WASHINGTON A veteran FBI agent who specialized in Russian counter-intelligence was accused yesterday of spying for Moscow for much of the past 15 years, an alleged betrayal that created a massive breach in national security, harmed U.S. intelligence operations and contributed to the execution of two Russian double agents, according to officials and court documents.
Moscow allegedly rewarded Robert Philip Hanssen, 56, with more than $1.4 million in cash, diamonds and payments deposited in Russian bank accounts, FBI director Louis J. Freeh said at a news conference where he outlined the plot and how it was unraveled.
Hanssen was arrested at a Fairfax County park Sunday not far from his modest Vienna, Va., home after being caught attempting to deliver a garbage bag full of highly classified documents to Russian intelligence agents in exchange for $50,000 in cash left at another park in Arlington, Freeh said.
Experts characterized the Hanssen case as the worst spying episode in FBI history.
Leaving documents and computer disks for his unseen contacts in Northern Virginia parks, Hanssen compromised “numerous human sources” and turned over dozens of highly classified reports revealing nuclear secrets, electronic surveillance techniques and other cornerstones of U.S. intelligence, according to a 109-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. He also hindered the FBI”s investigation of former State Department employee Felix Bloch in 1989.
In a single 1988 drop, for example, Hanssen turned over “top secret” CIA documents about nuclear programs, a “top secret” historical FBI review of Soviet defectors and recruitments, a “top secret compendium of future intelligence requirements” and a “secret” CIA staff study of KGB recruitment, according to the affidavit.
“The full extent of the damage done is yet unknown,” Freeh said yesterday. “We believe, however, that it was exceptionally grave. The criminal conduct alleged represents the most traitorous actions imaginable against a country governed by the rule of law.”
Hanssen is the third FBI agent in history to be arrested on charges of spying. Earl Edwin Pitts pleaded guilty in 1997 to spying for Moscow. Richard Miller was convicted of espoionage in 1984.
Hanssen, who was ordered held without bond yesterday until his next court appearance on espionage charges March 5, could face the death penalty if convicted.