Accused FBI spy will remain in jail |

Accused FBI spy will remain in jail


ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – A federal judge said Monday that the government’s case against accused spy Robert Philip Hanssen was ”extraordinarily strong” and ordered Hanssen confined to jail.

Hanssen, who appeared at a hearing wearing a green jumpsuit with the word ”prisoner” printed across the back, did not contest his confinement under an agreement forged with prosecutors.

With his lawyer cupping his elbow, Hanssen stood when U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan asked if he understood he was entitled to contest detention but had waived that right. ”I do, Your Honor,” he said.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that law enforcement officials believe Hanssen may have alerted Moscow to a secret tunnel built under the Russian embassy by American intelligence agencies for eavesdropping

Buchanan said she could see no conditions for releasing Hanssen, accused of espionage, because he was both a flight risk and posed a threat to the safety of the community.

She noted that Hanssen, 56, was carrying his passport when he was arrested Feb. 18. She said the government had presented ample evidence to support keeping him jailed while his case moves forward.

”I find the government case extraordinarily strong,” said Buchanan at the hearing, which lasted just several minutes.

Hanssen could get life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.

Hanssen’s lawyers and prosecutors had agreed last week that Hanssen would be detained and the date of his preliminary hearing postponed to May 21 so that the defense could get an early look at some of the government’s evidence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows spoke briefly, telling Buchanan that Hanssen posed ”an exceptionally grave danger to the U.S.”

Plato Cacheris, Hanssen’s lawyer, told the judge: ”We do not subscribe to the facts Mr. Bellows has presented.”

Monday’s hearing only dealt with Hanssen’s detention. He did not enter a plea.

But before the hearing, Cacheris told reporters that his client would plead innocent.

Cacheris also said he thought there were ”a lot of gaps” in the government’s case and said ”we’re not discussing a deal. There’s no pressure.”

Hanssen, a 25-year veteran FBI agent, has been held at an undisclosed detention facility since shortly after his arrest. The government alleges that since 1985, Hanssen has passed to Soviet and later Russian contacts 6,000 pages of top-secret documents containing information about how the United States conducts intelligence operations, which foreign agents it has targeted, and technical information about communications and surveillance.

A 100-page indictment accuses Hanssen of comprising, among other things, ”an entire technical program of enormous value, expense and importance to the United States government.” The New York Times first reported Sunday that Hanssen may have alerted Moscow to a secret tunnel built under the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

A former U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FBI was chiefly responsible for the tunnel operation and that the National Security Agency likely had a role as well. The official did not provide details on when the eavesdropping effort began or what information might have been gathered.

A former member of Congress who received regular intelligence briefings at the time the tunnel was built, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that some members of Congress were informed about the operation in general terms. The former member said he was told there was extensive clandestine surveillance equipment both below ground and in the vicinity of the embassy.

President Bush sidestepped a question about the tunnel Monday. ”You need to talk to the appropriate folks involved with that,” he said after a meeting on Capitol Hill.

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher refused to confirm or deny the existence of a tunnel. But he did say the Russian Foreign Ministry called in the U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow ”in connection with stories on this subject that have appeared in the press, and all our charge said was that he would report their concerns back to Washington.”

Incensed by the report, Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday demanded that the United States provide details. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement suggesting that Moscow was officially unaware of the tunnel’s existence.

If the report is true, it said, ”this will be a flagrant violation of the recognized norms of international law that throughout the world govern relations with foreign diplomatic missions.”

Hanssen’s attorney brushed aside questions about whether Hanssen told Moscow about the tunnel.

”I think it’s abominable, and you should be skeptical,” he told reporters.

In exchange for his alleged espionage, Hanssen received $600,000 in cash and diamonds and $800,000 was deposited in a foreign bank for him, authorities charged.

A federal judge on Monday froze Hanssen’s property and assets up to $1.4 million, the total he is alleged to have received, and restrained his family and lawyers from removing any money from his bank accounts without permission of the court. He was also ordered to turn over money in overseas accounts.

Hanssen’s family has access to funds to meet their day-to-day living expenses, said Chris Watney, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

Bellows filed documents last week outlining evidence the government has collected against Hanssen. They included letters to and from the Russian intelligence agency found in Hanssen’s briefcase, a statement from his Swiss bank account and recordings of Hanssen’s conversations with the Russians.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.