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Robert Hanssen, F.B.I. Agent Uncovered as Spy for Moscow, Dies at 79


Robert P. Hanssen, a former F.B.I. agent who spied for Moscow on and off for greater than 20 years throughout and after the Chilly Conflict in one of the vital damaging espionage circumstances in American historical past, was found useless in his jail cell in Colorado on Monday, federal authorities introduced. He was 79.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons stated in a press release that Mr. Hanssen was discovered unresponsive simply earlier than 7 a.m. at america Penitentiary Florence, the place he was serving a life sentence. He was pronounced useless after lifesaving efforts by emergency medical staff. The assertion didn’t establish a trigger.

Mr. Hanssen’s case was thought of one of the vital infamous spy scandals of his era, stunning F.B.I. leaders and different authorities officers once they discovered that considered one of their very own had been feeding info to the opposite aspect with impunity for thus a few years. To this present day, the F.B.I. describes him as “the most damaging spy in bureau history.”

In trade for $1.4 million in money, financial institution funds and diamonds, Mr. Hanssen handed alongside a torrent of secrets and techniques to Moscow, together with one disclosing that america authorities had dug a tunnel beneath the Soviet embassy in Washington to snoop on diplomatic and different communications. He additionally knowledgeable Moscow about three Okay.G.B. officers who had been secretly spying for america, two of whom had been later executed.

“The magnitude of Hanssen’s crimes can’t be overstated,” Paul J. McNulty, who was the U.S. legal professional who prosecuted him, stated on Monday in response to stories of his dying. “They’ll lengthy be remembered as being among the many most egregious betrayals of belief in U.S. historical past. It was each a low level and an investigative success for the FBI.”

Mr. Hanssen’s arrest, in 2001, briefly ruptured relations between america and Russia at a time when the 2 former enemies had been in search of to construct friendlier ties after the collapse of the Soviet Union. President George W. Bush expelled about 50 Russian diplomats, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia retaliated with a tit-for-tat expulsion of fifty American diplomats. However either side had been decided to finish the matter there and never enable it to lead to a extra lasting rift.

The invention of Mr. Hanssen’s espionage embarrassed the F.B.I. and resulted in modifications to safety procedures. He informed investigators after his arrest that safety on the bureau was so lax that it amounted to “legal negligence,” saying that it was a easy matter to achieve entry to categorized materials on official computer systems with solely routine safety clearances.

“Any clerk within the bureau might give you stuff on that system,” Mr. Hanssen stated, based on a Justice Department report on his case in 2002. “It’s legal what’s laid out.”

Mr. Hanssen pleaded responsible to fifteen counts of espionage and conspiracy to keep away from the dying penalty and expressed regret for his betrayal. “I’m shamed by it,” he stated in the course of the 2002 listening to at which he was sentenced to life in prison with out parole.

Since July 17, 2002, Mr. Hanssen had been in custody at Florence, the supermax facility that’s thought of essentially the most safe jail within the federal system and used in recent times to accommodate convicted terrorists. Inmates there are usually held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Mr. Hanssen joined the F.B.I. in 1976 as a particular agent and went on to carry a number of counterintelligence positions that gave him entry to categorized info. He started spying for the Soviet Union three years after becoming a member of the bureau, when he was assigned to a counterintelligence unit in New York, by strolling into the New York places of work of Amtorg, a Soviet commerce group that was recognized to be a entrance for the Soviet navy intelligence company.

He stopped spying for a number of years beginning in 1980, after his spouse, Bonnie, walked in on him within the basement of their dwelling in Westchester County, N.Y., and he shortly tried to cowl up his papers. He confessed to her and to a priest affiliated with Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic group to which the couple belonged.

In 1985, he started spying once more, offering info to the Okay.G.B. This time he did a greater job of protecting his tracks, utilizing encrypted communications and different secret strategies; even the Russians by no means knew who he was. Figuring out himself solely by code names like B and Ramon Garcia, Mr. Hanssen turned over delicate info stated to incorporate particular satellite tv for pc intelligence assortment capabilities. His revelation of the tunnel that the F.B.I. and the Nationwide Safety Company had constructed beneath the Soviet Embassy in Washington value america a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of {dollars}.

