Who is watching the watchers?

Story about FBI counterintelligence head Robert Hanssen’s cover name was “Ramon Garcia.”

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agent turned legendary double agent for Soviet and then Russian intelligence is Robert Philip Hanssen.

He seemed to be one of the most dangerous spies to ever break into the “FBI,” and his infiltration could have resulted in the biggest intelligence disaster in American history.

On April 18, 1944, he entered this world in Chicago, Illinois.

His father, a detective for the Chicago police department, frequently abused him emotionally and physically.

The abuse he suffered throughout his life ruined not only his childhood, but his entire way of life.

After finishing high school at William Howard Taft in 1962, he went on to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, to study chemistry. He graduated from Knox in 1966.

He choose to study the Russian language.

His candidature for a cryptographer position at the “National Security Agency” was rejected due to budgetary constraints.

Bernadette “Bonnie” Wauck, a devoted Catholic, became his wife in 1968.

His wife taught religion at Oakcrest University.

Later in life, he abandoned Lutheranism in favour of Catholicism.

Hanssen was a member of the Opus Dei, a Catholic fraternal organisation.

His six kids all went to Opus Dei-affiliated schools.

When Bonnie found out he was a spy, he pretended to be a Catholic priest from the group “Opus Dei,” gave money to a church, and vowed never to spy again.

Hanssen attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois intending to study dentistry but changed his major to business after the first three years.

He completed graduate work in accounting and computer systems at the master’s level in business administration in 1971.

After a year of working for an accounting firm, he ran for and was elected to the Chicago Police Department.

As an in-house forensic accountant investigator, Hanssen was tasked with questioning law enforcement officials on suspicion of misconduct.

He joined the FBI in January of 1976, so around five years later.

He joined the FBI in 1977 and was initially assigned to the Gary, Indiana office before being transferred to the New York office the following year.

He was moved to the counterintelligence unit the following year and given responsibility for cataloguing Soviet intelligence information.

His first contact with the Soviet military intelligence GRU was in 1979, when he offered his services as a spy.

He informed the GRU about FBI monitoring activities and possible Soviet intelligence agents.

The most important details he revealed concerned the Soviet Army officer Dmitri Polyakov, who had been spying for the American CIA while serving in the Soviet Army.

He was transferred to the FBI’s “budget unit” in 1981, when the bureau had its headquarters in Washington.

His job in Vienna’s suburbs permitted him to conduct electronic monitoring and wiretapping, giving him greater insight into “FBI” activities.

After serving for three years, he was transferred to the “Soviet Analytical Unit,” which was responsible for tracking down and arresting Soviet agents in the United States.

He continued his counterintelligence duties after moving to the New York field office in 1985.

At least three KGB agents who were secretly helping the FBI were exposed in a letter he addressed to “the KGB” on October 1, 1985.

He was rewarded with $5,000,000 in cash and jewellery.

He was trusted with sensitive information due to his prominent position in counterintelligence.

Through coded chats, “dead drops,” and other covert means, he passed on information to the KGB and its successor, the SVR.

His expertise put at risk a wide range of sensitive resources, including human informants, counterintelligence methods, investigations, dozens of secret US government documents, and important technical work.

Due to his years of experience and training as a counterintelligence agent, Hanssen managed to remain unnoticed despite the fact that some of his odd actions occasionally raised suspicion. However, no one suspected him of being a spy.

The FBI and CIA discovered that a mole within the intelligence community was still transmitting secret information to the Russians in the 1990s, after the arrest of Aldrich Ames.

At first, the agencies looked into the whereabouts of a veteran CIA case officer who had been under scrutiny for almost two years.

In 2000, the FBI and CIA obtained authentic Russian paperwork regarding a man called Hanssen who was thought to be a spy for the United States.

The ensuing probe corroborated this impression.

Hanssen’s looming resignation meant that detectives had to work quickly.

Their plan was to catch Hanssen red-handed in his snooping ways.

Hanssen was a detailee for the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions when the charges surfaced.

Hanssen was reportedly demoted back to FBI headquarters after being told he couldn’t continue in his interim role.

In order to entice Hanssen back to FBI Headquarters, where he could be constantly observed, the Assistant Director of the National Security Division at the time, Neil Gallagher, called him and told him he had been assigned as a special assistant for a technological project on his staff.

Around 300 people were working on the probe and keeping tabs on Hanssen by February 2001.

Hanssen’s movements were tracked from the time he left his Fairfax County, Virginia home in the morning until he returned in the evening, and the intelligence community concluded that he was still actively spying.

On July 6, 2001, Hanssen entered a guilty plea to 15 counts of espionage.

On May 10, 2002, he was given a life sentence without the possibility of release.

It’s apparent that Hansen was motivated by more than just financial gain when he accepted the most challenging of all espionage jobs—that of a double agent.

Hansen was not your stereotypical Russophile like his illustrious British forerunner Kim Philby.

He just wants to make good on a wish from his youth.

According to letters he wrote to people he’d never met, Hansen “betrayed his fatherland” not so much because of the couple as a result of a specific longing for emotional pleasure.

Most of his letters were addressed simply to “Dear Friend,” even though he had never met the recipients in person.

The Robert Hansen case taught the FBI several important lessons in counterintelligence and safeguarding national security:

  1. Insider Threats: The case highlighted the significant risk posed by insider threats within intelligence agencies. It emphasized the need for robust vetting procedures, background checks, and continuous monitoring of personnel with access to sensitive information.
  2. Security Protocols: The incident exposed vulnerabilities in security protocols within the FBI. It prompted a comprehensive review and strengthening of internal controls, including stricter access controls, improved information sharing practices, and enhanced security measures to protect classified information.
  3. Counterintelligence Measures: The Hansen case emphasized the importance of proactive counterintelligence efforts. The FBI recognized the need for better detection and prevention of espionage activities, leading to the implementation of advanced surveillance techniques, intelligence analysis, and more comprehensive investigations into potential security breaches.
  4. Culture of Vigilance: The case highlighted the need for a culture of vigilance and awareness within intelligence agencies. It underscored the importance of reporting suspicious activities, fostering an environment where employees are encouraged to be vigilant, and promoting a strong sense of loyalty to national security.
  5. Continuous Evaluation: The Hansen case demonstrated the necessity of continuous evaluation and monitoring of personnel with access to sensitive information. It led to the development of more stringent policies for reviewing and reevaluating employees’ security clearances, as well as ongoing monitoring of potential red flags or behavioral changes.

Overall, the Robert Hansen case prompted the FBI to reassess and strengthen its counterintelligence practices, including personnel security, information sharing, and detection and prevention of insider threats. It served as a catalyst for implementing stricter protocols and creating a culture of vigilance within the organization to safeguard national security.

This post was written by Mario Bekes