Disambiguation: This page is about the spy. For the serial killer, see Robert Hansen.
|“||In the whole march of history, a little espionage doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.||”|
Robert Phillip Hanssen is an American FBI agent, traitor, and spy. He spied on behalf of Soviet and Russian intelligence services, against the United States, for nine years, and during the course of two decades, from 1979 to 2001. His espionage was described by the Department of Justice as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."
- 1 Background
- 2 FBI Career and Espionage
- 3 Investigation, Arrest, and Imprisonment
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Modus Operandi
- 6 Profile
- 7 On Criminal Minds
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
Hanssen was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1944. His father, a policeman, was emotionally abusive towards him during his childhood. After graduating, he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1966. In 1968, he married Bernadette "Bonnie" Wauck, a Roman Catholic who managed to convert Robert from his Lutheranism, prompting him to become a fervent believer. He also became involved with the Opus Dei. After unsuccesfully trying to apply for a cryptographer position in the NSA, he enrolled in dental school at Northwestern University and later switched to business, receiving an MBA in accounting and information systems in 1971. Eventually, after a four-years career in the Chicago police department as an internal affairs investigator, he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Hanssen was later revealed to be a sexual deviant, exposing himself and his wife while having sex for the voyeuristic pleasure of others. He was also a frequent visitor of strip clubs, and spent a great deal of time with a Washington stripper named Priscilla Sue Galey, whom he tried converting to Catholicism.
FBI Career and Espionage
First Espionage Activities (1979 - 1981)
Hanssen became a special agent in 1976, and was transferred to Gary, Indiana, the same year. In 1979, after having being again transferred to New York City, he was moved to counter-intelligence and given the task to compile a database of Soviet intelligence for the Bureau. In the same year, after only three years of career in the Bureau, Hanssen approached the Soviet GRU through Amtorg (a Soviet front company) and offered his services. During the course of his first cycle of espionage (from 1979 to 1981), he told the GRU a significant amount, including information on the FBI's bugging activities and lists of suspected soviet intelligence agents. His most important leak was the betrayal of Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet Army general and CIA informant (for unknown reasons, however, the Soviets did not act against the latter until he was betrayed a second time by CIA mole Aldrich Ames, in 1985). In 1981, when his wife, Bonnie, discovered of his espionage, Hanssen promised her to quit and to confess his act to a priest (whom, bound to silence by Canon Law, told him to give the proceeds from spying to charity).
Further Espionage Activities (1985 - 1991)
Hanssen eventually resumed his espionage in October 1985, after he was transferred to the New York field office (he was previously moved from the Virginia-based budget office to the Soviet analytical Unit). He sent a letter to the KGB were he offered his services in exchange for $100.000 in cash. In the letter, he also gave the names of three KGB agents secretly working for the FBI (however, they had already been exposed by Ames). It was the beginning of a long, active espionage period for him. Ironically enough, in 1987, he was recalled to Washington D.C. in order to investigate all known and rumored penetrations of the FBI, including some for which he himself was directly responsible. He ensured that he did not unmask himself with his study, and, in 1988, he handed it over to the KGB (the study also contained a list of all Soviets who had contacted the FBI about FBI moles). That same year, Hanssen was reported as having committed a serious security breach by revealing confidential informations to a Soviet defector during a debriefing. Eventually, no action was taken. In 1989, Hanssen compromised an FBI investigation of a State Department official who was suspected of espionage, prompting the KGB to break off contact with the latter. The failure of this investigation, and the FBI's investigation of how the KGB found out they were inquiring the official, drove the mole hunt that eventually led to the arrest of Hanssen. Later that year, Hanssen kept passing information to the KGB, including American planning for MASINT (intelligence collected by electronic means, such as radar, spy satellites, and signal intercepts), the digging of a tunnel by the FBI beneath the decoding room of a then-under construction Russian embassy, and a list of American double agents. In 1990, his brother-in-law (who was also an FBI employee and knew the Bureau was hunting for a mole) recommended to his supervisor that Hanssen be investigated for espionage. This came after Bonnie Hanssen's sister, Jeanne Beglis, found a pile of cash on a dresser in the Hanssens' house. Bonnie had previously told her brother that Hanssen once talked about retiring in Poland, then part of the Eastern Bloc. Again, no action was taken. In 1991, when Soviet Union collapsed, he broke off communications with KGB for a time, possibly fearing of being exposed in the political upheaval.
Continued Espionage Activities (1999 - 2001)
In 1992 Hanssen riskily approached the GRU by going to the Russian embassy in person and speaking to a GRU official. Identifying himself by his Soviet code name, "Ramon Garcia", and describing himself as a "disaffected FBI agent", he offered his services as a spy. The official didn't recognize the code name and left. Later, the Russians filed an official protest to the State Department, believing Hanssen to be a triple agent. Despite this, he again escaped arrest as the FBI's investigation didn't go on. In 1993, he hacked into the computer of a fellow FBI agent (presumably to see if his superiors were investigating him) and claimed to have been demonstrating flaws in the FBI's security system as a cover story, which officials believed to. In 1994, Hanssen expressed interest in transferring to the new National Counterintelligence Center, eventually changing his mind after he discovered he had to take a lie detector test to join. In 1997, convicted FBI mole Earl Edwin Pitts claimed he suspected Hanssen was a mole as well, no action was taken. Later, Hanssen's computer was investigated following a reported failure, revealing an attempted hacking had taken place using a password cracking program installed by him. Minimizing, he was able to again avoid suspicions. During that time period, Hannsen was searching the FBI's internal computer case record to furtherly see if he was under investigation. In the fall of 1999, he resumed his contacts with the Russians and kept checking for FBI pending investigations on himself.
