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Ex-FBI spy Hanssen sentenced to life, apologizes

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) -- Apologizing before a U.S. federal judge, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia.

"I apologize for my behavior," said Hanssen, 58, who looked pale and gaunt as he appeared in court. "I am shamed by it. Beyond its illegality, I have torn the trust of so many. Worse, I have opened the door for calumny against my totally innocent wife and our children. I hurt them deeply. I have hurt so many deeply."

Hanssen pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy for passing classified information to the Soviet Union and, later, Russia, during a 20-year period.

He appeared before Judge Claude Hilton in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said the sentence should send a signal to other potential traitors.

Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen apologizes for 20 years of espionage as a mole inside his agency. CNN's David Ensor reports (May 10)

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CNN In-Depth: The case against Robert Hanssen 
TIME: More questions about the FBI's homework on Hanssen 
Sentencing memorandum U.S. v. Hanssen  
Plea agreement  (FindLaw documents, PDF format)

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"Robert Hanssen was trained to catch spies," McNulty said. "He was an expert at what it took to avoid being caught. And he was caught. And he was punished. And that's what will happen to anyone who betrays this country."

Earlier this week federal prosecutors had announced they would stand by a plea agreement under which they would ask for a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

Hanssen's attorney PlatoCacheris said there were a few friends but no family members at the hearing. When asked how Hanssen has changed throughout this process, Cacheris said Hanssen had lost a lot of weight in jail because the food there is poor.

When asked about Hanssen's motivations, Cacheris said the reasons are complex and noted that some reasons proffered were monetary and also involved the defendant's ego. Hanssen sold the U.S. secrets to Moscow for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds.

"There's a whole panoply of reasons. None of them are valid, otherwise he wouldn't be here," Cacheris said.

In a letter allegedly written by Hanssen to the Russians, he said that he was inspired as a teen by the memoirs of a British double agent, Kim Philby.

"I decided on this course when I was 14 years old," reads the letter cited in the FBI's affidavit. "I'd read Philby's book. Now that is insane, eh!"

Cacheris said the damage Hanssen's activities did to the United States was "serious," but added, "I would leave that for the intelligence community to assess.

"Obviously, this is a serious case. Otherwise, the punishment wouldn't have been as extreme as it is. There would not have been threats of the death penalty."

Hanssen attorney Plato Cacheris said a variety of reasons led his client to spy for Moscow.  

Cacheris said Hanssen is "obligated to be debriefed" by intelligence agencies "for the rest of his life." He is expected to serve his sentence in the Allenwood federal prison in Pennsylvania.

Some U.S. intelligence experts are worried that Hanssen has not fully divulged his activities during the 75 debriefing sessions conducted in the 10 months since his guilty plea.

Since the U.S. government cannot prove that his faulty memory is a deliberate effort to circumvent the plea agreement, however, that agreement will be honored.

"Exceptionally grave" is how U.S. officials first described the damage Hanssen did before they knew the depth of his betrayal. Now, some analysts 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 Hanssen 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," Major suggested.

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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