Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hanssen Case May Be Linked to UN Defector

WASHINGTON — He lived in a modest apartment at a Russian complex in the Bronx and was virtually invisible at the United Nations, where he served as first secretary in Russia's mission to the United Nations.

But Sergei Tretyakov's real career as a spy with diplomatic cover has become the subject of international speculation since veteran FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen was arrested last month and charged with selling secrets to Moscow.

Tretyakov defected to the United States in October, around the time that FBI investigators obtained the contents of a KGB case file that quickly led them to finger Hanssen as a mole. The timing has prompted media reports in the United States, Russia, Britain and Canada that Tretyakov may have been the source of the Hanssen file.

When FBI Director Louis Freeh announced Hanssen's arrest on Feb. 9, he was asked about Tretyakov and tersely denied any connection. But numerous former intelligence and law enforcement officials insist that the timing of Tretyakov's defection, combined with his role as a Russian intelligence officer in New York and his quick acceptance in a U.S. program for valuable defectors, makes him a logical candidate for involvement in the Hanssen case. "I don't believe in coincidences,'' said one former high-ranking FBI official.

Indeed, Tretyakov is not the only Russian spy to defect since the FBI obtained the KGB's file on Hanssen last year. In December, while Hanssen was under FBI surveillance, Russian intelligence officerYevgeny Toropov defected in Ottawa, according to U.S. officials.

News of Toropov's defection set off another round of guessing about the source of the Hanssen material.

Intelligence experts are focused on Tretyakov and Toropov as possible sources because they believe the FBI would not have filed an affidavit in court revealing extensive detail about Hanssen's alleged activities if the bureau's source or sources were still working for the Russian government. Those experts believe Moscow either knows who betrayed Hanssen or has a very short list of suspects.

If the case against Hanssen goes to trial, prosecutors may have to produce at least one Russian, if not more, to vouch for the authenticity of the documents and establish some chain of custody from intelligence files in Moscow to their possession by prosecutors.

In late 1999 or early 2000, the FBI got "a firm indication'' that a mole was still operating inside the bureau, according to informed sources. That caused the FBI to bring the CIA into the hunt.

The first documents from Russian intelligence files were copies of reports from and about an agent in the United States using the pseudonym "B'' and "Ramon Garcia'' or just "Ramon.'' According to an American official, the Russians kept a working file on "B'' with photocopies of their correspondence with him. But the KGB and its successor, the SVR, stored the original documents, along with the envelopes, bags and other containers in which they came, in so-called "bulkies," boxes that handle both regular and extra-large documents.

It was not until last fall that an individual working for U.S. intelligence apparently got into the original "bulky'' file and retrieved a plastic bag that "B'' had used to deliver documents, sources said. That bag, tested for fingerprints, led the FBI to Hanssen, they added.