Accuracy in Media

On December 16, first the Washington Post reported on a new book that claims that the FBI was informed that in 1990 Robert P. Hanssen might be spying for the Soviet Union. Hanssen has confessed to having spied, first for the Soviet Union and later Russia and is expected to be sentenced soon to life in prison without parole. He was a top FBI counterintelligence official who had access to very sensitive information, including the identities of Russians who were spying for us. The information he gave the Russians deprived the CIA of valuable intelligence sources. They were executed.

According to the book, The Bureau and the Mole, by Washington Post reporter David A. Vise, in 1990, Hanssen’s brother-in-law, Mark Wauck, who was also an FBI agent, stationed in Chicago, told his superiors that he suspected that Hanssen was spying for the Soviets. Wauck claims to have discovered that Hanssen was, “hiding thousands of dollars in cash” and “was spending too much money for someone on an FBI salary.” That should have set off the alarm bells at FBI headquarters, assuming that the Chicago office relayed Wauck’s information to Washington.

Apparently it did. A story about the book in the Washington Post on December 16 reported that an FBI official said the “episode” had been “evaluated” at the time and that “it did not result in the discovery of Hanssen’s activities.” The Post was unable to find out just how the matter was handled, but given Hanssen’s lifestyle and habits, it is hard to see how he could not only have kept his job at the FBI but could have been promoted. Outwardly he was a loving father and husband, a devout Roman Catholic who attended mass daily and belonged to Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization devoted to fighting communism.

Now it is known that he had an affair with a stripper on whom he lavished gifts. Sixty Minutes, which on December 16 aired a segment largely devoted to his sex life, reported that he had spent $80,000 on her. He bought her a Mercedes and expensive jewelry and took her to church. He claimed that he was only trying to convert her to Catholicism and that no sex was involved.

That claim lacked any credibility. He was obsessed with pornography. He not only visited porn sites on the Internet, he contributed to them, using his own name. He distributed nude photos of his wife and even installed a secret video camera in their bedroom to let a voyeur watch them in bed. If the FBI had put Hanssen under surveillance and checked out his computers, they would have discovered these serious character flaws and his vulnerability to blackmail.

I. C. Smith, a retired FBI agent, says that if Hanssen had been thoroughly investigated on his brother-in-law’s tip, his lifestyle would have justified firing him. Hanssen later attacked and injured a female agent who left a meeting early to catch her car pool. That was cause for dismissal. He was caught hacking into his superior’s computer, and nothing was done. Smith says Congress should find out how each of these cases was handled and who protected Hanssen. He says they too should be punished.

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