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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hanssen Indictment Reads Like Spy Novel

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WASHINGTON — The car advertisement in the Washington newspaper looked ordinary.

"Dodge — '71, Diplomat, needs engine work, $1000. Phone (703) 451-9780 (call next Mon., Wed., Fri. 1 p.m.)," read the 1986 ad in The Washington Times.

But the ad was anything but a request for car repairs. It had been placed by the KGB to get in touch with FBI agent Robert Phillip Hanssen, according to a 57-page court indictment returned by a federal grand jury Wednesday accusing the veteran agent of spying for Russia since 1985.

Hanssen called the advertised telephone number and talked to a KGB agent who told him that a package containing money and a letter had been dropped for him in a Northern Virginia park, the indictment said.

This was just one of the many covert operations reported for the first time in the 21-count indictment that reads like a spy thriller.

Fourteen of those counts carry a maximum punishment of death, although the decision on whether to seek the death penalty had not yet been made, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Melson said outside a Virginia courthouse after the indictment was filed.

The government on Wednesday set a June 1 arraignment date at which Hanssen will formally face the charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, 19 counts of espionage, and one count of attempted espionage.

"Fourteen of the 21 counts are capital eligible counts which means he may face the death penalty if convicted of any one of those counts. The remaining counts are all punishable by up to life imprisonment," Melson said.

The decision on whether the government would seek the death penalty would need approval from the attorney general, he said.

The death penalty had been the key sticking point in plea bargain negotiations, with Hanssen's attorneys seeking a guarantee that the government would not seek that punishment before allowing the former FBI spycatcher to reveal the extent of secrets allegedly compromised.

The government has an interest in not going to trial with the case because of the amount of classified information involved that could potentially be divulged.

The indictment says Hanssen, 57, compromised highly classified documents and information related to satellites, early warning systems, U.S. means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attacks, communications intelligence, and defense strategy.

Prosecutors have been leery of agreeing to not seek the death penalty before debriefing Hanssen due to concerns the accused spy would not be as forthcoming if the threat of the death sentence was off the table.

Hanssen was arrested Feb. 18 after allegedly dropping off a bundle of classified material at a park in Northern Virginia to be picked up by Russian handlers, officials say.

The indictment included a provision that would forfeit any proceeds from espionage activities including the $1.4 million and another $50,000 recovered by the FBI from a package allegedly left for Hanssen by Russians at a dead drop site in Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, Virginia.

"This indictment alleges that Hanssen betrayed his country for over 15 years and knowingly caused grave injury to the security of the United States," Melson said Wednesday in a statement.

Hanssen is also accused of revealing three names of Soviet agents spying for the United States, two of whom were later executed.

That information provided a confirmation to the Soviet Union of names given first by former CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, the government says.

Under federal law, the death penalty can be brought in espionage cases when it is proved the spying resulted in the deaths of foreign agents working for the United States.

Plato Cacheris, Hanssen's lead attorney, said earlier this week that he had rejected a Justice Department offer to extend negotiations on a plea bargain for 30 days after the government refused to rule out seeking the death penalty.

The indictment does not preclude plea negotiations in the future to reach a deal that would avoid a trial in the courts.

Meanwhile, intelligence agencies have not yet begun a damage assessment of how devastating to U.S. national security the secrets were that Hanssen allegedly sold Moscow for more than a decade.

That process would probably not start until after the case is resolved either by a plea bargain deal or a trial, because the assessment would have to be given to defense lawyers and could be used against the government's own case.

But the indictment did shed fresh light on how Hanssen worked with the Russians.

According to the court document, the Russians opened a secret bank account for Hanssen in Moscow, into which they deposited about $800,000 in exchange for information. The rest was cash and diamonds.

Hanssen, who according to a recent affidavit had wanted to become a double-agent since he was a teenager, allegedly used elaborate plans to leak information to Moscow and exploited his position at the FBI to make sure he was not caught.

According to the indictment, Hanssen used "keys," or computer programs, to encrypt and decrypt his correspondence with the Russians.

He avoided personal meetings with KGB agents at all times. Exchanges at secret locations came in the form of so-called "dead drops," where neither side ever had to come in direct contact and where lines of tape showed whether the package had been dropped off and picked up.

Hanssen is also accused of mailing letters and diskettes containing classified information on communication intelligence, early warning systems against nuclear attacks and other elements of defense strategy to the KGB, using the address of a Soviet Embassy official in Virginia.

One package that Hanssen allegedly left for the KGB contained rolls of undeveloped film relating to nuclear defense, according to the indictment.

His position at the FBI, where he had top secret clearances, not only gave him access to the lucrative information but also allowed him to monitor the bureau's activities to remain a step ahead of them.

Starting in August 1999, Hanssen repeatedly used the FBI's Automated Case Support System — a database of the bureau's files — to determine whether agents were after his Russian contacts or were aware of the drop-offs, the indictment said.

Code names used for drop sites and signal sites included "PARK," "LEWIS," "ELLIS," and "V," according to the indictment.

And seemingly mundane items such as white medical adhesive tape, clear mailing tape, colored thumbtacks, colored chalk and plastic garbage bags were tools of the trade allegedly kept in his car, the indictment said.