involved in the Bloch investigation. The CIA and FBI searched his house, tapped his phone and put him under surveillance, following him and his family everywhere. 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 FBI even interrogated Kelley, his ex-wife, two sisters and three children. All denied everything. He was eventually placed on administrative leave, where he remained falsely accused until after Hanssen was arrested.

“Hanssen believed he was hearing noises on his car radio which indicated that it was bugged, although the FBI was later unable to reproduce the noises Hanssen claimed to have heard.”

FBI investigators later made progress when disaffected Russian intelligence officers brought forth files on “B.” Among the information was an audiotape of a July 21, 1986, conversation between “B” and KGB agent Aleksander Fefelov. FBI agent Michael Waguespack felt the voice was familiar, but could not remember who it was. Rifling through the rest of the files, they found notes of the mole using a quote from General George S. Patton about “the purple-pissing Japanese.” FBI analyst Bob King remembered Hanssen using that same quote. Waguespack listened to the tape again and recognized the voice as belonging to Hanssen. With the mole finally identified, locations, dates, and cases were matched with Hanssen’s activities during the time period. Two fingerprints collected from a trash bag in the file were analyzed and proved to be Hanssen’s.

The FBI placed Hanssen under 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 closely monitored and kept away from sensitive data, they promoted him in December 2000 and gave him a new job supervising FBI computer security. In January 2001, Hanssen was given an office and an assistant, Eric O’Neill, who in reality was a young FBI agent who had been 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 briefly obtain Hanssen’s PDA and have agents download and decode its encrypted contents, the FBI had its “smoking gun.”

During his final days with the FBI, Hanssen began to suspect that something was wrong; in early February 2001, he asked his friend at a computer technology company for a job. He also believed he was hearing noises on his car radio which indicated that it was bugged, although the FBI was later unable to reproduce the noises Hanssen claimed to have heard.

“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now. Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Rick Blaine [Humphrey Bogart] — Casablanca (1942)

Who else?

The book, ”The Main Enemy,” concludes that four of more than a dozen Russians caught spying for the West in the mid-1980’s could not have been betrayed by the three most noted turncoats with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — Aldrich H. Ames, Robert P. Hanssen and Edward Lee Howard.

Intelligence officials suspect that an American who has not been caught helped the Soviet Union unmask a bevy of spies who supplied crucial information to the United States in the final decade of the cold war.

Robert Hanssen: Double Agent Revealed


Robert Hanssen — Wikipedia

Book Suggests Fourth Player Helped K.G.B. — NYT (May 4 2003)


On This Day — FBI Robert Hanssen Is Arrested (February 18 2001)

On This Day — FBI Robert Hanssen Is Arrested (February 18 2001) [2020]

20 Years Ago — FBI Robert Hanssen Is Arrested (February 18 2001)

This entry was posted in FBI and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 20 Years Ago — FBI Robert Hanssen Is Arrested (February 18 2001)

  1. R.T. Breach says:

    He should have been liquidated.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s