Born April 18, 1944 in Chicago, Illinois.
Was the son of a Chicago police officer and a housewife. Howard Hansen was part of a special division called the Red Unit, created to ferret out communist sympathizers during the Red Scare.
Attended Knox College in Galeswood, Illinois, majoring in chemistry while also taking Russian as a foreign language. After being rejected for a position as a cryptographer with the NSA, enrolled in the Dental School of Northwestern University in 1966. At Northwestern, Hanssen became known for his penchant for wearing Black suits to class every day. In 1968, halfway through the Dental program, Hanssen grew tired of it and decided he would rather become a psychiatrist. After growing tired of this pursuit he returned to Northwestern and earned an MBA in accounting and information systems.
Met Bonnie Wauck, a student nurse at a state mental facility in Chicago in 1965. The two married on August 10, 1968. Wauck was the daughter of a University professor and a practicing Catholic, and member of the Opus Dei organization. Four years later Robert enrolled in the Chicago Police Department and was soon assigned to a special training class for a new division of the department that focused on police corruption.
Was distrusted by many within the division, including his boss, John Clarke. Was considered a devoted family man in his community, spending time with his children, teaching them to excel at academics. He also became an enthusiastic member of Opus Dei, which was deemed a cult by many. The organization instructed its members to attend Catholic church services every day and confession once each week. Applied twice to the FBI and was accepted the second time in January 1976. Was assigned to the Bureau’s Gary, Indiana office but was transferred two years later to New York City. Living with his wife and four children in Scarsdale, New York, Hanssen was having a tough time making ends meet and decided to exploit his position with the FBI.
Disenchanted by the lackadaisical attitude of fellow FBI agents, Hanssen approached Russian agents and offered to sell secret documents. He was rewarded famously for his efforts but was caught by his wife while counting $20,000 and writing a letter to the Soviets in his basement. Thinking he was writing a love letter to a girlfriend, she demanded to know what was going on. He admitted to her where he had gotten the money but claimed that he had only given the Soviets useless information. Instead, he had actually provided the Soviets with very valuable information , including the identity of Dmitri Polyakov, a top-level Soviet double-agent. Rather than turn him into the authorities, she convinced him to confess his actions to an Opus Dei priest. The priest instructed him to give up his activities and to donate the money he received to Mother Theresa’s charities.
Was considered a highly intelligent agent, but his tepid interpersonal skill as well as his continued preference for black suits caused many to tag him with the nickname “the Mortician.” Unfortunately, the perception that he was an aloof, introverted worker hindered his upward mobility within the Bureau. Was transferred to the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC where he was initially assigned to develop a budget for the Bureau that was to be presented to Congress. Was moved to the Soviet Analytical Unit in 1983 and given a high security clearance. After a four year stint, was transferred back to New York.
Decided to re-establish his link to the Soviets. Knew that the FBI was not conducting surveillance on Victor Degtyar, a KGB Colonel living in Alexandria, Virginia. Hanssen therefore sent a letter to Degtyar, with instructions to pass another letter on to Victor Cherkashin, the head of Soviet espionage efforts in Washington. In this letter, Hanssen offered to turn over classified and highly sensitive information to the Soviets in return for $100,000. He also provided the name of three Russian agents who were working for the United States. Two of the agents were executed and one was imprisoned.
Dropped off some documents at a dead drop and was rewarded with a payment of $50,000. For the next six years, Hanssen continued to deliver classified information to his Soviet contacts, many involving nuclear weaponry and satellite information. One of his secrets passed included the inner workings of the COINS-II (Community On-Line Intelligence System). Provided Soviets with extraordinary logistical information, including information related to U.S. readiness in the event of a nuclear war. Over this period of time he collected more than $ 600,000 for his services as well as the acknowledgement of his importance. His information was directed to the Soviet heads in Moscow and he received official letters of praise of the director of the KGB. He was also promised that $100,000 had been deposited for him in an interest bearing account in a Soviet bank. Hanssen never told the Russian agents his real name, although he did, on occasion, use the alias Ramon Garcia.
In 1990, Mark Wauck, Bonnie’s brother and also an FBI agent, learned that Bob had stashed away thousands of dollars in cash and spent money more freely than he had previously. Mark suspected that Bob might be engaged in spying and reported his suspicions to FBI officials in Chicago. These warnings, however, went unheeded and were ignored.
While betraying his country as a spy, Hanssen seemed to become even more committed in his devotion to the Opus Dei organization, attending meetings and rallys fervently and sending his children to Opus Dei schools. He often seemed obsessed with with religious and moral issues such as abortion. Despite these high principles, he engaged in lurid activities. He interacted online with pornographic internet web sites and chat rooms. He was reported to have filmed himself having sex with his wife and watched the tape with a friend. Most bizarre, however, was a relationship he developed with a stripper named Priscilla Galey.
Hanssen gave her money and jewelry and even provided for extensive dental work for her. He also took her on trips abroad and purchased a Mercedes-Benz for her. Surprisingly, however, despite lavishing her with such expensive gifts, Hanssen never pursued a sexual relationship with her. He seemed more intent on changing her life and leading her to religion. The relationship ended when she became involved in drugs. Was accused of making advances towards women in the FBI office and was suspended once for pushing an administrative assistant to the ground. Was disciplined for his actions.
