Official Russian sources claim the arrest of suspected spy Robert Hanssen is an attempt by “Washington [to] mend the FBI’s image” and “make people forget [the agency's] failures.”
“Washington authorities … must bear the heavy burden of the consequences,” should Hanssen be executed for the crimes alleged against him, according to the sources.
The statements were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government. The VOR reaches around the globe and broadcasts in several dozen languages.
“U.S. political observers,” according to Moscow, “keep wondering how it could happen that the FBI … failed to stop a mole so long among its ranks,” and the broadcast responded that, “the answer is not that hard to find, given the number of recent FBI failures.”
Included in Moscow’s cited failures was the recent expulsion by President George W. Bush of 50 Russian diplomats on suspicion of espionage. The official diplomatic language refers to activities “inconsistent” with “diplomatic status.”
The FBI, Moscow stated, “failed to prove the guilt” of the expelled Russians.
Another failure Moscow referred to included the “disclosure of a tunnel dug by the FBI” under the Russian embassy in Washington.
The Bush administration also came under attack.
“All of this (the expulsion and the tunnel),” Moscow fumed, “demonstrated the cowboy style of Washington’s new administration. … This could be fine for Texas, but it’s outrageous for civilized contacts between nations.”
Because of the cited “failures,” according to Moscow, “Louis Freeh had to resign, and his agents underwent a serious qualifications test.”
The test to which the broadcast alluded was not specified, although polygraph tests were administered to FBI personnel having access to highly sensitive material. Most observers connect Freeh’s resignation with a series of difficulties, including revelations arising from the Waco siege, the Ruby Ridge shooting and withheld files connected with the Timothy McVeigh case.
Despite Moscow’s reference to the “cowboy style” of the Bush administration, other than the expulsion of the Russian diplomats, all of the cited “failures” occurred before Bush took office.
The tunnel under the Russian embassy was constructed before the present administration took office, and the investigation into Hanssen’s activities preceded Bush. The arrest itself did take place about a month after the Bush inauguration. It was Hanssen who betrayed the existence of the tunnel.
The expulsion of the Russians took place after the arrest of Hanssen and followed a precedent set by President Ronald Reagan.
After the exposure of the John Walker spy ring in 1985, the Reagan administration conducted a series of assessments aimed at reducing intelligence threats against the U.S. American counterintelligence experts at the time noted with concern the large number of Soviet diplomats active in the U.S. In 1986, “Operation Famish” was carried out, resulting in the expulsion of 80 Russian diplomats suspected of espionage activities.
While Hanssen’s purportedly prolonged intelligence activity against the U.S. continues to cause profound worry in the counterintelligence community, experts have come forward to assist in explaining Hanssen’s longevity as an alleged traitor.
Herbert Romerstein, author of “The Venona Secrets,” stated in a recent address to the Heritage Foundation Forum that Hanssen’s position in the FBI enabled the alleged spy to know “every strength, every weakness of the FBI’s counterintelligence program.”
Government efforts, according to Romerstein, were also hampered by laws forbidding interception of mail, even to known foreign intelligence officers. On Oct. 1, 1985, Hanssen sent a letter to a Soviet intelligence officer, offering his services.
There was no danger of Hanssen’s activities coming to light through the use of the polygraph. According to David Major, the designer of Operation Famish and member of Reagan’s National Security Council, a policy requiring a polygraph examination for personnel having access to secret information was advocated by the Reagan administration in 1986.
Effective implementation was ended, however, when, in December of that year, Secretary of State George Shultz stated he would take a polygraph test, and then resigned in protest.
The Reagan administration did not request that Shultz take the polygraph, and all polygraph testing abruptly ceased.
Of the 21 counts delivered against Hanssen, one refers to conspiracy to commit espionage, one count is of attempted espionage and 19 detail actual acts of espionage. Fourteen of the counts carry the death penalty.
Reports indicate that the FBI has acquired Hanssen’s Russian intelligence file, facilitating prosecution of the case.
Counterintelligence personnel hope Hanssen will eventually cooperate with federal prosecutors. Although the case against Hanssen appears convincing, the full extent of the damage done to U.S. interests will never be known unless Hanssen details his alleged activities to U.S. counterintelligence professionals.