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Federal Authorities Turn to State Department for Answers in FBI Spy Case

Aired February 21, 2001 - 1:01 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Damage control is the order of the day for many of Robert Hanssen's former colleagues in the U.S. intelligence game. While Hanssen sits in a jail cell facing trial on charges of espionage, the FBI is trying to determine who or what might have been connected, affected or compromised by his alleged double- dealing.

We have extensive coverage, beginning with CNN national Correspondent Bob Franken at FBI headquarters in Washington -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And as you pointed out, Natalie, what might have been compromised is what is really the focus of the investigators who are fanning out now, checking, rewinding the tape on Philip Hanssen's -- on Robert Hanssen's career and trying to find out exactly what he did when and what access to documents he might have had, if their charges are true that he was a spy for the Soviet Union and then Russian intelligence.

He certainly had access, everybody agrees, to the most sensitive information that was the United States government possession. And in the affidavit that was put out, the accusation was -- is that he had already turned -- he had turned over material that was among the most important secrets that the United States had, information that concerned signals intelligence, information that included personnel, prospects for different dealings between the countries, the whole gamut, according to the accusations that are in this affidavit.

But officials say that they are only beginning, that they haven't really gotten too deeply into what might have been compromised if their charges are true. They've been scouring his house. They continue to scour it in suburban Virginia looking for evidence of the alleged espionage at the house.

They're also spending a lot of time now at the State Department where he was assigned to somebody involved in counterintelligence there for several years. So all of that investigation is going on.

They will also, ultimately, have to work some sort of deal with Bob Hanssen when it comes time to actually face charges. One of the things that was very interesting is that they mentioned yesterday that he faced the possibility of the death penalty. Well, of course, that would be the trump card as they try and come up with an arrangement where, if in fact he is guilty, that he cops a plea of some sort where he agrees to an open, honest extensive debriefing, the kind of debriefing that helped Aldrich Ames when he was facing similar charges back in 1994.

But this is only beginning. The charges, of course, have to be proven. And if they are, then there'll have to be proof of not only what it is that Hanssen allegedly turned over to the other side, so to speak, but how it is that he was able to exist so long in the FBI without being detected -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Is there anything more on that front, Bob, about whether he was subjected to polygraph tests over the years?

FRANKEN: Well, that is not a routine at the FBI. And one of the criticisms is that it is not, that there is a belief that there should be extensive polygraph testing of FBI agents.

However, on the other side there are people who still believe that that is not a precise science and that can often mislead. We have learned sometimes that the people who are really adept at this game -- and Bob Hanssen was one of them -- they are able to figure out how to fool a polygraph.

So this is one of the debates that's going on, just one of the questions that will be faced by William Webster, who himself was head of the FBI, and also head of the CIA.

ALLEN: We know that he's only charged right now, but I want to ask you a question about what people are saying who worked with him, colleagues of his. Everything I've heard is everyone has been completely shocked that he stands accused of this. Has there been anybody there at the FBI that says, well, come to think of it, well, now that I think about it? because we're hearing interesting things about his personality.

FRANKEN: Well, we're hearing that he was considered somewhat aloof, somewhat arrogant. I get a kick out of the fact that people are saying they're shocked. Of course they're shocked. The man went undetected, according to the accusations, for 15 years. That would suggest that people weren't expecting it.

So, yes, there's shock. It's perhaps like any time when somebody says, I didn't know the person did this bad or that bad. Well, if they did know, they would have reported it.

ALLEN: Bob Franken, good point there at FBI headquarters.

Now for more on this story, here's Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And this hefty affidavit being served up by Hanssen's accusers, that now numbers 109 pages and counting, reads like a Robert Ludlum novel. Inside are the details -- the alleged, as yet unproven details -- of espionage, the dead drops, the payoffs, the used car ads that had secret meanings to them.

CNN's Jeanne Moos -- no, that's not right, CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in Washington today. She's been looking into that aspect of the story.

Jeanne, what are you learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, it is a chunky document. I have it here. Maybe you can see it. It is, as you said, more than 100 pages. The government believes this makes their case against Robert Hanssen.

And it is terrific reading. My colleague David Ensor has been going through it in some detail.

