On the morning of February 18, 2001, FBI Special Agent Bob Hanssen woke up, got out of bed, ate breakfast and followed his Sunday morning routine. Accompanied by his wife and children, he drove out to St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls.
There were numerous Roman Catholic churches closer to the Hanssens' home in suburban Vienna, but they had a special reason for traversing the rolling hills of Northern Virginia to attend St. Catherine's. Various high-ranking government officials also attended the church, including FBI Director Louis Freeh. They were drawn to it, according to its pastor, the Rev. Franklyn McAfee, because of its traditional approach to Catholicism. Hanssen thought he saw Freeh and his family there that morning, seated just across the way.
Back at home after church, Hanssen spent some time chatting with his old friend Jack Hoschouer, a career soldier turned munitions salesman who was about to leave after visiting for several days. While Hoschouer finished packing, Hanssen retreated to his basement, where he slipped a stack of classified FBI documents and a computer diskette into a plastic garbage bag. The encrypted diskette contained a goodbye letter.
I thank you for your assistance these many years. It seems, however, that my greatest utility to you has come to an end, and it is time to seclude myself from active service . . . Life is full of its ups and downs . . . I will be in contact next year, same time same place.
Hanssen placed the bag in his light gray Ford Taurus, then loaded Hoschouer's luggage and drove his friend to Dulles International Airport. When he took Jack to the airport, Bob would usually park the car and go inside to have a drink and chat. But not this time. They said their goodbyes at the curb, Jack headed to the gate to catch his flight, and Bob drove back to Vienna to Foxstone Park. There he placed a piece of white adhesive tape on a pole. Then he walked through the cold, breezy park to a footbridge and placed the black garbage bag in a concealed spot at the base of the bridge. He headed back to his car, but before he could open the door, FBI agents descended on him with their weapons drawn. "Freeze!" they shouted. They slapped a pair of handcuffs on him, locking his wrists together behind his back.
Neither impressed nor shocked, Robert Philip Hanssen taunted his FBI colleagues.
"What took you so long?"
The arrest marked the end of the clandestine career of the most dangerous double agent in the FBI's 90-year history. Over a period of more than two decades, Bob Hanssen -- who is due to be sentenced soon to life without parole -- delivered to the Russians a vast amount of sensitive documents, deposited at dead drops in various Northern Virginia parks. He managed to evade detection even though his own brother-in-law at one point alerted the authorities to his suspicious behavior. After his arrest, much information came out about his life, obsessions and seeming devotion to family, religion, the FBI and American values. Yet many of the basic questions went unanswered: Why did this churchgoing family man and FBI sleuth become a double agent? Was it money? Love of risk? Or something deeper within the troubled psyche of Robert Hanssen?
Ever since his childhood days in Chicago, Bob Hanssen had been something of a loner. His mother, Vivian, noticed that whenever something upset him, Bob would head for the safety of his room and immerse himself in books. Bob -- an only child born just before the end of World War II -- seemed too quiet for a healthy growing boy.
Bob's father, Howard, was a Chicago policeman, and he and Vivian moved to the northwest part of the city after he came home from serving in World War II. With the help of the GI Bill, they bought a modest, two-bedroom bungalow on Neva Street in Norwood Park, a popular neighborhood for police officers and their families.
Howard Hanssen spoke of a better life for Bob. He wanted him to go to college, get an advanced degree and become a doctor. But instead of praising his schoolwork and encouraging him to succeed, Howard Hanssen's approach was to criticize and berate his son repeatedly. It wasn't tough love; it was tough luck. And, according to Vivian Hanssen, Bob came to feel emotionally abused by his father.
"Sometimes people make themselves feel better by not allowing someone else to feel too good," she said. "Maybe Howard had been treated that way . . . I think [Howard] had the idea that if he complimented someone too much, they might get bigger than they should."
On at least two occasions, Howard Hanssen physically abused his son while exhorting him to "be a man," according to family members and others. When Bob was 6 or 7 years old, his father wrapped him in blankets and twirled him round and round until he became so dizzy he vomited. Another time, Howard grabbed one of Bob's legs by the ankle, forcefully pulling it into the air and stretching his son's hamstring until he urinated on himself involuntarily. The torture left Bob feeling helpless and humiliated.
When Bob became old enough, his father took him to get his driver's license. Bob was ready for the road test and excited about the freedom and independence driving would bring. But his father had other ideas. He bribed the official administering the test to fail his son. When Bob found out what his father did, it left him feeling that the world was crooked and set up to deny him any sense of control over his own destiny. "I didn't approve of it," Vivian Hanssen said. "[Howard] thought Bob was too cocky and thought he believed he was too good a driver."
