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FBI Spy Case: Damage Believed Grave to U.S. National Security

Aired February 20, 2001 - 1:56 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're apparently learning, Lou, about the spy case of the arrest of the 27-year veteran of the FBI, Robert Hanssen.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in our Washington newsroom with more about that -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, Louis Freeh didn't quantify the damage done by Robert Hanssen, who allegedly was spying for the Soviets and the Russians for 15 years. But privately, some assessments are being made.

And national correspondent David Ensor has some information on that -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, I've been talking to a former senior law enforcement official who is well acquainted with this case, has been following it before leaving his job. And he said that it's an extremely grave amount of damage to the national security of the United States. He called it an extremely serious case. He said this marks -- this ranks with some of the worst cases in U.S. history.

He said that the case of Aldrich Ames is still number one. That Aldrich Ames still did more damage, in his view, than this man. But when the full assessment is done, this could be the second worse spy case in U.S. history.

He said that the largest question, Jeanne, is: How did he avoid detection for 15 or more years? How did he avoid revealing that he was at least involved in something suspicious? He was taking polygraphs all the time. There are financial asset checks that are done. There are various other -- very rigorous steps taken to make sure that people in jobs like the one he had were not doing this kind of thing. How did he evade that? They're going to have to do a full investigation.

MESERVE: Do your sources believe that money was the sole motivating factor?

ENSOR: No. I have talked to a former counterintelligence official at the FBI, who told me he does not believe money was the only motivation. This man was a very, very clever person with some ego this. And this official said he believes it was partly just because he could do it and wanted to show how clever he was.

MESERVE: David Ensor, thank you very much.

We will continue to track the story.

Now, back to you in Atlanta.

ALLEN: All right, Jeanne, David, thanks.

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