While I did enjoy the movie Breach, which dealt with the waning months of Bob Hanssen’s career as the most notorious spy in American history, the film focused mostly on how his young assistant—Eric O’Neill—helped to seal the FBI’s case against him. Perhaps, a more compelling pic could have been made by simply chronicling the life of Hanssen.
Born in Chicago in 1944, after high school, Hanssen bounced around various academic pursuits, until finally getting an MBA at Northwestern. Yet, this son of a career Chicago cop took a job with the Chicago Police Department in 1968, and as a rookie was chosen to be in a secret unit called C-5, that went undercover to ferret out dirty cops. Amazingly, his boss, John Clarke, felt that he was a double agent, reporting to police brass or even the Feds.
By 1975, Clarke wanted him out of the unit, and helped him find a position with the FBI. Hanssen was sworn in on January 12, 1976. Starting off in Gary, Indiana, he soon ended up in New York, and began making contacts with Russian agents not long after. In fact, in 1979, his wife Bonnie caught him counting cash in his basement, and he tried explaining this away as a counter-intelligence scheme in which useless information was sold to the Ruskies.
Bonnie didn’t rat him out to the Bureau, but convinced him to confess the sins to an Opus Dei priest, who told Hanssen to give the money to charity. Presumably, he did, and life went on for Bonnie and Bob.
However, he was beginning to see that his ability to climb the promotional ladder at the FBI was going to be limited by his lack of people skills. He had already been nicknamed “Dr. Death” by his co-workers for both his miserable demeanor, and his penchant for wearing black suits every day.
Hanssen got transferred to the Washington office, and then back to New York before returning to headquarters for the duration. Feeling unappreciated and marginalized, not to mention broke, given his decision to send his kids to an expensive Opus Dei school in Maryland, about 30 miles from his Vienna, VA home, he sent some classified documents to a man known by the FBI to be a big KGB contact, and started his spy career in 1985. One wonders, though, what he did between 1979 and 1985. The FBI simply had no evidence of any espionage before 1985.
The Bureau was aware of a mole, though, and ironically, Hanssen was in charge of a task force to flush out himself for some years. Despite hapless former Director Louis Freeh’s assertion that, “Hanssen never displayed outward signs that he was receiving large amounts of unexplained cash,” beyond the private school tuition that he could clearly not afford on his salary, there were other signs.
Back in 1990, Hanssen’s brother-in-law, Chicago FBI agent Mark Wauck, grew suspicious about money Hanssen had, and approached a supervisor in Chicago about him. Predictably, nothing came of this, although the veracity of this story has been questioned by Hanssen biographer Adrian Havill.
One money story that no one is doubting involves Hanssen’s relationship with stripper Priscilla Sue Galey. All told, he lavished $80,000 on her, and that includes buying her a Mercedes, even when his own wife was driving an much older minivan. Galey maintains that there was no sex involved in the relationship, which beggars belief. Instead, he was trying to convert her.
Havill buys into this, apparently channeling British prime minister William Gladstone, who was said to walk the streets of London by night, trying to reform and convert prostitutes.
For me, though, a sexless relationship with an otherwise willing stripper hardly fits in with Hanssen’s known habit of sending nude pictures of his wife to a friend, that escalated to full-on videos of Hanssen and Bonnie having sex. Moreover, Bob’s attitude toward women was well portrayed in an unseemly 1993 incident in which he attempted to physically drag a 21-year-old blond secretary back into a meeting, after pushing her to the floor in anger.
The secretary, Kim Lichtenberg, went to the police, but the FBI successfully hushed it up, and Hanssen was suspended without pay for five days. As she later would tell Havill, Hanssen would try to grab “a feel” with the women at FBI headquarters.
“I never had anyone make me feel like he made me feel,” she said. “He was creepy. He tried to belittle women and would rub up against them just to get cheap thrills. Everyone knew Dr. Death was strange, but nobody ever did anything about him. He was always hacking into someone’s computer hard drive and then pointing out how easy it was to get their classified information. I feel badly that nobody figured it out. There [were] a lot of reasons to look into Bob Hanssen.”
Well, maybe nothing came of this because Lichtenberg was only a secretary. But, how can you explain the Bureau’s inaction when Earl Pitts, a former agent convicted of espionage, told them in 1997 to investigate Hanssen?
The only way to explain it is that the FBI leadership was in denial big time, followed by a serious game of cover-your-ass. As it is, Hanssen was finally fingered by turned KGB agents, although not directly. He left fingerprints on certain evidence surrendered by the Russians, and was finally identified as the mole.
It is unlikely that we will ever know the extent of the damage done by Hanssen, who richly deserved the death penalty, but achieved a plea bargain to life without parole, that also kept his pension intact for his wife. Nice touch, don’t you think, for a woman who had to know at least some of what was going on, yet claimed total ignorance.
Beyond the identities of agents whom he gave up that were summarily executed, his treachery may have also benefited Osama bin Laden. Hanssen sold the Russians software used to track enforcement of intelligence cases. This software found its way to the al Qaeda terrorist network, and bin Laden may have used it to evade detection and monitoring by the United States for years.
Finally, much is made of Hanssen’s “devout” Catholicism, but all I see is a sociopath who could hide behind the rigor and structure of Opus Dei, along with his less than innocent wife. After all, the idea is to live the Catholic life, not just mechanically go along with the ritual. And, to the pop psychologists who came out of the woodwork after his arrest, giving us their theories of his “double life,” please spare us.
Hanssen lived no double life, but rather took full advantage of the weaknesses of those around him to pursue his childhood desire of being the best spy ever. They are are still too weak to acknowledge the presence of true evil in their midst.