The problems were exacerbated, Vivian Hanssen said, because her son never raised objections with her about the way he was treated. Bob suffered enormously, but quietly. "He wouldn't come out and say anything to his dad about it, and would harbor that inside, and it gnaws at you," she said. "That was the kind of thing Howard did that I didn't notice enough of. I thought that they were far enough apart and isolated incidents. I didn't know they were so important to [Bob]. He must have brooded on them." Recalling her own role, she said, "Maybe I just looked at things as the way I hoped they were."
Bob was a serious, often melancholy boy. He loved clandestine matters -- one of his favorite books was The Codebreakers by David Kahn. "Pick up a book on spies, and run through the list, and he had some interest in it," said a friend.
But there was another side to his personality, a side that scared his friends and was concealed from his parents. He loved taking risks. Sometimes it was fun, his friends recalled, but other times it could rattle them so much that they feared for their lives. "When he got a crazy idea in his head, he was going to do it," one high school friend said. There was no talking him out of it.
After Bob studied the physics of grand prix auto racing in high school, he would climb into his 1962 Dodge Dart and test its limits by trying to find out the maximum speed his car could reach when turning a corner. "We would challenge guys to races," said a high school friend. "Not drag races. We would find twisty, turny streets and challenge someone to follow us through them. We were screaming through a residential street and went around the corner with two guys following us in a Buick. They ended up in the middle of some guy's front yard."
There were two things Howard Hanssen had made clear for many years -- he wanted his son to become a doctor, and he did not want him to become a cop. After Bob enrolled at Knox College, a small liberal arts school in Illinois, Howard pushed him to take pre-med courses, along with math and Russian.
After a while, Bob's resentment began to build to the point where he did not want his parents, especially his father, to visit him. His fears that his father would embarrass him were confirmed when his parents finally came to see him at Knox. His father sought out Bob's professors and undercut him. His mother said: "Howard would say, 'He has good grades, but next time, he won't be so hot.' He had the idea that Bob would work real hard and then slide."
Despite the anger he felt toward his father, Bob stayed on the pre-med track at Knox and worked during his summer break from college as a recreational therapist at a state mental hospital in Chicago. One of the student nurses Bob met in the summer of 1965 was an attractive, vivacious woman named Bonnie Wauck, who admired the way he made the patients feel comfortable. "She was very much impressed at how effective he was with the patients," recalled her father, Leroy Wauck. "He was very effective, very nice and kind and considerate." Their courtship proceeded slowly, with exchanges of letters and holiday visits in Chicago.
Bob lacked the desire to go to medical school, and a college counselor advised him not to apply. He shifted his focus to dental school instead. He didn't want to be a dentist any more than he wanted to be a doctor. But his father, who has since died, was still pushing him to go into medicine. Bob was accepted to Northwestern University's dental school and studied there from 1966 to 1968.
On August 10, 1968, during the summer when violence and rioting disrupted the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Bob married Bonnie in a Catholic wedding ceremony -- even after Howard told her it was a bad idea. "Why are you marrying this guy?" he asked her before the wedding.
Within a few weeks, Bob dropped out of dental school, even though he had completed much of the course work. Howard Hanssen was furious. How could Bob have allowed the family to spend all that money on dental school and then quit? How could he throw away all those years of study? After all that he had done as a father, this seemed the ultimate betrayal.
Friends of Bob Hanssen's remember how he agonized over the decision, because of the pressure he was under from his father. At the same time, Bob seemed elated over his marriage to Bonnie. "Bob seemed happy, getting married to a beautiful girl and a smart girl," one friend recalled. Meanwhile, Bonnie was enraptured with her husband, whose knowledge and understanding of the world seemed to her to be limitless.
Within days of their marriage, however, Bonnie received a nasty jolt. It was a phone call from an old girlfriend of Bob's. She bluntly told Bonnie that she and Bob had just made love and that she was the one he really had wanted to marry. The woman said Bob was her man and urged Bonnie to back off. Bonnie hung up the phone and burst into tears. This was a bride's worst nightmare -- but to Bonnie, the wedding vows they had made were sacred and immutable. Her faith in Bob, at least momentarily, was shaken, but her conviction about the holiness of their marriage remained intact.
Bonnie confronted Bob later that day. She told him she wanted to know the truth, no matter how painful. A stunned Bob admitted his sin and begged Bonnie for forgiveness. He said he wasn't worthy of her love. He also promised repeatedly that nothing like that would ever happen again. Over and over, Bob told Bonnie that he loved her and that he felt ashamed. Bonnie reassured him of her love, and they agreed to keep his indiscretion a secret.
