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Burden of Proof

Espionage: The Case Against FBI Agent Robert Philip Hanssen

Aired February 20, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET



PLATO CACHERIS, ATTORNEY FOR ALLEGED SPY: Well, it's a serious matter: an FBI agent was charged with espionage, and we'll have to see -- we'll have to see what quality of the case is.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: A 27- year veteran of the FBI has been arrested and charged with spying for Russia. Investigators say he's been a mole for the Russians the past 15 years.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

This morning in Alexandria, Virginia, 56-year-old Robert Philip Hanssen appeared in federal court on charges of espionage. For a quarter century, Hanssen has worked in counterintelligence operations, in a unit assigned to catch spies. Now he's being accused of spying.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Sources say Hanssen was in position to disclose details of U.S. surveillance methods and may have enabled the Russians to confirm identity of Russian agents working for United States. Those names were first supplied by former CIA employee Aldrich Ames. At least 10 of those agents were executed.

President Bush was, reportedly, aware of the Hanssen investigation. The Russian embassy in Washington and officials in Moscow have refused to comment on the case.

Today in court, Hanssen was represented by well-known Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris, the one-time attorney for former CIA employee Aldrich Ames.


QUESTION: ... Justice Department officials?


QUESTION: How do you evaluate what you've been told about their case?

CACHERIS: I'm telling you, it's very embryonic. I've been handed a lot of materials; I haven't read it yet. They always talk that they've got a great case, but we'll see.


VAN SUSTEREN: In just a few moments the FBI and CIA will hold a joint news conference along with Attorney General John Ashcroft. We'll carry that event live when it begins.

Joining us today are former federal prosecutor Mark Hulkower; Ron Kessler, the author of "Inside the FBI"; and Nancy Cullen, a neighbor of suspected spy Robert Hanssen.

COSSACK: And in the back, Erica Berger (ph), Julie Moon (ph), and Kelly Kirby (ph).

And also joining us from outside the FBI headquarters is CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena.

Kelli, bring us up to date on what's going on in this investigation.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first I was just told that a statement was released from the FBI saying that the damage done was exceptionally grave.

We should be hearing more details in about 15 minutes. As you said, 15 minutes, Louis Freeh, the director of the FBI, George Tenet, director of the CIA, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and William Webster, who's the former director of both CIA and FBI will be there. We're told that Webster will be named to head up a blue-ribbon commission to conduct a review of security issues.

Basically, here is what we know: He has been charged for several counts. In October of 1985, Hanssen allegedly I.D.ed three KGB officers as double agents. In March 1989, Hanssen allegedly gave top secret documents to the Russians. He also allegedly was paid $1.4 million from 1985 to his arrest for supplying certain information. Those -- those charges do -- could mean life in prison, or in some cases, the death penalty.

And I'm having a problem here with this. I can hear you...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, while you fix that, Kelli, let me tell you...


COSSACK: Kelli, can you hear us now?

ARENA: I sure can -- I'm just going to hold it.

COSSACK: OK, Kelli, listen, what do you know about why charges stemming from 1985 and 1989 were brought? Do you have any idea why things that occurred so long ago are the subject of the charges?

ARENA: Roger, I was told a key part of this investigation came loose when FBI got their hands on KGB documents that they say clearly pointed to Hanssen. It is interesting, though, because Hanssen allegedly was able to keep his identity unknown; even the Russians did not know exactly who they were dealing with, according to sources at the FBI. But these KGB documents were, apparently, pivotal in helping them to break this case.

As you know, he was arrested -- Hanssen was arrested on Sunday as he was allegedly making a drop for a contact. We have also just learned from sources that, as part of that situation, he was also picking up $50 -- as part of that.

We are told that details, more details on that, of course, will emerge at the press conference.

Another thing: He was also, supposedly, set for mandatory retirement in April. So he was at the very end of his career.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let's go to Nancy Cullen, who is a neighbor of Mr. Hanssen.

