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Hanssen (Robert) Espionage Case

Hanssen (Robert) Espionage Case


Robert Phillip Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran, was one of the most successful double agents to ever steal secrets

from the United States government. Hanssen used his position in the FBI to sell classified information to the Soviet KGB and later Russian Intelligence. A complex and often contradictory portrait emerged in the 109-page federal affidavit that detailed Hanssen's activities. The FBI alleged that Hanssen intentionally stole secret documents and sold them for private financial gain to the KGB over a period of 15 years. Like most double agents, a different social portrait of the man emerged. Friends, neighbors, and family described Hanssen as quiet, frugal, and devout.

Born in April 1944, Hanssen was the only child of Vivian and Howard Hanssen, a Chicago police lieutenant. He studied Russian and earned degrees in chemistry. After flirting with various career interests, Hanssen joined the Chicago Police Department in October, 1972. His first post was in a new undercover unit called C-5, which sought out corrupt police officers.

Hanssen's intelligence and ability stood out even in the elite C-5 group. A colleague suggested he join the FBI. On January 12, 1976, he joined the FBI, working in Indiana and New York City before being transferred to the Washington, D.C., headquarters in 1981. He initially tracked white-collar crime and monitored foreign officials assigned to the United States. Hanssen also spent two years as a member of a high-level analytical unit that monitored Soviet intelligence. While working as an analyst, Hanssen gathered and copied classified materials and began making contact with the Soviet KGB.

In 1985, Hanssen transferred to the FBI's Manhattan bureau to head a foreign counterintelligence squad. At that post, Hanssen could more readily funnel information to his Soviet handlers. Though his motives remained unclear, within nine days of joining the New York office Hanssen allegedly mailed a letter to the KGB offering stolen classified documents in exchange for $100,000. Over the next 15 years, with varying frequency, Hanssen sold information to rival foreign intelligence services.

In February 2000, Hanssen was arrested on espionage charges at a "dead drop" at a park near his home. The FBI accused him of receiving more than $600,000 in cash and diamonds for delivering 6,000 pages of documents and 26 computer discs to his Russian handlers. It was also alleged that $800,000 more was waiting for him in a Moscow bank. The FBI built its case against Hanssen by collecting, from unidentified sources, packages that bore Hanssen's fingerprints, and the apparent KGB file on Hanssen, which detailed his drops and letters to the Russian intelligence agency. Upon further investigation, the FBI compiled evidence of Hanssen's decades-long career as a double agent.

On May 10, 2002, Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In his trial, he plead guilty to all counts of espionage and conspiracy that were levied against him.



The Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies. <> (April 2003).

United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. <> (April 2003).


Ames (Aldrich H.) Espionage Case
Dead Drop Spike
Dead-Letter Box
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, USSR Committee of State Security)
Russia, Intelligence and Security

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"Hanssen (Robert) Espionage Case." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Hanssen Espionage Case


HANSSEN ESPIONAGE CASE. In July 2001, Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Hanssen pleaded guilty in federal court to fifteen charges of spying for the Soviets and the Russians. His action resolved the most serious case of spying in the history of the FBI and the worst in the United States since the former Central Intelligence Agency officer Aldrich H. Ames received life in prison in 1994. Hanssen, a Chicago native, spent much of his twenty-five-year FBI career in counterintelligence, where he had access to highly sensitive cases and documents. Beginning in 1979 and continuing off and on until his arrest in 2001, the self-taught computer expert hacked into ultra-secret government databases to obtain his information, which he passed on to his handlers via dead drops near his suburban Washington, D.C., home. The material—some six thousand pages of highly classified documents and more than twenty-five computer disks—included information on nine double agents (two of whom were later executed) and details about several top-secret communications programs and U.S. nuclear war preparations. For his efforts, Hanssen received $1.4 million in cash and diamonds, which he apparently used to finance the education of his six children. A former stripper said that Hanssen, a devout Roman Catholic, gave her cash, expensive gifts, and a trip to Hong Kong. Hanssen's motivation for spying remains murky, although in a 1999 letter to his handlers he claimed to have made his decision as early as age fourteen. His arrest in February 2001 and the severity of his crimes sparked an intense debate within the federal government over whether or not Hanssen should be executed. Instead of asking for the death penalty, however, federal prosecutors opted for extensive debriefings to determine the extent of his espionage. On 10 May 2002, after the debriefings, Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison without parole.


Havill, Adrian. The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold: The Secret Life of FBI Double Agent Robert Hanssen. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Vise, David A. The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.

Mary JoBinker

See alsoSpies .

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