Bob Hanssen ultimately decided to continue his studies at Northwestern's business school, earning a master's degree in business administration in 1971 with a dual specialization in accounting and information systems. After graduation, he defied his father again by going to work for the Chicago police department. He joined a special internal affairs unit, known as C5, which had as its mission ferreting out crooked cops on the force. While it was the sort of work that most police officers would eschew, it played to his strong interest in intelligence gathering and clandestine operations. He sensed he was brighter than other police officers, and far more educated; working in C5 would enable him to put some of his knowledge to use.
After a few years with the unit, Hanssen was accepted by the FBI. On January 12, 1976, he began 16 weeks of intensive training at the FBI Academy in Quantico. As a new recruit, he pledged his loyalty, a quality valued within the bureau above all else.
Hanssen was a fan of the late J. Edgar Hoover. He especially admired the FBI's larger-than-life image. In the way he dressed as an FBI agent, Hanssen seemed a throwback to the Hoover era, when agents were expected to wear dark suits with white shirts, emulating the director. Hanssen admired Hoover's strong leadership and relished the image of elitism projected by Hoover's FBI. "He loved Hoover," a Hanssen associate said. "He liked his autocratic way of dealing with things."
Hanssen quickly worked his way through field offices in Indianapolis and Gary, Ind. Given his accounting background, he was highly valued as a white-collar crime investigator. His unit supervisor, according to one former agent, "thought Bob Hanssen walked on water."
But Hanssen had not joined the FBI so he could spend his life chasing money launderers and tax cheats. As one friend said, "He wanted to work the Russians." Hanssen had an excessive fascination with the Soviets, who were masters of secrecy. It had been a key factor in his decision to join the FBI, and would lead him to seek an assignment in foreign counterintelligence.
In 1978, after two years in Indiana, Hanssen was transferred to the FBI field office in New York City, cradle of Soviet spies. According to retired KGB Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, there were roughly 220 spies working for the Soviet Union in the United States. Many of them were based in New York, where they worked under the diplomatic cover of the Soviet delegation to the United Nations.
Finally, Hanssen had found work that gave him a sense of purpose. He figured out that the Soviet intelligence officers carried out many operations -- such as planting bugs, seeking to recruit Americans as spies and exchanging cash for intelligence -- on weekends, when FBI agents typically didn't work. He told his agents, "We are going to set up this big net and we know the directions they go generally, and we will follow them and catch them in the act," a friend recalled. But Hanssen was disappointed by his fellow agents, who were not the dedicated team of sleuths he had imagined they would be. "He set up this squad . . . and well over half of the FBI guys called in from home. They didn't want to work on Sunday. The Russians got away."
Hanssen's attitude changed from that experience. "He had some great disappointments with the bureau," a colleague said. "He went in extremely idealistic and found out to his dismay that it is made up of fallible human beings who sometimes screw up and don't do things right. This is one of his triggers. I don't think he ever really accepted that."
Hanssen began to resent the FBI, just as he had come to resent his father. That feeling intensified over time, even as Hanssen slowly rose through the ranks. He helped establish an automated database of foreign intelligence officials based in the United States. But he developed virtually no real friendships at the FBI, where his increasingly dour personality and demeanor made him unappealing. When the guys went out for a beer after work, they didn't bother inviting Hanssen, certain he would not join them. Hanssen felt overlooked and unappreciated in an organization that, in his view, valued the macho, door-kicking lawman even as it increasingly relied on analytical minds like his to solve complex, technical cases.
Despite the FBI's shortcomings and his negative feelings, Bob Hanssen was where he wanted to be, on the front lines of his country's silent war. Yet already, he was sowing the seeds of his own betrayal.
The marital problems Bob and Bonnie faced from the beginning never really went away. Anxious that Bob might be having an affair with his secretary at the FBI, Bonnie would pepper her children -- who had internships at the bureau -- with questions about whether his assistant was pretty and whether the two were flirtatious. She told one of her sisters that her relationship with Bob lacked the very honesty and dialogue that she espoused. Despite it all, however, she never dreamed of abandoning the union that God had blessed.
But nothing in her experience could have prepared Bonnie for what she encountered in the basement of their Scarsdale, N.Y., home one day in 1980. Bonnie walked in on Bob, who awkwardly covered a letter he was drafting. Based on her earlier experiences, Bonnie immediately suspected that Bob was trying to hide a love note to another woman. But she was wrong.
Working for the FBI in counterintelligence, Bob had made contact with the Russian military intelligence agency, Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie, and sold data to the GRU in exchange for about $20,000. He told Bonnie that he had tricked the Soviets, selling information that was of no value in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash. In fact, Hanssen compromised valuable U.S. intelligence, including the identity of Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet general code-named Tophat who worked as a valued double agent for more than two decades before the Soviets executed him.
