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CIA head lobbies against death penalty for alleged FBI spy

Tenet, right, and Hanssen  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA Director George Tenet has personally lobbied Attorney General John Ashcroft several times against seeking the death penalty for accused FBI spy Robert Hanssen, TIME Magazine reports in next week's edition.

Sources told TIME Tenet wants Hanssen, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, to stay alive so that he could be quizzed years down the road if more questions arise about the alleged damage he may have done to U.S. security.

The CIA is also interested in seeking Hanssen's cooperation now -- an effort that probably would be thwarted if the death penalty is sought.

A senior Justice Department official Friday would not comment on whether the death penalty will be sought against Hanssen, who's accused of spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia.

Alleged crimes

Hanssen, a FBI counterintelligence expert, was seized in a Virginia park in February just minutes after he allegedly left a package under a wooden footbridge. Investigators say the bridge was a "dead drop" site for delivering secret documents to his Russian handlers.

Criminal espionage indictment filed against Robert Phillip Hanssen:
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Prosecutors allege Hanssen was paid $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for his activities.

Talks on a possible plea bargain between Hanssen's lawyers and the Justice Department broke down Tuesday after government officials refused to take the death penalty off the table.

Hanssen was indicted Wednesday on 21 counts of espionage.

U.S. Attorney Ken Melson said the charges cover acts over 15 years in which Hanssen "betrayed his country" by passing information to what had been a Cold War enemy of the United States.

Death penalty charges

He said that 14 of the 21 charges in the indictment are "capital eligible" which could result in the death penalty.

The death penalty charges come into play because of deaths that may have resulted from the information Hanssen allegedly passed to his handlers.

FBI officials said Hanssen may have allowed the Russians to cross-check and confirm the names of U.S. intelligence agents supplied to them by Aldrich Ames, a CIA employee arrested in 1997 and convicted of spying for the Russians. At least 10 of the agents fingered by Ames were executed.

Hanssen's alleged actions led to the executions of two agents, according to the indictment.

One official told CNN there is an internal debate among some senior officials in the Justice Department about whether the death penalty is even valid in this case, since some of the alleged activities of Hanssen occurred while there was no valid federal death penalty provision.

• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• Central Intelligence Agency
• U.S. Department of State
• U.S. Department of Justice
• Embassy of the Russian Federation
• Russian FSB (former KGB, in Russian)

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