Witness to History

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The Investigation of Robert Hanssen

On Tuesday, October 1, 2013, the International Spy Museum hosted the National Law Enforcement Museum's event, Witness to History: The Investigation of Robert Hanssen. The panel discussion focussed on notorious FBI agent and Russian spy, Robert Hanssen, who sold high-level U.S. secrets to the former Soviet Union and Russia for over 20 years.

Panelists included:

  • Mike Rochford, (ret.) FBI Section Chief, Russian Overseas Espionage

  • David Wise, Author of Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's
    Robert Hanssen Betrayed America


The panelists—with help from audience members such as Dr. David L. Charney, who was Hanssen's psychiatrist—shed light on what motivated ex-FBI agent and Russian spy, Robert Hanssen, to sell high-level U.S. secrets to the former Soviet Union and Russia for over 20 years.

Hanssen was the son of a Chicago law enforcement officer (who specialized in catching suspected communists), and went on to become a Russian spy, just three years after joining the FBI. He was a family man and devout Catholic, who also became involved with a stripper. Mr. Wise summed it up, "Robert Hanssen is a very complex man, and a bundle of contradictions." Dr. Charney, who was given permission by Hanssen to convey his medical findings to the intelligence community as a teaching opportunity, agreed with this assertion. He said "compartmentalization" was a factor in Hanssen's ability to function in starkly contradictory roles.

Mr. Rochford described the process of finally pinning Hanssen as the culprit who had leaked hundreds of highly sensitive documents to the Russians for a long period of time. He referred to some clues that, in hindsight, may have led the FBI's investigation to Hanssen, as "puffs of smoke" that, at the time, did not amount to any significant proof of his guilt. He also confirmed that Hanssen was never polygraphed until he was caught, and that the FBI now polygraphs upon employment—one of the improvements that resulted from this case.

Thanks to the collective efforts of the FBI, CIA, Department of State, and the Justice Department, Hanssen was arrested in 2001 and convicted of espionage. He is currently at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where he is held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day (with one hour of exercise permitted).