David, the FBI said yesterday that even the Russians did not know Hanssen's identity. And one of the letters here bears that out, doesn't it?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. I mean, I found this reads like a spy novel, better than many. They should -- somebody should publish it in paperback as itself.

MESERVE: And perhaps they will.

ENSOR: This first quote that we have illustrates the point you mentioned. "I am much safer if you know little about me," Hanssen is alleged to have written to the Russians. "Neither of us are children about these things. Over time, I can cut your losses rather than become one," an illustration of the fact that he understood as a counterintelligence agent that if there were no Russians who knew who he was, there was much less chance that he'd get caught by the Americans.

MESERVE: Now, were the Russians curious about him? Do we know? Certainly when they give the specifics of where they were going to drop information and drop money, they could have conducted surveillance, the Russians could have, to have determined who he was.

ENSOR: He generally set those things up so that he could make the pickups at night. And he would bury them and make it difficult for them to survey him, make it difficult for anyone to survey him. He did not want them to know who he was. He felt that was a strong protection for him.

MESERVE: And one of the motivations for doing this, money. Another letter reflects that.

ENSOR: Well, that's right. Here he says in a letter that the -- the affidavit alleges he wrote to a KGB contact, "I have little need or utility for more than $100,000. It merely provides a difficulty since I cannot spend it, store it or invest it easily... perhaps some diamonds as security to my children... Eventually I would appreciate an escape plan. Nothing lasts forever."

Money was not the only issue for Mr. Hanssen. A number of counterintelligence officials and former counterintelligence officials at FBI have said to us that they don't think -- while he did receive a lot of money and diamonds, it's not clear that he spent any of it. We don't know. Doesn't look as if he spent much of it. He didn't live all that extravagantly. If he had, they would have caught on to something pretty quickly because they watch that kind of thing.

And it appears that another motivation was simply ego. And we'll be reading some of these other quotes in a minute that perhaps illustrate that.

MESERVE: When it comes down to the money and the diamonds, they were searching the Hanssen home yesterday. Do we know if they came up with any of that money?

ENSOR: We do not know. They have not told us what they've found, if anything. So...

MESERVE: And what about the escape plan? Do we know if one ever was devised?

ENSOR: We do not know.

MESERVE: OK, another quote here. You mentioned the other motivations. Here's another letter. "The U.S. can be errantly likened to a powerfully built but retarded child, potentially dangerous, but young, immature and easily manipulated. But don't be fooled by that appearance. It is also one which can turn ingenious quickly, like an idiot savant..."

ENSOR: Well, here you have Mr. Hanssen's disdain, shall we say, for the United States as a country, his opinion that he was -- and this perhaps shows -- he was the kind of person, according to people who knew him, who felt -- who was very clever and who was very proud of his brains. And as I said, ego may have played a role, some of his former colleagues believe, in this whole thing. He may have just wanted to play the spy game better than anybody else could.

MESERVE: A lot of detailed allegations in this affidavit about how he communicated with the Russians and they with him.

ENSOR: That's right. And there's one very interesting one, if we could put this up. This is an ad that was put in the "Washington Times" newspaper by the Russians on his instructions.

Let me just read his instructions to you: "If you wish to continue our discussions, please have someone run an advertisement in the 'Washington Times' during the week of Jan. 1987" and put those exact words that you see on the screen there in it. And then he says, "Tell me where I can call and I will call. And I will say hello, my name the Ramon. I am calling about the car you offered for sale in the 'Times.'" And then he goes on with a whole dialogue that the Russians are supposed to follow.

So on the one hand, this is old-fashioned tradecraft. And that kind of stuff still works. On the other hand, this is clearly someone who just enjoyed the game.

MESERVE: David Ensor, thanks so much for taking a look at the documents for us.

And now back to Lou in Atlanta. WATERS: Jeanne, what do we know about the Hanssen family and his wife? Any indication that she may have been involved in this in any way?

MESERVE: Lou, I think David may have a little bit more information on that than I do, and he, unfortunately, isn't wired to hear you.

Lou asking about the family, and is there any indication that the wife had any clue as to what her husband was up to?

ENSOR: No indication whatsoever. In fact, an official told me that their belief is she knew nothing about this. And the official added a personal note: He feels very sorry for that family.

MESERVE: David, thanks -- Lou.

WATERS: OK, Jeanne Meserve, David Ensor in Washington.



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