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Russian diplomats tied to Hanssen leave U.S.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six Russian diplomats accused of direct contact with alleged spy Robert Hanssen have left the United States, officials told CNN.

It was not immediately clear when they departed, but earlier Wednesday Secretary of State Colin Powell summoned Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov to the State Department and informed him the United States planned to order the diplomats to leave.

The U.S. on Thursday will officially declare the six persona non grata, meaning they are no longer welcome in the country.

Powell also said the United State planned to expel an additional 40 or more Russian diplomats in the future.

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That would be the biggest diplomatic expulsion since 1986 when President Ronald Reagan ordered 80 Soviet diplomats out of the country.

Washington expects Moscow to take retaliatory action against U.S. diplomats in Russia.

Officials say the six diplomats who left were directly involved with Hanssen, an FBI agent who is accused of spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia over a period of 15 years, dating back to the days of the Cold War.

U.S. officials said the diplomats were actually Russian intelligence agents who collected various classified documents that Hanssen allegedly dropped off in parks around the Washington area.

An intelligence source told CNN earlier this week that the Russian embassy's press attache was Hanssen's handler. Vladimir Frolov was permanently recalled to Russia.

Word of the expulsions comes a month after Hanssen was arrested and charged with spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia for 15 years, dating back to the waning days of the Cold War.

Prosecutors and FBI officials say Hanssen was paid $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for passing top-secret information. He was arrested February 18 in a northern Virginia park, moments after he dropped a package underneath a footbridge, 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.

Hanssen is to appear at a preliminary hearing May 21. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.



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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
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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