Government indicts Hanssen, charging he spied for Moscow
WASHINGTON (AP) – Robert Hanssen, a 25-year veteran FBI agent, was indicted Wednesday on espionage charges. Federal prosecutors said the father of six ”betrayed his country for over 15 years” and seriously compromised the security of the United States.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
Arrested by federal agents in February as he allegedly delivered a package in a northern Virginia park for pickup by his handlers, Hanssen was indicted on 21 espionage counts, including conspiracy to commit espionage, according to the 57-page indictment.
Starting in 1985, Hanssen gave U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union, and later to Russia, by dropping documents and computer disks wrapped in plastic garbage bags at ”drop dead” sites in parks near his home in suburban Virginia, said the indictment handed up by a grand jury at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
Hanssen’s Moscow contacts would leave bags with cash and sometimes diamonds at the drop sites and deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars in banks for him, the indictment said. In all, Hanssen allegedly was paid $1.4 million.
The indictment said Hanssen provided Moscow with information about U.S. satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale nuclear attack, communications intelligence and major elements of defense strategy.
One count accuses Hanssen of providing information to Moscow that led to the executions of two KGB officers recruited by U.S. intelligence. The government can seek the death penalty in espionage cases in which a spy is proved to have caused deaths of agents of the United States.
The agents compromised by Hanssen, who were tried on espionage charges in Moscow and executed, were identified first by Aldrich Ames, a CIA officer who pleaded guilty to spying for the Soviet Union in 1994.
Hanssen, 57, is only the third FBI agent to be accused of espionage.
The indictment lists a series of contacts between Hanssen and his handlers, starting in October 1985 and ending on Feb. 18, the day of his arrest. The indictment lists no activity between December 1991 and August 1999.
The conspiracy count and the espionage charges carry maximum penalties of death or life imprisonment. Each charge also carries a potential fine of not more than $250,000 or double the defendant’s gains from spying.
Hanssen’s arraignment was scheduled for June 1. Hanssen’s lawyers have said he will plead innocent.
Discussing the indictment on the steps of the U.S. Courthouse in suburban Alexandria, U.S. Attorney Ken Melson said the 21-count indictment was filed only five days before a scheduled hearing for Hanssen because ”the grand jury sits this week and does not sit on Monday.”
Melson would not say whether the indictment might affect plea negotiations between Hanssen and the government. ”I can’t comment on any plea negotiations or the existence of them or the status of them,” he told reporters.
Hanssen’s lawyers said Tuesday talks on a plea bargain had broken down in a disagreement over the death penalty: the government wanted Hanssen to provide information about secrets he revealed but would not agree to waive the death penalty in exchange.
The indictment alleges that Hanssen ”betrayed his country for over 15 years and knowingly caused grave injury to the security of the United States,” Melson said.
The indictment also accuses Hanssen of:
-Revealing the existence of ”an FBI technical penetration of a particular Soviet establishment.”
Law enforcement officials believe Hanssen may have alerted Moscow to a secret tunnel that American intelligence agencies built under the Russian Embassy in Washington for eavesdropping.
-Disclosing the United States knew of a particular technical vulnerability in Soviet satellite transmissions and was actively exploiting it.
-Revealing information about a recruited KGB officer who secretly defected to the United States and a KGB agent recruited as a double agent.
-Disclosing the FBI investigation into State Department officer Felix Bloch.
-Telling Moscow the National Security Agency was reading communications of a foreign country and how the NSA did it.
The indictment seeks $1.4 million from Hanssen and $50,000 recovered by the FBI from a package left for Hanssen on the day he was arrested.
Hanssen attorney Plato Cacheris said Tuesday he expected his client to be indicted. ”We felt they had more than enough time to resolve the issue of the death penalty,” Cacheris said. ”We do not think the death penalty is justified.”
Cacheris could not be immediately reached Wednesday.
A preliminary hearing in the case had been scheduled for Monday, and an indictment could not have been handed up after that. The hearing was canceled considering Wednesday’s indictment.
The FBI began investigating Hanssen only last year. He has been held at an undisclosed location since his arrest.
On the Net: FBI investigation report: http://www.fbi.gov/majcases/hanssen/hanssenmaj.htm
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.