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Senior FBI Agent Arrested for Spying to Be Arraigned

Aired February 20, 2001 - 11:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're also following another big story, out of Washington.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: This one broke early this morning.

HARRIS: It's the arrest of an FBI agent who was actually working on counterterrorism, and he's actually now been arrested on charges of spying for Russia and the Soviet Union.

KAGAN: Kind of makes you scratch your head. The man, Robert Hanssen, the man for a long time has worked fro the FBI as a spy catcher. No end of irony in this story.

And our Jeanne Meserve helping us cover it from Washington this morning.

Jeanne, good morning.

HARRIS: Good morning, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn and Leon.

Robert Philip Hanssen is being arraigned this hour at federal district court in Alexandria. He allegedly spied for the Russians and Soviets for as long as 15 years. A White House official describes the damage he may have done as considerable, potentially serious.

He will be represented in court this morning by Plato Cacheris. He achieved national prominence representing Monica Lewinsky, but even more relevant to this case, he represented Aldrich Ames. Ames was the CIA agent who in 1994 was convicted of providing to the Soviet Union the names of U.S. agents overseas. Ten of those agents were then executed. There are suggestions this morning Hanssen may have confirmed the identity of some of those agents for the Soviets.

Kelli Arena is at the Justice Department for us this morning.

Kelly, how and when did the FBI discover that it might have a spy in its midst?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, we are told that the key to this investigation came when FBI was able to get its hands on some KGB documents. We're not exactly sure what was in those documents, but it clearly, they said, pointed the finger at Hanssen. We are told, though, that Hanssen was able to successfully hide his identity from the Russians, so it is unclear whether or not they had found out who he was or whether or not the indication in those papers, just to the FBI, at least, clearly pointed at Hanssen.

The FBI had been watching him very closely for the last four months, of course arresting him on Sunday, when he made his drop, which is just basically supplying classified information to one of his contacts.

MESERVE: Kelli, he worked in counterintelligence. What sorts of information does the FBI believe he may have provided to the Russians.

ARENA: Well, Jeanne, he had the highest security clearance. He knew the operation from top to bottom. Sources tell CNN that Hanssen would have been in a position to warn the Russians if the United States had -- were onto any of their spies. He was fully aware of U.S. intelligence operations. He -- he was intimately involved in every aspect of intelligence. After all, he had worked with the agency for 27 years, 25 of those in the counterterrorism unit. That is the unit that actively looks for -- for spies, knows information.

And as you mentioned earlier, he also apparently confirmed information for the Russians that Aldrich -- Aldrich Ames had supplied that led to the death, unfortunately, of some U.S. intelligence officers -- Jeanne.

Kelli Arena at the Justice Department.

Now on to Bob Franken. He's outside the federal courthouse down in Alexandria.

Bob, what do we expect to learn at this arraignment?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the arraignment is a very simple affair. It is merely having him say does he understand the charges against him. It's something that happens quite quickly. Teresa Buchanan is the federal judge.

What we will find out as the day goes on is the detail of the charges against him. We're told that there is an affidavit of over 100 pages which is going to outline charges that we know -- a little sketchy information about it -- that he provided information to the Russians on how we conducted electronic surveillance. Of course, a man in the counterintelligence field, he would be extremely valuable to the Russians.

He was apprehended after he was observed by the FBI, who have been following him, as Kelly Arena said, observed doing a drop at a northern Virginia location. They call it a dead drop, meaning that there was an expectation that the material would be picked up later by what I'll call the other side. This is material that is described as classified information. He was then arrested at home in suburban Washington, in Vienna, Virginia.

We're at Alexandria, Virginia, now, which is where this area's federal district court is located. He is just having his initial procedure.

Now, as, Jeanne Meserve, you pointed out, he is represented by Plato Cacheris, one of the Washington superlawyers. He is the man who is best known right now for representing Monica Lewinsky, as you pointed out. He was also the Aldrich Ames lawyer when he was the spy of the Central Intelligence Agency who officials feel may have had at least a peripheral connection to Mr. Hanssen.

MESERVE: OK, Bob Franken, at the court house in Alexandria, we will be getting back to you later, as the day progresses.

We should tell you that there will be a press conference. It's going to happen at 12:45 Eastern time. A number of prominent players will participate: Louis Freeh of FBI, George Tenet of the CIA -- also Attorney General John Ashcroft. They are expected to spell out some more detail about this case.

Right now, back to Daryn and Leon in Atlanta.

HARRIS: All right, thanks, Jeanne, we'll get back to you later on.

Now as we've been reporting, U.S. officials allege that Robert Hanssen had been working for the Russians for a number of years. Let's get some reaction now to the spy case from Moscow.

Joining us now, CNN bureau chief Jill Dougherty.

Hello, Jill.

Hello, Leon.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well both agencies that deal with intelligence here in Russia -- the FSB, which deals with internal intelligence, and the SDR, which deals with external, international intelligence -- both are refusing any comment. And that is pretty much what they usually do in cases like this.

There have been media reports. They came very quickly after the reports came in from the West about the arrest. They've been straight ahead. There has been very, very little editorializing so far on Russian television or in the media.

However, this is a period of increased tensions. You just have to think back, Leon, a couple of months ago when you had Edmund Pope, the American businessman who was arrested and went through a lengthy trial on spy charges. He was found guilty, pardoned by President Putin. You've had increased rhetoric on the part of the United States, criticizing Russia for proliferation and other issues. And then you also had some war games, military exercises last week, planned long in advance, but again, kind of message from Russia that it can fight on land, sea and air.

So a chill here in relations, Leon, definitely, between the U.S. and Russia.

HARRIS: Thanks much -- Jill Dougherty reporting live this morning -- or this evening, rather, from Moscow. Thanks much.

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