Top 5 lessons from Robert Hanssen’s 20 years of spying

To his Russian handlers he called himself “Ramon” and “Roman Garcia” and gladly accepted from them more than $1.2 million, jewelry and attention. In exchange, Robert P. Hanssen shared over 6,000 pages of classified documents and identified numerous human sources within the Soviet Union/Russia handled by US intelligence. On that date, February 18, 2001, Hanssen was arrested in Vienna, Virginia. A few days later, he was arrested and charged with espionage, and on July 6, 2001, he pleaded guilty. After months of debriefing interviews, on May 7, 2002, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is now 77 years old and is spending the rest of his life in federal prison in Florence, CO, where he has prisoner registration number 48551-083.

Hanssen’s success and the failure of US counterintelligence and counterintelligence to detect his subterfuge over more than 20 years provides us with many lessons.

Robert Hanssen: Top 5 Lessons Learned

It is important to understand that the Soviet KGB and later the Russian SVR/FSB and GRU, never recruited Hanssen as a clandestine source, he volunteered to be a spy and betray his allegiance to his country. Moreover, the fact that he was able to operate intermittently for 20 years serves to demonstrate how a mediocre special agent within the FBI, using minimal craftsmanship, was able to avoid detection by the insider threat programs of the 1980s and 1990s.

The FBI’s review of the FBI’s handling of the Robert Hanssen investigation by the FBI’s Office of Inspector General, released in August 2003, highlights some of the shortcomings. The OIG reviewed more than 368,000 pages of documents from the FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department and Department of Justice, and conducted more than 200 interviews with those involved and the OIG Hanssen questioned at length.

1. Danger of confirmation bias

The FBI limited its investigation to what fit its “scenario”.

The realization that compromised US intelligence sources included individuals to whom Aldrich Ames, Edward Lee Howard, or Harold Nicholson had access, underscored the importance of a continued counterintelligence effort. The fact that these three individuals, who also volunteered to betray their country and volunteer for the Soviets/Russians, were all CIA officers, paved the way for FBI bias in its investigation to find the responsible individual.

The FBI search, which was limited to the CIA, continued to disrupt and damage the lives and careers of a number of Agency agents as they were wrongfully accused. Often overlooked is the warning that was provided to the FBI in 1997 that named Hanssen as a suspected spy for the Russians. The tip came from Earl Pitts during his own debriefings, after his arrest in December 1996 for spying on behalf of the Russians.

The examination revealed that there had been others who had knowledge or suspicion before Pitts uttered his words of suspicion.

Without the tape recording provided by an American penetration of the Russian intelligence apparatus which contained the “voice of Ramon”, the investigation of Hanssen as the prime suspect could have been delayed for a considerable time. His voice was heard by his colleagues, and those colleagues, chagrined as they may have been, identified Hanssen, one of their own, as the voice on the tape.

2. Value of continuous vetting of people in positions of trust

The consequences of Hanssen’s betrayal have traced a wide and destructive path. Following the Hanssen case, the FBI adjusted its internal audit of its own officers. The OIG review characterized Hanssen as “a mediocre agent who demonstrated strong technical abilities, but had weak managerial and interpersonal skills.” Despite his failures as a supervisor, Hanssen was on the FBI’s promotional track for much of his FBI career and generally received average to favorable performance reviews. The review goes on to describe Hanssen as a shipwreck in the day-to-day handling of classified documents and his security breaches should have been red flags.

Additionally, his lifestyle, which included visiting strip clubs, giving expensive gifts to a specific stripper, videotaping sexual encounters with his wife, and having his male friend watch , may have percolated to the surface if ongoing background checks, lifestyle and counterintelligence background investigations and polygraphs were the norm. Hanssen was never polygraphed during his tenure as an FBI special agent.

3. Safety starts with you

The review noted that the FBI was lax when it came to handing out security breaches, exercises designed to remind the individual making the mistake of the need to protect national security information more appropriately. , as well as to his colleagues, that the protection of secrets is of paramount importance. import.

In 1981, his wife discovered him reviewing GRU communications in their home. He confessed to her, then confessed to his priest. The priest absolved him of his sin and told him that he did not have to surrender and that he should give the money he received to charity.

In 1990, his brother-in-law, also an FBI special agent, reported that his sister, Hanssen’s wife, told him that her husband (Hanssen) had $5,000 in unexplained cash in his dresser. There was no follow-up to the brother-in-law’s report, his supervisor sat on the information, as there was “no policy or procedure requiring him to forward the information for analysis and possible investigation. “.

The Hanssen case caused a change within the FBI.

“The Hanssen case also highlighted the absence of a centralized reporting program for security breaches at the FBI, as well as the absence of a unit at FBI headquarters to collect derogatory information about employees. of the FBI, particularly in the context of counterintelligence.”

4. Insider Threat – The Motivation to Break Trust

Hanssen’s espionage can be broken down into three periods: 1979-81, 1985-91 and 1999-2001. In each case, it was Hanssen who made contact. It was Hanssen who was motivated, again and again, to volunteer to be a Clandestine Source within the FBI, and specifically within the FBI’s counterintelligence efforts focused on Soviet/Soviet espionage activities. Russians in the United States. His motivation was greed and pride, he saw money as a way to measure his worth, and pride because he was definitely smarter than his colleagues gave him credit for.

In the first period, his motivation is characterized by “low self-esteem and the desire to demonstrate his intellectual superiority”. He thought he could get away with spying and he did. He volunteered for the GRU in New York, the spy period lasted two years until he was discovered by his wife.

During the next period, Hanssen volunteered for the KGB in Washington DC. He sent a letter to the KGB using his alias Ramon or Ramon Garcia. He referred to this voluntary second spy segment as fueling his spy addiction and wanting to be in the middle. He had already done it. The feelings he had retained and like the serial criminal – he had done it once, he could do it again. This period ended in 1991 and coincided with the demise of the Soviet Union.

The third and final period of espionage motivated Hanssen with money. His personal finances were in the worst shape of his professional life. In addition to his salary, the spy money, Hanssen also received an allowance from his mother, who in 1997 told him she had to quit after providing him with more than $94,000 in the mid-1990s. period ended with his arrest.

5. Importance of compartmentalization and need to know

The review highlights how Hanssen “exploited serious weaknesses in the security of FBI documents and information. He was able to collect information on cases he didn’t need to know about, but was able to access and educate himself. This knowledge was later exploited by Hanssen, “he came out of the FBI with copies and originals of some of the most sensitive classified US government documents”. The KGB/SVR/FSB/GRU wasted no time in neutralizing and in some cases killing the assets they identified.

Additionally, during his time at the State Department, he was able to query the FBI’s case system for keywords that would provide him with an early warning that his activities might have crossed the threshold from disinterest to that of causing the FBI is watching more closely.

Access controls, compartmentalization, and strict need-to-know policies followed Hanssen’s experience.

While the above addresses five of the areas in which recommendations were made and remedies sought, the 2003 FBI OIG report resulted in 21 separate recommendations. These recommendations were intended to correct internal processes and procedures that allowed an insider to eavesdrop undetected.

Years passed undetected by Hanssen, the initiate, leave a mark.

About Laurence Johnson

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