When the FBI began to suspect that they had a mole in the mid-1980s, they assigned the investigation to FBI Agent Robert Philip Hanssen. Hanssen was born April 18, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, to a Lutheran family that lived in the Norwood Park neighborhood. He was of Norwegian descent. His father, Howard, who died 1993, was a Chicago police officer, and was allegedly emotionally abusive to Hanssen during his childhood. Nevertheless, Hanssen went on to graduate from William Howard Taft High School in 1962 and attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1966. Hanssen joined the FBI in 1976. Things were going well for him in the FBI, but then, something changed.
In 1979, just three years after joining the FBI, Hanssen approached the Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to offer his services. It is thought that he may have had some financial difficulties, and this meeting became the beginning of his first espionage cycle, lasting until 1981. After that, he laid low for a while. Then, in 1981, he restarted his espionage activities and continued until 1991. After that, he ended communications during the collapse of the Soviet Union, because he was afraid that he would be exposed. Hanssen restarted communications the next year and continued until his arrest. Throughout his spying, he remained anonymous to the Russians.
Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States from 1979 to 2001. His espionage was described by the Department of Justice as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history.” In all, he sold about six thousand classified documents to the KGB that detailed US strategies in the event of nuclear war, developments in military weapons technologies, and aspects of the US counterintelligence program. Hanssen was involved in espionage at the same time as Aldrich Ames in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Both Ames and Hanssen compromised the names of KGB agents working secretly for the United States. Some of those KGB agents were executed for their betrayal. Hanssen also revealed a multimillion-dollar eavesdropping tunnel built by the FBI under the Soviet Embassy. Then in 1994, Ames was arrested. At that time, some of these intelligence breaches remained unsolved, so the search began for another spy. Ironically, they chose the spy himself to search for the spy. How convenient it was for Hanssen. Finally, the FBI paid $7 million to a KGB agent to obtain a file on an anonymous mole. That information led to Janssen’s exposure, when he was identified through fingerprint and voice analysis.
On February 18, 2001, Hanssen was arrested at Foxstone Park, near his home in the Washington DC, suburb of Vienna, Virginia, after leaving a package of classified materials at a dead drop site. Following his arrest, he was charged with selling US intelligence documents to the Soviet Union and subsequently Russia for more than $1.4 million in cash, diamonds, and Rolex watches over a period of twenty-two years. Hanssen pleaded guilty to fourteen counts of espionage and one of conspiracy to commit espionage, to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to fifteen life terms without the possibility of parole and was incarcerated at ADX Florence until his death on June 5, 2023.