Spy suspect Hanssen pleads innocent
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – Veteran FBI agent Robert Hanssen pleaded innocent Thursday to charges of spying for Moscow, setting the stage for a fall trial that could deal with some of the nation’s most closely guarded intelligence secrets.
Looking haggard in a green jumpsuit with the word ”prisoner” on the back, Hanssen stood next to his lawyer in the federal courtroom here, just across the Potomac River from Washington. He said ”not guilty” when asked how he pleaded to the charges, and plans were set for an Oct. 29 trial.
Thursday’s arraignment followed futile plea discussions between Hanssen’s lawyers and prosecutors. The long lead time for a trial could permit a new round of plea bargaining.
The federal indictment accuses Hanssen of 21 counts of espionage.
”We will be filing motions in federal court attacking this indictment,” his attorney, Plato Cacheris, told reporters on the courthouse steps after what he estimated was a two-minute court session. ”We’ve just set a new modern record for arraignments.”
”That not-guilty plea entitles him to a presumption of innocence,” Cacheris said of Hanssen.
He declined comment on the possibility of further plea discussions.
The government alleged that Hanssen passed U.S. secrets to Moscow for 15 years in exchange for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds. The FBI said it obtained original Russian documents that detailed Hanssen’s alleged activities, including letters he allegedly wrote to his Russian handlers and secret codes he allegedly used to signal when and where he would drop documents.
The FBI has not disclosed the source of the documents. Asked whether the Justice Department would bring in Russians as witnesses, Cacheris said, ”We look forward to any Russians that want to come over and testify.”
Hanssen has been detained at an undisclosed location since his arrest Feb. 18 at a Virginia park as he allegedly delivered a package for pickup by his Russian handlers.
As he waited for the arraignment to begin, he chatted with his attorneys, smiling broadly on occasion and nodding.
Apparently no family members were present in the courtroom. Asked why, Cacheris said, ”They’re here in spirit.” Hanssen has a wife and six children.
Hanssen could face the death penalty on charges that he identified Soviet agents secretly working for the United States who were subsequently executed. He also is accused of passing secrets about satellites, early warning systems, plans for retaliation against large-scale attacks and communications intelligence. Those charges also carry potential death sentences.
Cacheris has said the plea discussions stalled because the government refused to waive the death penalty in exchange for Hanssen’s cooperation in providing to authorities a full accounting of his activities.
Asked about this Thursday, Cacheris said he doubted the death penalty would be constitutional in any event.
Going to trial raises the prospect of prosecutors having to reveal in open court sensitive information about U.S. counterintelligence activities. For instance, Hanssen allegedly disclosed how the United States was intercepting Soviet satellite transmissions and the means by which the United States would retaliate against a nuclear attack.
”If they insist on the death penalty, they will have to make their case in open court and disclose more evidence than they would ordinarily,” said John Martin, a former Justice Department official who supervised espionage cases.
Randy Bellows, assistant U.S. attorney and a lead prosecutor in the case, told U.S. District Court Judge Claud Hilton that both sides would submit motions for dealing with classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act, a law which provides a mechanism for courts to determine what classified information can be used as evidence.
The judge could allow the classified information, but require that the government to come up with substitute language so that information sensitive to national security isn’t revealed.
The government and Hanssen’s attorneys found some common ground – they agreed to the Oct. 29 date for a jury trial and planned to submit a joint request for a proposed schedule of pretrial filings and discovery.
Cacheris told Judge Hilton, ”Mr. Hanssen has been advised of his rights and has signed a document waiving the Speedy Trial Act.”
Under that act, the trial would have been set in 70 days. To get the October date, Hanssen had to sign a waiver.
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