In 1991, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Hanssen felt that the instability of the nation (and its intelligence community and operatives) made it too dangerous to continue in his espionage activities. For the next eight years he continued on at the FBI, but when former KGB official Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999, Hanssen felt it was time to get back into the game and he re-established contact with the Russians.
Hanssen had previously gone to great lengths to conceal his real identity from the Soviets but he inexplicably went to the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. and approached a GRU officer. He identified himself by his codename “Ramon Garcia” and told the officer that he was a “disaffected FBI agent” and offered to serve as a spy for the newly christened Russian Federation. The Russian officer, thinking he was being set up, drove off and the Russian Federation filed an official protest with the United States Sate department, believing that Hanssen had tried to draw them into a sting operation. Incredibly, despite having revealed his face, used his previous code name and revealed his position as an agent of the FBI, the investigation which followed failed to catch him.
Part of the reason Hanssen had gone undetected over the year was that he was very careful in what he did. Another reason was that there were other moles within the U.S. intelligence community. Most significant of these was Aldrich Ames. Ames’ arrest in 1994 explained many of the high level leaks that had plagued the United States. There were, however, a number of leaks of information to which Ames was not privy (Ames was a CIA agent and did not have access to some of the information that had been leaked). One such matter involved the investigation of Felix Bloch, a 32 year veteran of the U.S. State department. Bloch was suspected of passing along documents to a Soviet agent (Reino Gikman) but the Soviets were warned of the investigation and recalled Gikman while also warning Bloch (who was forced to resign but was never charged). In another instance, the FBI conducted an operation in which a tunnel was dug under the Russian embassy in Washington in order to listen to communications originating therein. The operation was exposed, but again, as in the Bloch case, Ames would not have had access to any of this information and could not have tipped off the Russians.
Hanssen had begun to take much greater risks and became very sloppy. In once instance he installed a password cracking program on his own computer. A member of the IT personnel from the IIS Unit investigated the matter and Hanssen was forced to explain his actions. He said that he was simply attempting to connect a color printer to his computer and needed an administrative password to do so. A security violation report was issued in the matter. On another occasion, he hacked into a fellow agent’s computer and then proclaimed that he had done so to demonstrate the security flaws that had existed. Although in retrospect it appeared that he may have been using the computer to see whether he himself was being investigated, at the time his reputation shielded him from suspicion and his explanation was accepted.
Despite his reckless behavior and the fact that there had been been a number of suspicions of his activities reported (Mark Wauck’s as well as Earl Edwin Pitts, an FBI agent convicted as a Russian spy both thought he was a spy) Hanssen was able to continue operating unscathed.
At one point, suspicion focused on a CIA operative, Brian Kelley. Kelley had previously identified Reino Gikman as the spy meeting with Felix Bloch, but the FBI began investigated him, following him and his family with constant surveillance. In November 1998, the FBI had a man approach Kelley and warn him that the FBI knew he was a Soviet mole and suggested a rendezvous point to aid in his escape. Despite the fact that Kelley informed his FBI superiors about the incident, they subjected him and his family to long interrogations and searches of his home. He was investigated for nearly two years and placed on administrative leave.
Finding their efforts to find the mole to be ineffective, the FBI then decided to simply find an asset with the information they needed and simply pay him to reveal it. They found a former KGB agent who now worked as a businessman in Russia and offered him upwards of $7 million to reveal the identity of the mole for whom they had been searching. Although he could not provide an actual name of the mole, he was able to provide the FBI with a voice recording of the mole talking to his Russian handler as well as files he had received and included the plastic bags in which they were delivered. Robert Hanssen’s fingerprints were found on these bags. His voice was eventually recognized by a fellow agent who recalled Hanssen uttering the same quote from General George Patton that was heard on the recording. The FBI quietly began surveillance on him and videotaped him taking documents marked SECRET from the FBI office. The Bureau went so far as to bug his home, office and car and purchased a house across the street from him in which they increased their surveillance.
He was observed making numerous trips to Foxstone Park where Hanssen checked for a signal that the Russians were ready to trade information for money.
On February 18, 2001, Hanssen went to church and then dropped off his friend Jack Hoschuer at Dulles Airport in Virginia. He traveled to Foxstone Park, near his Vienna, Virginia home, got out of his car and walked over to a footbridge, under which he left of package. The package contained the documents he had taken from his office as well as a computer diskette upon which was a goodbye letter to his Russian “friends.”
The letter stated:
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.
As he made the “dead drop,” 10 FBI agent’s converged upon him, placing him under arrest. Hanssen was said to have exclaimed “What took you so long?” Bonnie Hanssen was taken into custody and interrogated but claimed she didn’t believe her husband was a spy.
The Justice Department wanted to pursue the death penalty for the man they called the most damaging FBI turncoat in history.
Instead, in June 2001, Hanssen was able to cut a deal, receiving life in prison without the possibility of parole in return for providing full details of his actions. He claimed that he spied against his country in order to provide for his family and because of his resentment for being passed over for job promotions. He showed little remorse for his action and was sentenced on May 10, 2002 and assigned to the Federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.