Investigation, Arrest, and Imprisonment
After the arrest of Aldrich Ames in 1994, the FBI and the CIA formed a joint mole-hunting team to find a suspected second intelligence leak (which compromised FBI operations of which Ames could have known nothing about). They formed a list of all agents known to have access to cases that were compromised. The FBI code name for the suspected spy was "Graysuit". Eventually, while Hanssen remained unnoticed, the mole hunt uncovered other penetrations, such as CIA officer Harold James Nicholson. By 1998, utilizing profiling techniques, the investigation zeroed in on a man, Brian Kelley, whom later turned out to be innocent. Eventually, during the course of an operation in which FBI investigators paid off disaffected Russian intelligence officers to deliver information on moles, a file named "B" was discovered. It contained an audiotape of a 1986 conversation between "B" and a KGB agent. Hanssen was later identified as "B", because, in the tape, he used a quote from General Patton that he also used, once, while talking to an FBI analyst. Placed under surveillance and discovered to be again in contact with the Russians, he was promoted in 2000 and transferred to the FBI headquarters, in order for the Bureau to monitor him and keep him away from sensitive information. His assistant, Eric O'Neill (in reality an agent assigned to watch him), was able to obtain Hanssen's PDA and have agents download and decode its contents, which were the FBI's "smoking gun." Although Hanssen became suspicious of his promotion and felt something was wrong, it did not stop him from making one more dead drop on February 18, 2001, in Foxtone Park, Virginia, during the course of which he was arrested. Upon being arrested, Hanssen asked: "What took you so long?"
Hanssen negotiated a plea bargain that enabled him to avoid the death penalty in exchange for cooperating with the authorities. He pleaded guilty to 14 counts of espionage and one of conspiracy to commit espionage, and was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. He is currently incarcerated at the ADX Florence, a federal supermax prison near Florence, Colorado.
Eric O'Neill's role in the capture of Robert Hanssen was dramatized in the 2007 film Breach, in which Chris Cooper played the role of Hanssen and Ryan Phillippe played O'Neill.
Hanssen never revealed the GRU or KGB his identity, nor he accepted to meet them personally (with the exception of his failed 1993 contact attempt at the Russian embassy). According to the FBI, the Russians never knew the name of their source. Going by the alias "Ramon Garcia", Hanssen exchanged intelligence and payments through an old-fashioned dead drop system in which he and his KGB handlers would leave packages in public, discreet places. He refused to use the dead drop sites that his handler suggested and instead picked his own. Hanssen also 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.
Hanssen was motivated to spy by a mixture of greed, need for excitement, desire to test himself, and craving to feel like a “hero” by becoming involved in something significant.
To external appearances, there were many signs of stability in his lifestyle. The Hanssen family was religiously devout with extensive ties in their faith community. Hanssen appeared to be a responsible primary breadwinner. He was a successful FBI special agent who had secured a nice job that suited his talents. Despite these external signs of stability, however, Hanssen possessed secret vulnerabilities. His desire to serve as a hero led him to initiate a mentoring relationship with a prostitute he imagined he could rescue from her lifestyle by showing her a better way to live. He cut off this relationship when she proved unable to live up to his expectations. He installed a live-feed camera in his bedroom and surreptitiously captured his sexual activity with his wife for a male friend. He also passed to him nude pictures of his wife and posted pornographic stories on the web featuring him and his wife, all without her knowledge.
At work, Hanssen was considered odd and carried several pejorative nicknames. He was described a sexist/mysoginist, and was even disciplined for angrily grabbing a female colleague. He exploited a breach in the computer firewall to break into his supervisor’s computer, claiming he did it to puportedly show FBI security the vulnerability of sensitive computer systems. When he was reprimanded as a young special agent for throwing classified information in the trash rather than shredding it, he responded that he knew what was really classified and what was not. The failures in empathy and in respect for others, the self-absorption, and the poor judgment evident in these behaviors suggest a mixed personality disorder.
Indeed, a psychological evaluation conducted as part of the damage assessment concluded that his personality contains a mix of psychopathic, narcissistic, and dependent features.
On Criminal Minds
- Season One
- "Secrets and Lies" - While Hanssen was never directly referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Bruno Hawks - Both were United States government agents whom spied on behalf of a foreign official/agency and were the subject of a combined CIA-FBI probe that used criminal profiling to identify the mole. This probe initially zeroed in an innocent officer as the suspect, much like in the episode. Also, just like Hanssen, Hawks led the task force assembled to identify himself, and he was speculated to have betrayed his organization for ideological reasons but was determined in the end to have done it purely out of profit.
- Ironically enough, young Hanssen was a spy stories aficionado. He even admitted, in a letter to his handlers, that he found out his true vocation when he was fourteen, reading a biography of Kim Philby, which he borrowed from a friend.