Bonnie Hanssen was shocked and confused as she listened to Bob explain what he had done. Was her husband spying for the Soviet Union? Was he lying to her? No, he promised. He was being truthful and, in any event, he would break off his contacts with the Soviets.
They both knew that one option was for Bob to reveal what he had done to his superiors -- but the mere thought of confessing to the FBI brass was frightening to Bonnie and Bob, who knew that any perceived breach would end his bureau career and wreak havoc on their family life. Bonnie believed she had married a good man. Bob vowed never to do anything like it again, and Bonnie believed him. She insisted that her husband speak with a local priest, confess his sins and seek confidential guidance about his misdeeds.
The Rev. Robert P. Bucciarelli had heard many stories of marital woe, but nothing like this one. Bucciarelli listened intently as Bob repeated the story he had told Bonnie. Bucciarelli considered having Bob return the money to the Soviets, but ultimately blessed the following plan: Hanssen would confess his sin, pray for forgiveness, cut off all improper contacts with the Soviets and donate the money to good works.
Bob told Bonnie he would give away the cash as inconspicuously and anonymously as possible to the charities of Mother Teresa. Bonnie was relieved. She trusted Bob when he told her he would never do anything like that again, and she tried to put the whole episode out of her mind. It seemed so out of character, and after all, everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
Though the FBI and his fellow agents frustrated Hanssen, he liked being involved in intelligence work and, by 1983, had found his way to the Soviet Analytical Unit in Washington. Hanssen sensed his preparation and expertise exceeded those around him. He had studied Russian in college, examined the history of communism for years and had a healthy respect for Soviet spycraft. After all, the Russians had been spying for centuries, while the United States had only meaningfully undertaken foreign intelligence work for the first time during World War II. As far as Hanssen could tell, the Soviets also had a major advantage in intelligence because theirs was an entire society and governmental system based on deception that bred exceptionally gifted spies.
In 1985 the Hanssens were transferred from Northern Virginia for another tour of duty in New York, where he served as a supervisor. The strain at times seemed unbearable. Lacking the money to live comfortably in New York with his large family, and without the personality or managerial skills to put himself on the fast track for promotion, Hanssen decided to take action.
This time around, he had thought everything through, and he was determined not to be caught by Bonnie or anyone else. He chose his words and considered his actions carefully; that way, he could also conceal his identity from the KGB, something that had rarely been attempted. It wasn't just that he had access to a storehouse of secrets that the Soviets wanted. He also had used his computer expertise to expand his reach beyond the scope of his own work and into an impressive array of sensitive intelligence in the FBI and other agencies.
Hanssen had to start somewhere, and through his Soviet intelligence work he knew just the man: Viktor Ivanovich Cherkashin, the No. 2-ranking KGB officer in Washington. Cherkashin had an extraordinary ability to keep secrets and protect his sources of information by circumventing the chain of command and going directly to the senior-most levels in Moscow.
Hanssen knew that the mail was an inherently risky way of doing business, so he sent his first letter to Cherkashin from suburban Maryland on October 1, 1985, a day when he was back in Washington dealing with administrative chores. Instead of sending the letter to Cherkashin himself, Hanssen sent it to the Alexandria home of another KGB operative, Viktor M. Degtyar. Inside the outer envelope, there was a second envelope, which Hanssen marked, "DO NOT OPEN. TAKE THIS ENVELOPE UNOPENED TO VICTOR I. CHERKASHIN," and which contained the letter.
To establish his credibility, in addition to listing three KGB agents who were spying for the Americans, Hanssen included a detailed description of a highly sensitive U.S. information collection technique that was classified as top-secret. And he further proved his bona fides by disclosing the existence and location of a sensitive FBI electronic penetration of Soviet communications.
Hanssen's disclosure of the three double agents had deadly consequences. The valuable KGB moles had been compromised earlier in 1985 by CIA spy Aldrich Ames, so the transmission from Hanssen gave the Soviets confirmation of their identities. Two were called back to the Soviet Union under false pretenses, tried in court and executed for espionage. The third was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp.
But Hanssen did not feel guilty about what he had done. Instead, he viewed the disclosures as fair play in the spy game. In addition, he reasoned that as long as he regularly confessed his sins to various priests and sought forgiveness, he would remain in a state of grace.
Other spies gave up moles or single devices one at a time. But Bob Hanssen sold entire intelligence systems, as well as information about the debriefing of a defector and a Western spy within the KGB. For example, the package he delivered around Thanksgiving 1987 included COINS-II, the then-current, classified version of the United States' "Community On-Line Intelligence System."
