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In wake of Hanssen arrest, senator suggests changes

Shelby
Shelby  

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of a grave spy probe that led to the arrest of a highly placed FBI agent, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman is suggesting that U.S. spy catchers be rotated out of their jobs every few years.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said he's worried that complacency might have played a role in the case of Robert Philip Hanssen. The FBI counterintelligence agent was charged with espionage, accused of handing Russia information about the nation's most secret programs.

Shelby's committee will hold a closed-door hearing today regarding the Hanssen case, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Louis Freeh are slated to testify.

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Hanssen, a 25-year veteran in the FBI and a counterintelligence expert, was arrested February 18 and charged with spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia over a period of 15 years, dating back to the waning days of the Cold War.

FBI Director Louis Freeh said Hanssen, 56, was paid $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for passing top-secret information to Russians.

In an affidavit released Tuesday, the FBI said Hanssen suspected he was under government surveillance, telling his Russian contacts "something has aroused the sleeping tiger."

The comment came from a letter that FBI officials said was encrypted on a computer diskette found in a package -- taped and wrapped in a black plastic trash bag -- that Hanssen dropped underneath a foot bridge in a park in Northern Virginia, immediately before his arrest.

The FBI decrypted the letter and described it in an affidavit filed in support of its search warrant.

"Dear Friends," the letter reads, according to the affidavit. "I thank you for your assistance these many years. It seems, however, that my greatest utility to you has come to an end, and it is time to seclude myself from active service.

"Since communicating last, and one wonders if because of it, I have been promoted to a higher do-nothing senior executive job outside of regular access to information within the counterintelligence program. It is as if I am being isolated. Furthermore, I believe I have detected repeated bursting radio signal emanations from my vehicle ... Something has aroused the sleeping tiger. Perhaps you know better than I."

Hanssen also said he strongly suspected the Russians "should have concerns for the integrity of your compartment concerning knowledge of my efforts on your behalf."

After it began investigating him, the FBI in January transferred Hanssen from his job at the State Department to FBI headquarters.

The new letter was contained in an affidavit by FBI agent Stefan Pluta in support of a search warrant for the office where Hanssen worked at FBI headquarters and his former office at the State Department.

The letter, which also referenced future possible contacts, was signed "Ramon Garcia," one of Hanssen's aliases, according to the FBI.

Also inside the package were seven FBI secret documents, dated from October to December, about FBI counter-intelligence investigations against Russian targets, Pluta said.

Freeh has said an internal FBI investigation began late last year after an intelligence audit revealed the presence of a mole in the agency. The United States then secretly obtained Russian documents that led them to suspect Hanssen.

If convicted of the espionage charges, Hanssen could face the death penalty or life in prison. He is scheduled to appear in federal court March 5 in Alexandria, Virginia, for a preliminary hearing.

Other court documents released Tuesday gave an inventory of what FBI agents found when they searched Hanssen's car and home right after his arrest.

Among the more than 50 items found in the car were a rosary, a large counter-intelligence poster, several spy books, including one titled, "U.S. Counterintelligence, Ethics and Conflict," and a bottle of Russian vodka.

In Hanssen's house, agents listed more than 250 items, including a brown file containing an original FBI document about a Russian defector, account statements from two Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and Bank Leu, and a number of guns.

Agents seized a computer and a number of computer disks, a manual entitled "Soviet Active Measures in the Post Cold War," and a photo of the grave site of George S. Patton Jr. -- the tough World War II U.S. general.



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RELATED SITES:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • FBI Press Room - Press Release - 2000 - Veteran FBI Agent Arrested and Charged with Espionage
Central Intelligence Agency
US Department of State
U.S. Department of Justice
Embassy of the Russian Federation
Russian FSB (former KGB, in Russian)

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