Robert Hanssen died on Tuesday (April 18, 1944 – June 5, 2023), reportedly of natural causes. From the FBI’s own site:
On January 12, 1976, Robert Philip Hanssen swore an oath to enforce the law and protect the nation as a newly minted FBI special agent. Instead, he ultimately became the most damaging spy in Bureau history.
On February 18, 2001, Hanssen was arrested and charged with committing espionage on behalf of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Hanssen—using the alias “Ramon Garcia” with his Russian handlers—had provided highly classified national security information to the Russians in exchange for more than $1.4 million in cash, bank funds, and diamonds.
Hanssen’s espionage activities began in 1985. Since he held key counterintelligence positions, he had authorized access to classified information. He used encrypted communications, “dead drops,” and other clandestine methods to provide information to the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR. The information he delivered compromised numerous human sources, counterintelligence techniques, investigations, dozens of classified U.S. government documents, and technical operations of extraordinary importance and value.
Because of his experience and training as a counterintelligence agent, Hanssen went undetected for years, although some of his unusual activities had aroused suspicion from time to time. Still, he was not identified as a spy.
Hanssen and Aldrich Ames are two of the biggest spy scandals in US history, and both were of the same calibre: arrogant men who thought they were smarter than everyone else. They were playing a dangerous game of egos, similar to serial killers that taunt law enforcement and society.
But most important of all, they were rabid flag wavers, church going christians, pin wearing “patriots” that could spew a “pledge of allegiance” without believing a single word of it. They proved that anyone can fake patriotism.
In December 2000, FBI agent Richard Garcia had a curious visit from a colleague overseeing the Russia desk.
“He asked, ‘Do you know a guy named Robert Hanssen?'” Mr Garcia recalled. “I said, ‘No’.”
The official responded: “Good. Because you’re about to.”
A few months later, in part thanks to Mr Garcia’s covert work, the whole country would as well. Hanssen’s arrest in February 2001 sent shockwaves through the intelligence community and the extent of his double life burst on to the front pages.
More than two decades later, on Monday this week, authorities announced that he had been found unresponsive in his cell at the maximum-security prison in Colorado where he was serving a life sentence. He was 79 and is thought to have died from natural causes.
Mr Garcia, now 70 and retired from the FBI, reacted tersely to the news. “Good riddance,” he said.
Compare this with Ana Belén Montes who was released from prison in January 2023 after 20 years. I suspect the leniency in her sentencing was related to her motivations, protecting the human rights of Cubans. Or maybe because it was Cuba she was spying for, not the Soviet Union.
Her actions (who she worked for, the material she gave away) were similar to Ames and Hanssen, but she received a much lighter sentence (25 years plus five on probation) than they did (multiple life sentences without parole). Interestingly, she was released on January 6, 2023. Philip Agee, ex-CIA spook who wrote CIA Diary and exposed all the CIA’s dirty secrets across Latin America, but never comitted treason against the US, died on January 7, 2008, almost exactly fifteen years before Montes’s release. CIA Diary is available for download (PDF) from the Internet Archive.
Ana Montes, a long-time Cuba spy recently released from prison in the US, has landed in her native Puerto Rico.
In a statement, Montes said she is now focused on leading a private life.
She has also called attention to difficulties facing people in Puerto Rico and the ongoing US embargo on Cuba.
Montes spent 20 years in custody after she was found to have been spying for Cuba for two decades.
The 65-year-old was called one of “the most damaging spies” by a US official.
Her spying, conducted during her time as an employee at the Defence Intelligence Agency, is said to have significantly exposed US intelligence operations in Cuba.
During her time at the agency, her colleagues, who did not know about her spying, dubbed her “the Queen of Cuba” because of her expertise in the region.
She was arrested in 2001 by the FBI, just 10 days after the attacks of 9/11.
On Friday, Montes was freed from a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
Ames is 82, still alive and probably regretting every day of it.