In return, the Soviets made Hanssen feel extraordinarily important. Soon he was no longer dealing just with senior KGB officials in Washington -- his contacts went straight to the top in Moscow. The package he received in exchange for COINS-II included a letter from the KGB director praising him and offering warm regards, and confirming the $100,000 deposit for him in a Soviet bank at a 6 to 7 percent interest rate.
In 1987 Hanssen was transferred back to headquarters in Washington to an analyst's post. His colleagues viewed it as a signal his FBI career had stalled -- the move back to analyst from supervisor was at best a lateral one. But it left Hanssen with more time to peruse the electronic and paper files of classified and top-secret information at the FBI, CIA, NSA and National Security Council for possible sale to Moscow. It also made frequent trips to dead drops near his newly purchased house at 9414 Talisman Dr. in Vienna simple and easy.
His FBI colleagues increasingly saw him as a misfit who dressed in dark clothing and always seemed to be hanging around without adding much to the discourse. "Think of somebody in a mortuary talking to a family and they speak in a low tone of voice," said Ray Mislock, who spent 25 years at the FBI and rose to chief of the Soviet section. "That is the way he was. He had a smile, but it didn't go beyond that. He would smile and sit there and not say a word."
Contrary to some news reports that the basement of his home on Talisman Drive was used as a war room for espionage, in truth Hanssen composed many of his letters to the KGB sitting in the den of the modest split-level house while his family was around. "He worked on the computer and wrote his letters to the Russians," said a friend. "He would be sitting by himself, and no one talked to him. Nobody paid attention to him when he was at his computer. Bob hid in plain sight."
Still, the FBI could have cracked the Hanssen spy case in 1990.
While Hanssen was busy selling intelligence secrets to the Soviets, his brother-in-law, Mark Wauck, a Chicago-based FBI agent, began to have suspicions. Wauck accidentally discovered that Bob was hiding thousands of dollars in cash at home and spending money more casually than in the past. Wauck suspected the cash came from spying. He took his FBI oath seriously, and felt a legal duty to report what he reasonably suspected. If he didn't and his brother-in-law turned out to be a double agent, his own job would be on the line, and Bonnie could face legal consequences.
Wauck disclosed to his FBI superiors in Chicago that Hanssen had an extraordinary amount of cash at home and had been spending too much money for someone on an FBI salary. He told bureau officials that he suspected his brother-in-law was spying for the Russians. The FBI failed to investigate Wauck's allegations about Hanssen, who went on spying for the Russians without scrutiny from law enforcement officials.
Eventually, after Hanssen's arrest, Wauck revealed his 1990 disclosure to other family members, expressing surprise that the FBI did not act upon the information. Why had the matter been brushed aside inside the bureau? Could it be that with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and closer ties developing between the FBI and Russian intelligence, there was no appetite for exposing espionage that would embarrass both nations? Had the information he disclosed gotten lost in the FBI's bureaucracy? Or had a friend of Hanssen's killed a probe?
From reading his plaintive letters, the Soviets came to understand that friends were lacking in Hanssen's life, and they aimed to fill that void. Sharing a poem, expressing appreciation for gestures large and small, wishing his family well, warmly greeting the man they had never met -- in every way possible, the Soviets sought to make Hanssen feel as though their mysterious, invisible relationship of dead drops, signal sites and cold-blooded espionage was the genuine article, a true friendship. After a lifetime of secrets, Hanssen felt he finally had a reliable partner and a sympathetic ear in the KGB.
Hanssen passed on many valuable items to his KGB friends during the late 1980s and into 1991. But despite the continuing flow of tens of thousands of dollars from the KGB to Hanssen, there were no dramatic changes in the modest house on Talisman Drive, in the aging cars he drove or in any other visible aspect of family life. Hanssen was determined not to make the same mistakes as other spies before him by spending the funds conspicuously.
The Soviets, for their part, got a bargain. The KGB received a steady stream of top-secret intelligence and classified military secrets that went well beyond anything an FBI double agent ever had given up before -- including his disclosure of a surveillance tunnel beneath the gated Soviet diplomatic compound on Wisconsin Avenue overlooking Georgetown; delivery of a remarkable 530-page packet of materials that included a classified CIA description of America's nuclear program and a CIA counterintelligence staff study; and a top-secret FBI review of Soviet recruits and defectors.
