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Judge denies bail for FBI agent accused of spying

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- A federal judge agreed with federal prosecutors Monday and denied bail for accused spy Robert Philip Hanssen.

Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence agent accused of passing top-secret information to the Soviets, and later Russians, for 15 years, appeared in U.S. District Court on Monday for his detention hearing.

The government asked the court to keep Hanssen jailed, arguing that its case against him is so strong and the risks of freeing him too great for him to be released.

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Hanssen, a 25-year veteran FBI agent, has been held at an undisclosed detention facility since shortly after his arrest February 18. Investigators arrested him at a Virginia park just minutes after they say he left a package under a wooden foot bridge, which investigators say was a "dead drop" site for delivering secret documents to his Russian handlers.

The government has accused Hanssen of passing secrets to Soviet and later Russian contacts since 1985, including 6,000 pages of top-secret documents containing highly sensitive information about how the United States conducts intelligence operations, which foreign agents it has targeted and technical information about communications and surveillance.

Hanssen may also have alerted Moscow to a secret tunnel built under the Soviet Embassy in Washington, officials said.

Cheney won't comment about tunnel

Vice President Dick Cheney, himself a former defense secretary, declined comment about the tunnel Sunday, but counterintelligence sources told CNN that the tunnel -- estimated to have cost several hundred million dollars --was packed with sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment.

Authorities say Hanssen received $600,000 in cash and diamonds and $800,000 was deposited in a foreign bank for him in return for spying.

Hanssen could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Thomas Connolly, a former federal prosecutor, said authorities have little fear Hanssen will gain his freedom before trial begins.

"Mr. Hanssen has two chances of getting released -- slim and none. And slim left town," Connolly told CNN.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows filed documents last week outlining evidence the government has collected against Hanssen.

They included letters to and from the Russian intelligence agency found in Hanssen's briefcase, a statement from his Swiss bank account and recordings of Hanssen's conversations with the Russians.

Hanssen's attorneys will be given access to some of the government's evidence before an indictment is handed down, under an agreement struck last week.

Both sides agreed to move a preliminary hearing date and the deadline for indictment to May 21. Both had been scheduled for Monday.

The extra time has advantages for both sides. The government can postpone having to publicly disclose the evidence it has compiled, some of which is top secret. Hanssen's lawyers get more time to meet with him and to study the evidence the government has made available.

That may furnish Hanssen's lawyers with a hand to play in negotiations to strike a pretrial deal that might spare him the death penalty a conviction could bring.

"Their biggest bargaining chip is the government's need to question Hanssen," said Frank Dunham, an attorney who defended Earl Pitts, the last FBI agent charged with spying. "They need to get him to talk about what he did and his lawyers won't allow it until there is a plea bargain in place."



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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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