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Accused spy Hanssen could face death penalty

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Accused spy Robert Hanssen was indicted Wednesday on 21 charges of conspiracy and espionage, including 14 charges that could result in his facing the death penalty.

U.S. Attorney Ken Melson said the charges cover activities over more than 15 years, during which Hanssen "betrayed his country and knowingly caused grave injury to the security of the United States" by passing information to the Soviet Union and later Russia.

Defense attorney Plato Cacheris refused to comment about the indictment. "I will only comment in court," he said in a telephone call from his office.

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Criminal espionage indictment filed against Robert Phillip Hanssen:
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Hanssen, a 57-year-old father of six, is only the third FBI agent ever charged with spying.

Secrets allegedly sold

He was arrested in February, seized in a Virginia park 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.

Prosecutors allege Moscow paid Hanssen was $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for his spying activities.

The 25-year FBI veteran has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His arraignment is set for June 1.

Prosecutors say Hanssen passed up to 6,000 pages of top-secret documents to Moscow. His high security clearance and sensitive job assignments gave him access to details of U.S. security operations, including methods the United States used to conduct electronic surveillance, the FBI said.

Death penalty factors

The death penalty charges come into play because of deaths that may have resulted from information Hanssen allegedly passed to his handlers about U.S. counterintelligence agents.

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 attorney Cacheris also represented Ames.

Sources tell CNN that Cacheris believes the government has an uphill route to achieve capital punishment for Hanssen.

According to those sources, one issue is that Hanssen never volunteered the names of the KGB agents that he allegedly corroborated as working for the United States. In addition, because at the time that Hanssen allegedly committed some of the crimes those offenses were not punishable by the death penalty, the constitutional ban on ex post facto punishment would prevent his execution.

Attorneys for Hanssen had told CNN on Tuesday that they expected the indictment, indicating that talks about a possible plea bargain had fallen apart when the government refused to drop the possible use of the death penalty.

Sen. John Kyl, R-Arizona, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the problem with trying to strike deals in spy cases is "knowing whether or not the accused spy is really going to cooperate."

"In other words, will he really tell everything that you want to know in exchange for, for example, not seeking the death penalty," Kyl said.


Greta@LAW






RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITES:
• 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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