Nancy, how long have you known Mr. Hanssen. I mean, what kind of neighbor was he? Did he seem to have a lot of extra cash and money?

NANCY CULLEN, ROBERT HANSSEN'S NEIGHBOR: No, not at all. I've known them 10 years -- I believe it's 10 or 11 years that they've lived in our neighborhood. A lot of us have lived there for 15 years. And it's a very tight, crazy neighborhood, unusual neighborhood, where we all are together a lot. There is a cul-de-sac at the end of -- well, where my house is -- they live four houses up.

And everybody's always there; it's like the town square when the weather's nice. And Bonnie and Bob always participated in all our block party activities and kids' sports going on and off, and we're just all in -- we can't believe it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did you know what he did for a living?

CULLEN: Oh, yes, we knew he was an FBI agent. I mean...

VAN SUSTEREN: But were there any strange cars coming or going? Was anything bizarre, unusual, at all?

CULLEN No, no -- really, his Ford Taurus was always just parked on the street. And they had a one-car garage, so Bonnie's van is parked there, and a dog, and six kids, and regular routines -- and part of their routine that we all thought made us feel kind of guilty was that every Sunday they would load into the van -- I mean, every single one of them together -- and go off to church. And you know, lots of people do that, but it was just kind of interesting that they made it a family thing. It would, it was going to happen, you know.

The kids are well behaved and great kids, and most of them are grown now, or in school, but I think one or two are left at home. COSSACK: Nancy, did -- was this a kind of couple that did a lot of entertaining and had a lot of, like, friends over, or -- I mean, you mentioned block parties and things like that, but were there other people there besides people that lived on the street.

CULLEN: Well, her sister lives just three or four houses up the street and had lived in the neighborhood before Bonnie and Bob moved in -- long-time neighbors. They have lots of kids too. And more often, rather than entertaining neighbors in our homes, we'd all find ourselves out, doing things outside, or things like that, because there were so many sports activities for the kids and so many school things that you're involved in that it doesn't leave a whole lot of time to say let's all have dinner together, but...

COSSACK: I know when you live probably -- next door to an FBI agent, there's probably not the same kind of conversation that there may be talking to other people, but did you ever discuss with either his wife or with him what his job was all about, what he did?

CULLEN: No, no, not really.

COSSACK: Is there a reason for that?

CULLEN: I don't know -- I think it's kind of a guy thing, at least that's part of it. You know, I mean, when the guys would get together, it's how are those Redskins, or something, and none of them...

COSSACK: Not much different than what goes on here, by the way.


VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, you know, you talk politics with your political buddies; you talk other things with other groups...


CULLEN: I don't think so. I don't recall them ever really being gone, because there's so many kids...

VAN SUSTEREN: And no lavish lifestyle. You mentioned a Ford Taurus; there's no, like, Jaguar convertible or...

CULLEN: Oh, no.

COSSACK: And that's an old -- that's a 10-year-old Ford Taurus, isn't it?.

CULLEN: I don't know how old the Taurus is, but I know that her van -- I mean, I've already been quoted today as saying Bonnie, that van, is it going to make it, you know. But they're just a great family. And I don't know Bob as well as I know Bonnie, but she's -- you would aspire to be Bonnie if you had kids, because with you her six kids, she always never got...

COSSACK: One question: You said some of the kids were in college. Do you know what schools they went to? Were they private schools or state schools?

CULLEN: I think Boston University was one that one daughter went to, and one daughter's now married with one child, if not two. They all went up through Catholic schools.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they went to private school, the Heights (ph).


COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. He's accused of causing extreme damage to U.S. security, so when we come back: the case against Robert Philip Hanssen. Don't go away.


Leaders at the American Bar Association have voted to recommend dissolving "zero tolerance" policies in schools. ABA leaders say the policies, which can mandate expulsion and refer cases to criminal court, don't allow administrators to consider the nature of an offense or a student's history.




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