Robert Hanssen

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Robert Hanssen

Robert Philip Hanssen (born April 18, 1944) was an FBI agent who was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, later Russia. He was arrested on February 20, 2001 at a park near his home in Vienna, Virginia, and charged with selling American secrets to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 15-year period.

Born in Chicago, he was son of a policeman. Court documents say he told his Moscow handlers that he read Kim Philby's book (autobiography My Silent War was published in 1968, so he meant a different book, or was lying to his Moscow handlers, or mistaken) at age 14 and thought of him as a hero. Philby was a mole in British intelligence who eventually defected to the Soviet Union.

He attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and studied chemistry, Russian; enrolled and dropped out of dentistry school, got a masters of accounting, got a business job but quit to join the Chicago police as an internal corruption investigator, before joining the FBI counterintelligence unit. In 1979 he made his first traitorous act, revealing to the Soviets that Soviet official General Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov of the GRU was selling Soviet secrets to the USA, mostly out of hatred for the current "corrupt" Soviet leadership. He was the most important mole of this period.

Hanssen's wife Bonnie found out from Hanssen due to some strange behaviour; Hanssen half-confessed that he sold some worthless facts for $20,000. (Shannon, page 82) Bonnie made him confess to a priest, identified by the New York Times as the Reverend Robert P. Bucciarelli, former head of Opus Dei in the USA. (Shannon, page 82). The actual confession and advice is privileged; the priest did not break his vow of confidentiality; the spying continued for years.

Hanssen was transferred to the Washington, DC, office and moved to suburb Vienna, Virginia.

In 1986 he sold to the Soviets the names of three KGB agents in America secretly working for the FBI. (Boris Yuzhin, Valery Martynov, Sergei Motorin). However, these three may have already been betrayed by traitor CIA agent Aldrich Ames; they were soon recalled to Russia to their fate. Because the FBI could attribute the leak to Ames, the trail to Hanssen was diverted. He also revealed an expensive secret tunnel dug under the Soviet embassy for the purpose of eavesdropping. He compromised the investigation of Felix Bloch, State Department official accused of working with the Soviets; he gave them the plan of a program for the continuity of government in case of a Soviet nuclear attack, and planned defense and retaliation.

According to USA Today, "[t]hose who know the Hanssens describe them as a close family. They attended Mass weekly. Four of the children attended Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic School, which now covers kindergarten through eighth grade, in Vienna. Only two of the children remain at home, a comfortable brown frame house with a basketball hoop on the side of the house." Other accounts say Hanssen attended Mass daily.

USA Today: "His biggest fear, Hanssen confided, was "someone like me" an agent on the Russian side with knowledge of Hanssen's spying who decided to work for the Americans. A former CIA counterintelligence expert, Vincent Cannistraro, suspects that that is what happened."

According to the New York Observer, August 6, 2001:

"On July 29, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy investigation of his role as a top F.B.I. overseer of domestic counterintelligence operations. From documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, ... the Times discovered that Mr. Hanssen spent several years directing the bureau's notorious Reagan-era probes of American liberal and peace organizations. Such groups were deemed inimical to the objectives of the conservatives then in power, who tended to regard dissent over the nuclear-arms race and war in Central America as Soviet-influenced and subversive. ... As later Congressional investigations would show, what this often meant in practice was the harassment and sometimes the smearing of Americans engaged in lawful political activity. Among the many groups under surveillance by the F.B.I. in those days were the Gray Panthers, nuclear-freeze advocates associated with SANE-and the left-leaning Catholic adversaries of Opus Dei who opposed the American-backed repression in Central America."
"Robert Novak. The conservative columnist admitted on July 12 that Mr. Hanssen had served as his main source for a 1997 column attacking Janet Reno, then the U.S. Attorney General, for supposedly covering up 1996 campaign-finance scandals. "

Hanssen hired lawyer Plato Cacheris. On May 10, 2002 in exchange for cooperating with authorities, he was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and his wife Bernadette ("Bonnie") (with six kids) does get the survivor's part of her husband's pension, $39,000 per year. (Shannon, page 229). Hanssen is required to submit to a gag-order with respect to public comments.

Hanssen was also a member of the arch-conservative Catholic semi-secret organization Opus Dei, as was, according to some rumours, the head of the FBI at the time, Louis Freeh. They attended the same church; other church members include Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa).

His favorite novel was The Man who was Thursday, G K Chesterton, about a group of policemen with secret lives.

He liked to post stories to about his wife:

From: "Robert P. Hanssen" <>
Subject: Bonnie (wife, exhib, true)
Date: 1998/06/05
Message-ID: <>
It was only around four in the afternoon, and Bonnie still had plenty of
time as she walked over and perched on the high wooden stool.  She sat,
freshly showered and still naked,...

If his internet postings can be believed, Robert P. Hanssen shared pornographic photos of his wife with his best friend, [ the following in not supported in accounts I have read: drugged his wife with Rohypnol so his friend could have sex with her, ] secretly broadcast his sex acts over closed-circuit television to his guest room, and perhaps cheated on his wife with a stripper, (although the stripper denies it was a sexual relationship) --- all while working as an FBI agent and selling secrets to the Soviets.

Also, he was a ham radio operator since childhood, liked computers and was techically savvy; he would be the person in the office to fix the computers. He used Linux at home:

From: "Robert P. Hanssen" <>
Subject: Panasonic DC1080
Date: 1998/06/11
Message-ID: <>#1/1
Does anyone know the protocol for downloading the images from this
camera?  Trying to get a program that works under LINUX.

Further reading

  • Kim Philby, My Silent War, 1968, Granda Publishing, ISBN 0-586-02860-9
  • Lawrence Schiller, Master Spy: The Life of Robert P. Hanssen, (original title, Into the Mirror), based upon an investigaion by Norman Mailer, HarperCollins, 2002, ISBN 0-06-051281-4 (a dramatization)
  • Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman, The Spy Next Door : The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, The Most Damaging FBI Agent in US History, Liittle Brown, 2002 ISBN 0-316-71821-1
  • David A. Vise, The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History, Grove Publishers, 2001, ISBN 0641579985
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, "A Review of the FBI's Performance in Deterring, Detecting, and Investigating the Espionage Activities of Robert Philip Hanssen - Unclassified Executive Summary (August 2003)", online html (, online pdf (
  • Joe Conason, New York Observer, August 6, 2001, "Was Hanssen a Spy for the Right Wing, Too?"

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