|A Veteran FBI Counterintelligence Agent Arrested |
A Veteran FBI Counterintelligence Agent Arrested
Source: FBI National Press Office, Washington D.C., February 20, 2001. Photos: Courtesy FBI.
Robert Philip Hanssen (FBI Photo)
Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and United States Attorney Helen Fahey announced today that a veteran FBI counterintelligence Agent was arrested Sunday by the FBI and charged with committing espionage by providing highly classified national security information to Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh
At the time of the arrest at a park in Vienna, Virginia, Robert Philip Hanssen, age 56, was clandestinely placing a package containing highly classified information at a pre-arranged, or "dead drop," site for pick-up by his Russian handlers. Hanssen had previously received substantial sums of money from the Russians for the information he disclosed to them.
United States Attorney Helen Fahey and members of the Press looking at drop Sites
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh expressed both outrage and sadness. He said the charges, if proven, represent "the most serious violations of law -- and threat to national security."
"A betrayal of trust by an FBI Agent, who is not only sworn to enforce the law but specifically to help protect our nation's security, is particularly abhorrent. This kind of criminal conduct represents the most traitorous action imaginable against a country governed by the Rule of Law. It also strikes at the heart of everything the FBI represents -- the commitment of over 28,000 honest and dedicated men and women in the FBI who work diligently to earn the trust and confidence of the American people every day."
"These kinds of cases are the most difficult, sensitive and sophisticated imaginable. I am immensely proud of the men and women of the FBI who conducted this investigation. Their actions represent counterintelligence at its very best, reflecting dedication to both principle and mission. It is not an easy assignment to investigate a colleague, but they did so unhesitatingly, quietly and securely."
Hanssen was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage, violations that carry a possible punishment of life in prison, and under certain circumstances, the death penalty. Following the arrest, FBI Agents began searching Hanssen's residence, automobiles and workspace for additional evidence.
A detailed affidavit, filed in support of the criminal complaint and search warrants, provides a troubling account of how Hanssen first volunteered to furnish highly sensitive documents to KGB intelligence officers assigned to the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. The affidavit chronicles the systematic transfer of highly classified national security and counterintelligence information by Hanssen in exchange for diamonds and cash worth more than $600,000. Hanssen's activities also have links to other, earlier espionage and national security investigations including the Aldrich Ames and Felix Bloch cases, according to the affidavit. ("Lewis" Drop Sites)
- On the "Foxstone Park" sign
- The far-left corner of the wooden podium (when facing the podium) located in the amphitheater of Long Branch Nature Center
- Package dropped by Hanssen at the Ellis drop site on 2/18/01
- Under a footbridge over Wolftrap Creek near Creek Crossing Road at Foxstone Park near Vienna, Virginia
- Wooden utility pole located at the North-West corner of the intersection of 3rd Street and Carlin Springs Road near the metrobus stop
- Package recovered at the Lewis drop site containing $50,000 cash left by Russians for Hanssen
The affidavit alleges that on over 20 separate occasions, Hanssen clandestinely left packages for the KGB, and its successor agency, the SVR, at dead drop sites in the Washington area. He also provided over two dozen computer diskettes containing additional disclosures of information. Overall, Hanssen gave the KGB/SVR more than 6,000 pages of valuable documentary material, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit alleges that Hanssen compromised numerous human sources of the U.S. Intelligence Community, dozens of classified U.S. Government documents, including "Top Secret" and "codeword" documents, and technical operations of extraordinary importance and value. It also alleges that Hanssen compromised FBI counterintelligence investigative techniques, sources, methods and operations, and disclosed to the KGB the FBI's secret investigation of Felix Bloch, a foreign service officer, for espionage.
Freeh said that although no formal damage assessment could be conducted before the arrest without jeopardizing the investigation, it is believed that the damage will be exceptionally grave.
During the time of his alleged illegal activities, Hanssen was assigned to New York and Washington, D.C., where he held key counterintelligence positions. As a result of his assignments, Hanssen had direct and legitimate access to voluminous information about sensitive programs and operations. As the complaint alleges, Hanssen effectively used his training, expertise and experience as a counterintelligence Agent to avoid detection, to include keeping his identity and place of employment from his Russian handlers and avoiding all the customary "tradecraft" and travel usually associated with espionage. The turning point in this investigation came when the FBI was able to secure original Russian documentation of an American spy who appeared to the FBI to be Hanssen, which subsequent investigation confirmed.
Freeh said the investigation that led to the charges is a direct result of the combined and continuing FBI/CIA effort ongoing for many years to identify additional foreign penetrations of the U.S. intelligence community. The investigation of Hanssen was conducted by the FBI with direct assistance from the CIA, Department of State and the Justice Department, and represents an aggressive and creative effort which led to this counterintelligence success. Freeh said, "We appreciate the unhesitating leadership and support of Attorney General John Ashcroft from the moment he took office."
Freeh also expressed his gratitude to Helen Fahey, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant United States Attorney Randy Bellows, and senior Justice Department officials Robert Mueller, Frances Fragos Townsend, John Dion and Laura Ingersoll for their contributions to the case.
United States Attorney Fahey said, "In the past decade, it has been our unfortunate duty to prosecute a number of espionage cases -- Ames, Pitts, Nicholson, Squillacote, Kim, Boone, and others. With each case, we hope it will be the last. Today, however with the arrest of Robert Hanssen, we begin again the process of bringing to justice a U.S. Government official charged with the most egregious violations of the public trust. The full resources of the Department of Justice will be devoted to ensuring that those persons who would betray their country and the people of the United States are prosecuted and severely punished."
"I want to express my appreciation for the outstanding work done by the National Security Division and the Washington Field Office of the FBI in this investigation. Their superlative work in this extraordinarily sensitive and important investigation is testament to their professionalism and dedication. We also express our deep appreciation for the outstanding assistance provided by the Internal Security Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice."
Freeh and CIA Director George Tenet kept the Intelligence Committees of Congress, because of the clear national security and foreign policy implications, informed about the case.
As a result of Hanssen's actions, Freeh has ordered a comprehensive review of information and personnel security programs in the FBI. Former FBI Director and Director of Central Intelligence William H. Webster will lead the review. Webster, currently in private law practice, brings a "unique experience and background in government management and counterintelligence," Freeh said. "Moreover, the respect he enjoys throughout the intelligence community and elsewhere in government is second to none. Judge Webster will have complete access and whatever resources that are necessary to complete the task and will report directly to Attorney General Ashcroft and me. I will share his report with the National Security Council and then Congress as well," Freeh said.