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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hanssen Pleads Guilty to Spying

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow in an agreement aimed at providing a full accounting of the damage from one of America's gravest espionage cases.

Looking thin and wearing a green jumpsuit with "prisoner" stamped on the back, Hanssen, 57, stood before a federal judge Friday, hands clasped behind his back, and admitted to giving a host of U.S. secrets about defense plans, nuclear weapons systems and American intelligence gathering to his Soviet and Russian handlers.

"Guilty," Hanssen replied when Judge Claude Hilton asked how he pleaded.

Hanssen admitted to 15 criminal counts, including 13 of espionage and one of attempted espionage. Six counts against him were dropped.

Under a plea agreement submitted to the court June 14 and unsealed Friday, Hanssen will give a full confession in exchange for a life sentence without parole, thus averting the death penalty.

But in exchange, he'll have to tell all. The government has until Jan. 11, the time of Hanssen's sentencing, to debrief him. If he breaks faith with the plea agreement, the government can back out of it.

Hanssen provided Moscow with information about U.S. satellites, early warning systems, defense or retaliation against nuclear attack, communications intelligence and major elements of defense strategy, the government said.

He is also accused of disclosing the identities of Russian agents secretly working for the United States who later were executed.

Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said waiving the death penalty was the only way the government could obtain Hanssen's cooperation and assess the damage he'd done.

Prosecutors said Hanssen, accused of trading secrets for about $1.4 million in cash and diamonds, was motivated by greed.

"His plea of guilty today brings to a close one of the most disturbing and appalling stories of a turncoat imaginable," said Kenneth Melson, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "The reassuring news is that Hanssen will spend the rest of his natural life under the watchful eye of a prison guard."

Hanssen's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, said his client "very much wanted to make amends" for his deeds. "He's very troubled by what he's done."

The lawyer also spoke of Hanssen's cunning in not being caught for so many years. He said Hanssen kept his identity hidden even from his Russian handlers.

"He was in control. He never met any Russians," said Cacheris. "I think he was pretty good."

Under terms of the plea agreement, Hanssen's family gets to keep its home in Vienna, Virginia, and three vehicles. As long as his wife, Bernadette "Bonnie" Hanssen, cooperates with authorities, she will receive an annuity of approximately $38,000 annually, officials said.

The annuity is contingent on Hanssen keeping his part of the plea bargain. His wife is eligible for the benefit under federal law because the government did not have evidence that she was criminally culpable.

Cacheris told the judge that Hanssen had spied on and off since 1979 - several years earlier than originally believed - and took several breaks, including one from 1992 to 1999.

He said Hanssen had a premonition that he was going to be arrested - as he was - when he went to a Virginia park to leave a bag full of documents for his Russian handlers last Feb. 18.

Plea papers unsealed Friday contain letters Hanssen exchanged over the years with his Russian contacts in which he discusses drop-off plans and classified FBI information. In the last one, he says he believes his spying may have been detected: "Something has aroused the sleeping tiger."

His lawyer said Hanssen had been examined by a psychiatrist who advised against a mental defense.

The plea agreement calls for Hanssen to give a full accounting of his spying activities and the activities of others. He will be given lie detector tests.

Hanssen has already spoken to officials in two five-hour sessions.

"We expect him to be candid with us and truthful with us and completely open about his espionage activities," said Melson.

Hanssen also agreed to forfeit the $1.4 million he was paid. The government is still looking for most of it.

The agreement provides that Hanssen cannot write or help write any book, article, film or documentary, including giving interviews to writers or media organizations without receiving permission from the FBI. Any profits would go to the government.

Cacheris told the court that the plea agreement was a victory for both his client and the government.

Melson took issue with that.

"He is not a winner, and he will never be a winner. He disgraced himself, and he disgraced his badge," said Melson.