As the winter holidays approached in 1988, Hanssen geared up for a major data dump. On the day after Christmas, he transferred 356 pages of documents, a diskette containing classified information and a comprehensive report with the title "Soviet Armed Forces and Capabilities for Conducting Strategic Nuclear War Until the End of the 1990s." Earlier in the year, Hanssen had provided a top-secret analysis of Soviet intelligence about U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities that focused on early warning systems and other means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack. Coupled with this latest document, the Soviets had the blueprints of U.S. planning and intelligence in the event of nuclear war.
Although he did the KGB's bidding, Hanssen believed he ultimately remained the boss and the Soviets his supplicants; he would request the return of certain papers, deny some requests and put a premium on his personal security -- so much so that soon after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he decided to break off contact. Aside from the turmoil in Russia, he was spooked by other events, including a KGB delegation's visit to FBI headquarters and rumors that a KGB archivist had defected to the West with a massive collection of case files. Hanssen's file at KGB headquarters went dormant.
Family members and friends say Bonnie Hanssen had delusions that the forces of evil could come to get her at any moment. Bob exacerbated these tendencies, manipulating her emotions to cloak his espionage and maintain his dominion. He told her that Bill Clinton's 1992 victory was financed by gold stolen from Russia. She feared Clinton and saw him as controlled by the devil, especially after he took steps to facilitate government-funded abortions. Hanssen also showed Bonnie maps marked with safe places to go in the event of a nuclear war, fueling her anxieties with thoughts of Armageddon. She worried so much that she drank NyQuil, an over-the-counter cold remedy that contains alcohol, to help her sleep.
According to someone who knows Bonnie well, "Bob could not have found a more congenial milieu to carry out his clandestine life. He was like a shark swimming in a sea of minnows."
A devout Catholic, Bonnie had passed on her love for the church to her husband, who after his completion of FBI training was baptized as a Catholic. Within a few years, Hanssen also joined Opus Dei, the lay Catholic movement that played a major role in Bonnie's life. In its purest form, the concept of Opus Dei (Latin for "Work of God") is that Catholics can find their "individual call to holiness" and discover God in the "pots and pans," at their desk, and in the ordinary course of the day. Opus Dei has power within the Catholic Church that belies its relatively small number of 80,000 adherents worldwide, and Pope John Paul II has put its founder, a Spanish priest named Josemaria Escriva, on the fast track to sainthood. However, many within the Catholic Church regard Opus Dei as dangerous, cultlike, highly secretive fringe movement.
For Bob Hanssen, religious belief provided a sense of spiritual cleansing. In his world, there were no gray areas; there was good and there was evil. He believed that fulfilling his commitment to Opus Dei, and making a weekly confession, put him on the path to salvation. He saw no contradiction between his religious devotion and his secret life as a double agent -- in fact, his own brand of faith allowed him to engage in espionage without remorse.
Part of his mission was to save souls, especially those he saw as locked away in pursuit of lust and sin. So it was that in the summer of 1990 Hanssen struck up a bizarre friendship with Priscilla Galey, a local striptease dancer who worked in a club on M Street that Hanssen frequented on his lunch hour. He had long conversations with her and invited her to go to church with his family. He also gave Galey thousands of dollars' worth of gifts, including a Mercedes, and even took her on a trip to Hong Kong during which, he later told family members, the two had sex. But he abruptly broke off the relationship after she used for other purposes the American Express card he gave her strictly for car-related expenses.
But his deepest obsessions revolved around his strait-laced, devout and increasingly vulnerable wife. Bob relished the fantasy of having other men watch him having sex with Bonnie. He derived pleasure from thinking about how he could turn the saintly Bonnie into a ravishing woman in bed -- and shared those thoughts and more with his friend Jack Hoschouer through as many as 50 to 60
e-mails a day.
Hanssen looked up to Jack, whom he viewed as a real man because he had served in Vietnam and had far greater sexual experience. He fantasized about what it would be like for Jack to have sex with Bonnie. Both men knew that Bonnie
didn't feel comfortable around Jack and didn't like his extended visits to their home. But this fantasy became part of the ongoing exchange of ideas and pornography across the Atlantic between two old high school friends who never really seem to have left the adolescent phase of their infatuation with sex.
Bob even invited Jack on numerous occasions to secretly watch Bonnie and him make love, always without Bonnie's knowledge. At first Bob asked Jack to watch them from a deck outside their bedroom. Later, Bob installed a secret video camera in their bedroom so Jack could watch them on a monitor in another part of the house via closed-circuit video. Jack hadn't asked to watch Bob and Bonnie in bed; it was always at Bob's invitation.
