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Thursday, July 18, 2024

‘Most damaging’ spy in FBI history found dead in cell

Robert Hanssen was serving time at a maximum-security federal facility

Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, sentenced to life in prison as a Russian spy, was found dead on Monday inside his cell at the Florence ADMAX in Colorado, the US Bureau of Prisons said.

Upon discovering Hanssen, prison staff tried to revive him and “requested emergency medical services,” Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Kristie Beshears said in a statement. “The inmate was subsequently pronounced dead by outside emergency medical personnel.”

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The 79-year-old was serving a life sentence in the Administrative Maximum Facility, the supermax security prison notorious for keeping inmates in solitary for 23 hours a day.

Hanssen was arrested in February 2001, after making a dead drop in a Virginia park. He pleaded guilty to selling classified information to the Soviet Union and later Russia, and was sentenced in May 2022.

His career as a “mole” inside the FBI went back to 1979. In over 20 years, Hanssen never visited Russia or met his handlers directly. The KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, knew him only by the alias “Ramon Garcia.” They communicated via “car for sale” ads in a local newspaper.

Due to his position in US counterintelligence, Hanssen knew almost all the details of secret operations targeting the Soviets. Among the secrets Hanssen traded to Moscow, in exchange for money and diamonds, were the identities of at least three KGB officers secretly working for the Americans, US preparations for nuclear war, and the existence of a secret tunnel under the Soviet embassy in Washington, DC.

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The FBI called Hanssen “the most damaging spy in Bureau history,” while his activities have been described as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history.”

Hanssen’s disclosures, along with those of CIA double agents Edward Lee Howard and Aldrich Ames, “were responsible for the literal annihilation of the CIA’s human intelligence networks operating in the USSR during the mid-1980s,” according to former US weapons inspector Scott Ritter.

Meanwhile, Hanssen lived a quiet life in the suburbs with his wife Bonnie and six children. Bonnie would later tell journalists that she confronted him about the spying in 1979, but he was able to convince her he was “deceiving” the Soviets by feeding them false information.

In a March 2020 interview, SVR head Sergey Naryshkin said that Ames and Hanssen had “made a simply outstanding contribution to the security of the Soviet Union.”