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Turncoat FBI agent Hanssen to be sentenced

Hanssen's guilty plea involved 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy.
Hanssen's guilty plea involved 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy.  

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- The FBI agent who sold his country's secrets to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds will be sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole.

That sentence is part of the plea bargain Robert Hanssen struck last summer to avoid the death penalty and to allow his wife, Bonnie, to receive part of his government pension.

In exchange, the government was to learn when and how Hanssen turned over to Moscow the identities of dozens of Russians spying for the United States, highly classified eavesdropping technology and even nuclear war plans.

But not everyone is convinced that Hanssen has come clean about his activities during the hundreds of hours of interviews in 75 debriefing sessions over the 10-month period since he pleaded guilty.

However, since the government cannot prove that his faulty memory is a deliberate effort to circumvent the plea agreement, that agreement will be honored.

His guilty plea involved 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy for passing classified information to the Soviet Union and, later, to Russia, over 20 years.

"Exceptionally grave" is how U.S. officials first described the damage Hanssen did before they knew the depth of his betrayal. Now, some call Hanssen the most damaging spy in U.S. history.

Hanssen was arrested February 18, 2001, at a Virginia park minutes after he allegedly left a package under a wooden footbridge. Investigators say the bridge was a drop site for delivering documents to his Russian handlers.

While his neighbors and colleagues knew him as a quiet family man and hard-working FBI agent, Hanssen was sneaking classified documents out of the bureau and slipping them to Soviet and Russian agents without revealing his identity.

Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran, was the bureau's liaison to the State Department Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) and was primarily responsible for keeping track of intelligence agents assigned to work in the United States "under diplomatic auspices."

"He was a key player here," one department official told CNN. "He was able to move around the building easily."

Hanssen had also been the FBI's liaison to State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research -- the office from which a highly classified laptop disappeared.

Investigators have accused the spy of compromising dozens of Soviet personnel who were working for the United States, some of whom were executed. He shared details of several U.S. technical operations such as eavesdropping, surveillance and interception of communications. And he gave the Soviets the U.S. plans of how it would react to a Soviet nuclear attack, both in protecting top government officials and retaliating against such an attack.

One of Hanssen's former FBI supervisors, David Major, said he did not believe money was the prime motivation for Hanssen's betrayal, adding that his former colleague was obsessed by ideas, his wife, Bonnie and their six children rather than material wealth.

"Maybe he was intrigued with the game and not the gain," suggested Major.

Paul Moore, a former FBI counterintelligence agent who has known Hanssen for 20 years, said Hanssen's ultimate goal was "to play the spy game better than anybody's ever played it before. He wants to be the best spy ever."

Hanssen was caught after the United States was tipped off by someone in Russian intelligence that the FBI had a double agent in its midst.




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