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Damage Assessment: Convicted Spy Robert Hanssen

Ray Suarez reports on the sentencing of convicted spy Robert Hanssen. For more on the impact of the Hanssen case, Suarez talks to Elaine Shannon, law enforcement and national security correspondent for Time magazine, and Susan Rosenfeld, former FBI historian.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Robert Hanssen today called him one of the greatest traitors in America's story. Hanssen was sentenced to a life term without parole. He is a 25-year FBI Veteran who sold secrets to Moscow for two decades.

    What did his portrayal cost the American intelligence community? An assessment from Elaine Shannon, law enforcement and national security correspondent for Time Magazine, and co-author of The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Life of Robert Hanssen. And Susan Rosenfeld, a former historian at the FBI, she is now an adjunct professor of history at Wayne State University.

    Elaine Shannon, you were in the courtroom this morning. Take us there.

  • ELAINE SHANNON:

    It was packed. And it was quiet. There were no Hanssen family members there as far as I know — only Hanssen's lawyers and a few old friends. He was brought out at promptly 9:00 in his dark green prison jumpsuit. He looked like he had lost about 40 pounds. He looked very drawn, his hair was very neatly combed, but otherwise you would not have known he was an FBI Agent.

    The prosecutor said a few words, then he was asked to speak. He said he had done a shameful thing and he was sorry and he was very sorry about what had happened to his wife and children but significantly he didn't say he was sorry about what he had done to the institution of the FBI Where he worked for so long.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And that's it? After a few minutes it's over, and he's off to prison?

  • ELAINE SHANNON:

    Yes, the judge agreed that the sentence, life without parole was fair, especially in view of the trust that he betrayed. The U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty made a special point, talked about the cruelty of having a traitor in your midst give away people's lives. He called it merchandise for his own gain. And he is going to Allenwood where Aldrich Ames, the previous notorious traitor, is, also.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Susan Rosenfeld, that description, one of the greatest traitors in America's story. Is that a fair description?

  • SUSAN ROSENFELD:

    I think it is a fair description. What he did has hurt, personally, I think, FBI agents. He in some sense has destroyed a culture of trust, and that has hurt the American people as well as the tremendous damage that he did in giving secrets to the Russians.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    He was working at a time when it turns out there were several people working for American intelligence who were traitors to their country. How does he rank when you compare him to Aldrich Ames and some of the others who were caught in the '80s and '90s?

  • SUSAN ROSENFELD:

    From what I know of Hanssen, I don't think he can compare to the others. I think that the damage he did was far greater, and perhaps his motivation was… it was, of course, financial, but there was a lot more to it. And I think he personally hurt a lot of people besides his family, as well as, again, the tremendous damage that he did to America's secrets.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Elaine Shannon, maybe you can catalog some of that damage. What kind of secrets are we talking about?

  • ELAINE SHANNON:

    Well, we're talking about, first of all, the names of about 50 people within the soviet system that were either recruited by the U.S. to spy for us, or were being recruited. At least three of those were executed, including Dimitri Polyakov who was the greatest agent the U.S. ever had inside that system and did invaluable service for the U.S. during in the missile crisis with Cuba, up through the Vietnam War. This is the first thing he gave up on his first trip to see the Russians.

    The second time he went in to see Russians in 1985, he gave up two more men who were working within the KGB in Washington, it was the first penetration the FBI had ever managed of this. He gave away technological secrets at the very moment when there was a coup of… Gorbachev was detained in the Soviet Union, some old liners in the KGB were trying to overthrow him. They had their hands on a nuclear football, and he was blinding the United States to the military and government communication that would tell us what was going on.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And the value, just in the amount of money we spent in the country on developing the systems, the satellite surveillance. For what he was paid, he was a pretty good value for money, wasn't he?

  • ELAINE SHANNON:

    Oh, absolutely. He gave… one of the most shocking things is he told the Soviets about a vulnerability in one of their communication satellites that the national security agency was using to drop down their communication, their military and government communications, so they could close that.

    The NSA – the budget is huge, billions and billions of dollars. Hanssen, over 21 years, was paid… he actually got about $100,000, which is peanuts for this kind of information. He actually gave the Russians the information first, and let them pay him what they wanted to.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Susan Rosenfeld, this shock to the system you talk about, the betrayal to those working for the bureau today, are they able to change inside the FBI, to sort of harden themselves as a target against people like Robert Hanssen?

  • SUSAN ROSENFELD:

    I think they're certainly trying to. In his testimony on Wednesday, Director Mueller described some of the reorganization they were doing, some of the response to the study in security that Judge Webster, former Director of the FBI and former Director of the CIA, had done on their various security failures. And I think that they're making that effort, but also now there's just that betrayal that, you know, is your friend that sits next to you in the car, that carpools with you, the person you have trusted for so long, could he be another Robert Hanssen? That's always going to be in the back of somebody's mind.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    In the Director's testimony to a Senate committee that you were discussing from earlier this week, were steps to harden the security inside the FBI talked about openly?

  • SUSAN ROSENFELD:

    Well, some of them have come out. For example, they are now polygraphing people that have access to the highest secrets. And in doing that, about 10 percent there has been something questionable that has come up in the polygraphs, and they just will study that further. The FBI, unlike the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, has resisted polygraphing all its people. And Hanssen, for example, as far as I know, never had a polygraph.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, Elaine Shannon, the things that he was charged with often carry a capital offense there, considered capital offenses. He was given life in prison. Why?

  • ELAINE SHANNON:

    He gave away so much that they don't dare put him to death, and then ten years from now say, "oh, we need to ask him about so and so." His interrogations did not go particularly well. The polygraphers weren't very happy with him, the Justice Department and CIA weren't happy. He was very forgetful for a man of his intelligence. This is pretty suspicious and whether it's a true forgetfulness because of shame or just a game playing, either way they want to keep him alive so they can talk to him.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And yet, his wife will also get service pension, they will lose the house. This is part of the bargaining that goes on with someone like Robert Hanssen?

  • ELAINE SHANNON:

    Absolutely. The day he was arrested, one of the FBI people said to me, you know, "we don't have very much leverage on this man. About all we've got is the wife and the fact that she needs the money and the kids and the pension." They desperately, desperately wanted to know all of the things that he had given to Moscow. They had a partial list, but the things he had access to were the crown jewels. They know some of it, they don't know all of it.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Elaine Shannon, Susan Rosenfeld, thanks so much.