Mr. Hanssen’s work as a spy for Moscow went undetected for years as he collected at the very least $600,000 in money and diamonds from the Okay.G.B. and its post-Soviet successor, S.V.R., which informed him that they’d put aside one other $800,000 for him in a Moscow financial institution, based on prosecutors.

Within the Nineteen Nineties, after the arrest of Aldrich Ames, a C.I.A. agent who had additionally spied for the Russians, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. realized that another person was nonetheless offering Russia with categorized info, and so they started “Graysuit,” a hunt for the unknown double agent. However it was not till 2000 that investigators had been in a position to slim the search, when the F.B.I. paid $7 million to a former Russian intelligence officer for a file on the nameless mole who known as himself B — a file that included an audio recording with a voice that two F.B.I. analysts who knew Mr. Hanssen ultimately acknowledged.

Utilizing fingerprints, the F.B.I. confirmed that the mole was Mr. Hanssen and surveilled him for months, even selling him to maintain higher monitor of him. In February 2001, brokers arrested him in Foxstone Park within the Washington suburb of Vienna, Va., a couple of blocks from his dwelling, after he had left categorized paperwork in a rubbish bag at a “useless drop” for his Russian handlers beneath a picket footbridge.

Mr. Hanssen appeared unsurprised at lastly being caught. “What took you so lengthy?” he reportedly requested when arrested.

Robert Philip Hanssen was born on April 18, 1944, in Chicago to Vivian and Howard Hanssen, a profession Chicago police officer who did intelligence work for the division. Robert acquired a bachelor’s diploma in chemistry in 1966 from Knox Faculty in Illinois, the place he additionally studied Russian, however after commencement he was rejected by the Nationwide Safety Company when he utilized for a place in cryptography.

He enrolled in dentistry college at Northwestern College, however later transferred to the enterprise college, the place he acquired a grasp’s diploma in enterprise administration. Whereas in dentistry college, he met and married Bonnie Wauck and transformed from Lutheran to affix her Roman Catholic religion. After a 12 months working at an accounting agency, he took a place with the Chicago Police Division specializing in forensic accounting. 4 years later he moved to the F.B.I.

An solely youngster, Robert had had a tough relationship together with his father, who emotionally abused him, and he had grown up obsessive about James Bond, amassing spy devices and even opening a Swiss checking account. Within the F.B.I., Mr. Hanssen was stated to have burned with resentment that did he not obtain the respect and assignments he felt he deserved. With six kids in parochial faculties or school, he attributed his choice to spy for Moscow to cash, though his causes had been by no means totally understood.

“Lots of the elements which have motivated or influenced traitors up to now — comparable to greed, ideology, profession disappointments and resentment, and drug and alcohol abuse — don’t apply to Hanssen or don’t totally clarify his conduct,” a Justice Department inspector general’s report on the case said in 2003.

Mr. Hanssen led a double life in additional methods than one. An lively member of Opus Dei, he offered himself as a spiritual and dedicated anti-communist conservative. However based on stories, he additionally visited strip golf equipment, allowed a buddy to clandestinely watch him having intercourse together with his spouse and engaged in what was stated to be a secret however nonsexual relationship with an unique dancer whom he plied with items and took on an F.B.I. journey to Hong Kong.

Mr. Hanssen’s potential to keep away from detection was seen as a sign failure of the American intelligence equipment. His personal brother-in-law, who additionally labored for the F.B.I., reported suspicions about Mr. Hanssen to the bureau a decade earlier than his arrest, however the supervisor he informed had dismissed his issues.

Mr. Hanssen was the topic of a number of books and movies, together with a tv film in 2002 wherein he was performed by William Harm and a full-screen film known as “Breach” in 2007, wherein he was performed by Chris Cooper.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting from New York.

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