Hanssen, Robert

(1944– )
   Along with Aldrich Ames, Hanssen was one of the greatest KGB counterintelligence successes in the Cold War. A special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Hanssen worked in counterintelligence against the KGB for years. Like Ames, Hanssen volunteered to the KGB in 1985. Unlike Ames, who made an approach in person, Hanssen never had a faceto-face meeting with his KGB handlers. All contact was carried out by notes, letters, and dead drops. His initial message was addressed to the chief of counterintelligence at the rezidentura in Washington, Viktor Cherkashin, and read in part: “Dear Colonel Cherkashin: I will send a box of documents to your colleague. They are from certain of the most sensitive and compartmented projects of the U.S. Intelligence Community.” In the letter’s concluding sentence, Hanssen demanded $100,000 for the names of three Soviet intelligence officers run by the FBI. Two of the three were later arrested and executed. In this and later messages, Hanssen adroitly hid any information that could be used to identify him. He signed letters “Ramon.” Hanssen sent the KGB a total of 27 letters and left 22 caches in dead drops in the Washington area. His tradecraft was very professional: dead drops were established where he could leave documents and pick up his Soviet handlers’ money and instructions. The most important of these dead drops was located under a bridge in a park near his home in Vienna, Virginia. The Soviets did not know of his identity until his arrest.
   Hanssen provided much of the same material that Ames did, but he also provided detailed information on FBI operations against the KGB rezidenturas in Washington and New York. According to an official U.S. government history of the case, Hanssen advised the KGB as to specific methods of operating that were secure from FBI surveillance. Hanssen also provided the KGB with information about classified military projects. If Ames was the “bloodiest” spy of the Cold War, with 10 lives on his conscience, Hanssen may have been the costliest. He provided the KGB with computer discs with thousands of pages of information on U.S. military and technical intelligence programs. He was betrayed to American counterintelligence by a Soviet defector known only by the code name “Avenger,” who provided critical intelligence that allowed the FBI to identify him. In 1979 Hanssen had approached the GRU and received money in exchange for working for it. When his wife discovered his treachery, she persuaded him to stop. Hanssen’s later decision to approach the KGB was motivated by his contempt for the service he served, and the need for adventure. A devout Roman Catholic, married, with six children, Hanssen lived a double life, apparently seeing spying as the ultimate adventure as well as a way to become rich. Some of the money went to support a platonic affair with a prostitute; other funds went for camera equipment to photograph him and his wife having sex (his wife was not aware of the filming). Hanssen was arrested and in 2001 sentenced to life imprisonment as part of a plea bargain that allowed his wife to collect his pension. A senior Central Intelligence Agency official likened Hanssen to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Mr. Hyde, in his opinion, simply won out in the battle for Robert Hanssen.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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