Bob would talk with Jack about the experiences afterward. It was a major turn-on for Bob, who later wrote that he "loved having men's tongues dangle out" looking at his wife. It was also part of the James Bond image Hanssen imagined for himself, with a beautiful woman who made him the envy of all lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
But fantasizing with Jack wasn't enough. Bob even began posting pornographic stories on an Internet bulletin board where people shared tales of sex. Many of the details in the stories were taken from Bonnie and Bob's life together. Ever the risk-taker, Hanssen claimed authorship for some of the stories and used their real names. Bonnie Hanssen didn't know about these Internet fantasies, just as she was unaware that Jack Hoschouer watched her having sex with Bob.
Hanssen's bizarre and crude behavior extended to other women as well. On two separate occasions, he snuck up and touched the exposed breasts of one of Bonnie's sisters while she was breast-feeding a baby, sending her racing out of the room and asking other family members never to be left alone with him again. Another time, after a female subordinate at the FBI left a late-afternoon meeting even though he had ordered her to stay, Hanssen chased her down the hall and grabbed her tightly by the arm to try to prevent her from leaving. Both were disciplined, the woman for insubordination and Bob for acting inappropriately.
He hated that the FBI employed women as agents, deeming them inferior, weak and incapable of holding their own. In addition, Hanssen abhorred the idea that homosexuals worked at the bureau, and some family members described him as homophobic. In an e-mail called "Depressing Things," Hanssen described his disgust at driving through the capital city and spotting a senior FBI official at a gay and lesbian rally.
Finally, after an eight-year hiatus, Bob Hanssen saw the signs of change in Russia he had been waiting for. With Russian President Boris Yeltsin losing his grip on power in 1999, and former KGB spy Vladimir Putin taking charge, Hanssen felt ready to reemerge. Putin and his KGB comrades had grown up in the Soviet culture of deception and duplicity. From Hanssen's perspective, Putin and his inner circle possessed the temperament and discipline to keep secrets and protect sources.
"Dear friend: welcome!" the Russians wrote to Hanssen, after he reached out to them after the long break. "We express our sincere joy on the occasion of resumption of contact with you."
In letters he wrote to the Russians in 2000, Hanssen, identifying himself as "Ramon Garcia," indicated his desire to spy anew but remained exceedingly concerned about detection. The personal connection and thrill he had felt during his regular, anonymous exchanges years ago had given way, with the passage of time, first to loneliness, and then to greater introspection and contemplation of his fate. A letter Hanssen sent to the Russians in March 2000 -- after they had failed to respond to some of his communications -- revealed his increasingly fragile emotional state:
I have come about as close as I ever want to come to sacrificing myself to help you, and I get silence. I hate silence.
Conclusion: One might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane. I'd answer neither. I'd say, insanely loyal. Take your pick. There is insanity in all the answers.
. . . Set the signal at my site any Tuesday evening. I will read your answer. Please, at least say goodbye. It's been a long time my dear friends, a long and lonely time.
A letter to the Russians just before Thanksgiving sounded equally needy and despairing:
. . . No one answered my signal at Foxhall. Perhaps you occasionally give up on me. Giving up on me is a mistake. I have proven inveterately loyal and willing to take grave risks which even could cause my death, only remaining quiet in times of extreme uncertainty. So far my ship has successfully navigated the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
I ask you to help me survive.
While Hanssen was reaching out for moral support, the Russians were becoming increasingly businesslike in their communications. Gone was the gratitude for whatever Hanssen produced in the way of intelligence; in its place was a numbered wish list beginning with a request for the FBI's human, electronic and technical penetrations of Russian residences in Washington and elsewhere. Gone, too, was the sense of a casual comfort with espionage, replaced by a directive to pass along as much information as possible on a special FBI-CIA task force actively hunting for a mole inside the bureau or the agency.
"We need this information," the Russians wrote, "especially to take necessary additional steps to ensure your personal security."
But the noose was already beginning to tighten. On the afternoon of February 2, 2001, incoming Attorney General John Ashcroft's first day on the job, FBI Director Freeh filled him in on an ongoing investigation. Freeh told Ashcroft the FBI had received an extraordinary case file from Moscow indicating an enormous breach of security. An FBI agent with expertise in Russian counterintelligence had sold thousands of pages of highly sensitive documents to the Russians since at least 1985. The KGB didn't know the identity of its own source, but the FBI had managed to lift fingerprints from one of the plastic bags the spy had used to transfer documents -- and match them to the FBI agent. Now, Freeh said, the suspected double agent had been reassigned to a new job within the bureau and was under round-the-clock surveillance. Since it was difficult to prosecute espionage cases without catching someone red-handed, the FBI was hoping to arrest him in the act.
