Double agents have been around since the mid 1600s. Some of the popular names we know are Eddie Chapman, William Sebold, and Juan Pujol “Garbo” Garcia. Some double agents like Garbo, used their espionage skills for good – he was able to fool the Nazis about D-Day. Then you have others who betray the countries they swore to protect.
Robert Hanssen is an American FBI agent who was tasked to find the mole doling out information to the Soviet Union about their double agents. Turns out, Robert Hanssen was the mole they were looking for and he had been working with the KGB since 1979.
The Early Life of Robert Hanssen
Robert Hanssen was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, a police officer was known to be emotionally abusive to him as a child. In spite of his difficult childhood, he was able to graduate from Knox College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. After his failed attempt to get a job as a cryptographer, he enrolled in dental school but shifted his major to business after three years. He finished an MBA in accounting and informations systems.
He took a job at an accounting firm, but quit after a year. He then joined the Chicago police force as a forensic accountant. By 1976, he left the police department to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (Source: History)
How was Hanssen Best Known?
He was known to be one of the most damaging double agents in American history. During his employment in the FBI, Hanssen gave the Soviets, and the Russians classified information about the identities of the spies the US had in the Soviet Union. He also doled out information about America’s nuclear operations and the secret tunnel the FBI build under the Soviet Embassy in Washington. (Source: History)
When was Hanssen Arrested?
Hanssen started in the FBI in 1976 and began his role as a double agent in 1979. On October 4, 1985 Hanssen sent a letter to the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) informing their leaders of three KGB officers who were actually double agents of the United States. He was called to search for the traitor. What the FBI did not know was that Hanssen was the mole. He was able to steer the investigation away from himself and charge someone else instead.
Hanssen rose through the ranks of the FBI and eventually got the role as a senior counterintelligence. He stopped spying for the KGB in 1991 when the Soviet Union was falling apart, but resumed his double-agent role by 1999 while working as the FBI’s liaison officer to the US State Department.
He was then arrested in 2001 when an ex-officer of the KGB revealed he was a mole working for them. On July 6, 2001, Hanssen pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage. He was sentenced to 15 life sentences in a maximum security prison in Colorado. (Source: History)
Why Did He Do It?
It is said that Hanssen was driven more by money than ideals. While he was working with the KGB, he was being compensated really well. In his 22-year stint with them, he was able to collect a small fortune of about $1.4 million in cash and diamonds. These are said to be hidden in a Russian-based bank. (Source: History)