Accuracy in Media

Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who sold precious secrets to Russia for twenty years, was sentenced to life imprisonment last year. His crimes have been reported, but the Justice Department Inspector General (IG) has now produced a fat top-secret report that must expose the criminal negligence of the FBI for having let Hanssen escape detection for twenty years. A 30-page summary was released four days before Sixty Minutes re-aired a segment about the case that made the FBI look idiotic.

The report says that Hanssen sold some of our country’s most important secrets, routinely searching the FBI computer systems for information the Russians wanted. He exposed dozens of Russians who were giving information to the FBI. At least three of them were executed. He sold thousands of pages of highly classified material ranging from intelligence collection programs to U.S. strategies for nuclear war.

The FBI claimed they didn’t catch Hanssen because he was such a master spy. They focused on Brian Kelley, a CIA counterintelligence officer. They polygraphed Kelley and when he passed, they treated it as proof of his guilt because he was so good at deception. They kept him under surveillance. When they intercepted a phone call between Hanssen and his Russian handler, they said that since the American’s voice was not Kelley’s, that proved the mole was Kelley because he was so clever that he got someone to make the call for him. Fortunately, someone recognized that the voice was Hanssen’s. That was his downfall, but Inspector General Glenn Fine said Hanssen had not escaped detection for twenty years because he was so good, but because the FBI’s defenses were so bad.

They had never polygraphed him or put him under surveillance. They didn’t investigate his finances even though his brother-in-law reported that Hanssen was living beyond his means. He deposited large sums of cash in a bank less than a block from FBI headquarters. He used an FBI telephone and answering machine for contacts with Russian agents, and he routinely queried the Bureau’s computer system trying to determine if the FBI was on to him.

Over the years, the Bureau received many indications of Hanssen’s unsuitability to hold security clearances. He racked up numerous security violations: repeated disclosures of sensitive espionage investigations to unauthorized persons?including members of the press; hacking into his boss’s computer; and even assaulting a female special agent for leaving a meeting early. The common thread of all of this was management’s willingness to look the other way. Most of these violations were never recorded in his files nor acted upon by his supervisors.

Hanssen had one security investigation in twenty-five years. Other intelligence agencies require them every five years. He was not asked to file a financial disclosure statement. He has said this would have been “the greatest deterrent to his espionage.” The FBI’s senior counterintelligence agent, David Szady, has refused to admit that they made any mistakes. He told 60 Minutes that his focus on Brian Kelley was “entirely justified.”

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