Recalled Russian diplomat said to be Hanssen handler
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Russian embassy's press attache Vladimir Frolov was a handler for accused spy and FBI agent Robert Hanssen, an intelligence source told CNN on Monday.
Frolov has been permanently recalled to Moscow, unexpectedly cutting short his second tour of duty. The source could not say why Frolov was pulled back to Moscow. The FBI had no comment.
Intelligence sources also told CNN the Bush administration is considering whether to demand a widespread withdrawal of Russian diplomats the United States suspects of being intelligence officers.
The sources said U.S. intelligence officials and others in the executive branch agree, as they haven't in years, that such a move is needed. Law enforcement sources said the number of Russian diplomats thought to be spies has risen to Cold War levels and that U.S. agents are overwhelmed trying to keep track of them.
If the United States demands they leave, it would replicate an action taken during the Reagan administration known as "Operation Famish." In that incident, 100 Soviet diplomats were ordered to return home to Moscow.
Hanssen, 56, a 25-year veteran of 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. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.
Prosecutors and FBI officials say Hanssen was paid $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for passing top-secret information to the Russians over the years. He was arrested in a northern Virginia park, moments after he dropped a package underneath a foot bridge, prosecutors said.
Among other things, investigators believe Hanssen may have told Russians about a secret surveillance tunnel under the Soviet Embassy -- now the Russian Embassy -- in Washington.
He is to appear at a preliminary hearing May 21.
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