The FBI obtained legal permission to bug Hanssen's office, home and car, and to conduct covert searches. The FBI secretly purchased a house on Talisman Drive across from the Hanssen residence, and equipped it with tools for eavesdropping and visual surveillance of Hanssen and other family members. Hanssen's every move inside the FBI was recorded and transmitted live to an office on another floor inside the bureau's National Infrastructure Protection Center.
Between December 12, 2000, and February 5, 2001, FBI agents secretly watched Hanssen drive past or stop at the Foxstone Park sign near his home 14 times. This followed a letter from the Russians in mid-2000 saying that a dead drop and exchange of cash would take place in that park on "12 August." Under the formula that Hanssen and the Russians were using to avoid detection in the event of intercepted communications, the actual date of the dead drop would be February 18, 2001.
On Saturday evening, February 17, Jack Hoschouer joined Hanssen for dinner along with some other friends at an Italian restaurant near Hanssen's home. Bonnie Hanssen stayed home, as she often did when Jack was around, saying there were children to feed and chores to do. Bob was quieter than normal at dinner, seemingly preoccupied.
Bob Hanssen has made clear he feels no sense of guilt or remorse about his spying. Still, the next day at church, when Father McAfee preached about guilt and forgiveness, Hanssen believed the priest was speaking directly to him. "Some people wounded by sin and chained by guilt mistakenly believe that they have lost God's love," intoned the preacher, who said that God's "passionate love prompts us, enables us to change, to come to Him, to go to confession and place our weaknesses before Him."
Later that day, Hanssen was arrested.
On the morning of July 6, 2001, Robert Philip Hanssen pleaded guilty to 13 counts of espionage. As part of his plea bargain, the gaunt-looking double agent, wearing green coveralls with "PRISONER" emblazoned across the back, agreed to spend the rest of his life in jail. Prosecutors, in return, promised not to seek the death penalty.
Hanssen's secret life as a spy left his wife and children, who range in age from 15 to 29, and their friends struggling to understand what he had done and why. During jailhouse visits, Bonnie and other family members -- separated from Hanssen by thick glass and aware that every word spoken on prison phones was reviewed by the FBI -- avoided asking certain questions. Before they could ask him, Hanssen needed to finalize his deal with prosecutors. With debriefings proceeding apace a few weeks after Hanssen's guilty plea, the time had arrived for Hanssen to explain his deception to the authorities.
"Why did you do it? Why did you spy?" Hanssen was asked.
"Fear and rage," he replied.
"Fear of what?"
"Fear of being a failure and fear of not being able to provide for my family," Hanssen said.
Hanssen's "rage" at the FBI erupted each time he was passed over for a promotion. He fought back by attempting grand, daring feats of espionage. He failed to recognize that his progress at the FBI was inhibited by his personality. In Bob Hanssen's world, the problem revolved around other FBI agents, who lacked his commitment, and with the FBI itself, which was not fighting the war against the Russians the right way.
Alen Salerian -- a psychiatrist retained for a short time by the defense -- spent 30 hours talking with Hanssen after his arrest. Salerian concluded that Hanssen suffered from a "very severe," multifaceted mental illness that was biological in origin and triggered by a stormy childhood. According to Salerian, Hanssen also was plagued by migraine headaches and tormented by guilt -- not from spying, which he rationalized by saying that the Soviets were too weak to be a threat -- but from deceiving Bonnie. After Salerian pushed him to inform his wife about his obsession with pornography and other indiscretions, the psychiatrist served as an emissary, conveying the sordid details. Bonnie, shaken by the news, began trembling. But she soon regained her composure, believing that whatever Bob had done, he could still be redeemed. "She is very trusting," Salerian said.
Following his guilty plea, Bob repeatedly expressed his love for Bonnie, promising that he never considered leaving her to flee the country and telling her that she was the best person in the world and the source of all happiness. Meanwhile, family members expressed frustration at Bonnie's determination to rationalize her husband's behavior, both in his job and in their marriage. But Bonnie, her faith in God unshaken, continued to visit Bob weekly at the jailhouse, prayed daily for his soul, refused to believe he had wronged her, and once again forgave him.
This article is based on interviews with more than 100 people -- including present and former FBI agents, officials at the White House, Justice Department, CIA and National Security Agency, Russian intelligence officials, and friends and family of Robert Hanssen -- as well as a review of thousands of pages of public documents, internal memos, Internet postings and e-mails. Many of the interviews were conducted "on background," with sources speaking with the assurance that they
would not be identified.
David A. Vise covers the Justice Department and the FBI for The Post. This article is adapted from his book The Bureau and the Mole, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. Copyright 2002 by David A. Vise. For more information about the Hanssen case, visit www.bureauandthemole.com.
Vise will be fielding questions and comments about this article at 1 p.m. Monday on www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.