Robert Hanssen was born on April 18, 1944 in Chicago (Illinois). His father, a police officer, had been for many years part of a special division named Red Unit, designed to flush out communist sympathizers in the McCharty era. Robert Hanssen attended chemistry faculty in Knox College in Galeswood – Illinois. To obtain graduation it was required to study a foreign language for two years: Robert chose Russian, a popular choice among students of the sixties, since the cold war had made many of them believe that the language would be very useful in case of conflict with the Soviet Union. Bob had the opportunity to study important Russian writers such as Tolstoy and Dostoevskij. After graduation, he was refused an application to enter as a cryptographer in the NSA. He enrolled as the school of dentistry of Northwest University in 1966, but then he decided to change and enrolled in psychiatry and then back again for a degree in accounting and information systems. In 1968 he married Bonnie Wauch, a nurse whom he had met in 1965 in Chicago, in a mental health center. Bonnie was a member of Opus Dei, the Catholic association known for its secrecy over membership criteria, the purposes and modes of operation. After a brief interlude in an accounting firm, Robert became part of the Chicago Police Department as an investigator, in a new section of the department that dealt with police corruption. Two cases of corruption investigations carried out in collaboration with the FBI gave him the right contacts to join the agency itself. For two years he was sent to Gary, Indiana, to investigate in the city, then was transferred to the office of the Bureau of New York, considered second only to the headquarters in Washington. But the economic situation of his family was not the best; four children and a wife to maintain led him to try capitalizing on his position at the FBI.
Disenchanted by the apathetic attitude of one of his fellow FBI agents, Hanssen approached the Russians and offered to sell them secret documents. He managed to get $ 20,000 for the secret documents he provided, but while he was counting the notes in his basement, he was seen by his wife. He admitted having received money but only for useless information given to the Russians; in reality it was very valuable information, including the identity of Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet double secret agent. His wife, rather than notify the authorities, convinced him to confess his actions to a priest of Opus Dei. The priest invited him to stop the double play and donate the money he had received in the charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
At work he continued to be regarded as a very intelligent and capable agent. In 1981 he was assigned to Washington where he realized that the dreams of reaching the FBI highest levels would never come true. At first he was assigned to the Bureau to develop a budget for submission to Congress, then entered the office of Soviet analysis.
In 1983 he returned to New York, but also there his economic situation was very difficult; New York was a very expensive city and so he decided to re-establish contact with the Soviets. He sent a letter to Victor Degtyar, guarded by an FBI agent, with instructions to pass another letter to Victor Cherkashin, head of Soviet espionage in Washington. In this letter he offered to pass secret documents in exchange for $ 100,000, and he also provided the names of three Russian agents who were working for the United States: Sergey Motorin, Valeriy Martynov and Boris Yuhzin. Afterwards, the first two will be executed in the Lubyanka prison and the third held for a long time. The exchange took place with the usual method of the dead letter box and Hanssen sent a letter of thanks for the money received and the continuation of their “trade”.
In the five years that followed, Robert gave the Russians more than 6,000 pages of secret documents. Some of them contained the secret plans to use nuclear weapons and satellite positions. During this period he received $ 600,000, some jewelry and a Rolex watch. His information went directly to Soviet leaders in Moscow and he received official letters of praise directly by the head of the KGB. During this period Mark Wauck, Bonnie’s brother, noted that Bob always had a lot of dollars in cash and spent more money than he previously did.
Mark suspected that he was engaged in espionage and local officials reported his suspicions to the FBI in Chicago. Despite the declarations of Mark ,all the warnings were ignored by the leadership of the FBI. While cheating on his country as a spy, Hanssen became more involved with the Opus Dei devoutly attending assemblies, organizing meetings and he sent all their children in the schools of Opus Dei. He seemed very obsessed with religious and moral issues like abortion, but these high priniciples were obviously only an effective cover for other activities. In fact he was not putting into practice his proclamed virtues; in a seedy nightclub in Washington he met a stripper, Priscilla Sue Galey, who gifted with diamonds, necklaces, and an American Express credit card. Later on he even gave her a Mercedes, while his wife Bonnie still drove an old minivan. For Hanssen, a great fan of James Bond and Kim Philby, Priscilla represented his Bond girl. He had a number of guns, including the legendary Walther PPK of 007. His unstable character led him to two disciplinary actions by the disciplinary inspection body of the FBI: once for the continuous advances to a woman in the office and later for having pushed and knocked to the ground an administrative assistant.
In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Hanssen believed that the volatile political situation made it too dangerous to continue his spying activities. However in 1999, with the rise to power of the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, Bob felt it was time to get back into the game and re-established contacts with the Russians.
In September 2000, a Russian agent who was cooperating with the FBI provided a series of files on diskettes that he had received including the plastic bags in which they were delivered. The fingerprints of Hanssen were found on these bags.
The FBI then began a discreet surveillance of Bob at his office: he was filmed bringing home Top Secret documents. The office of internal oversight of the FBI began bugging his home, at work, in his car; for greater control the FBI bought a house near his one, and increased surveillance. It was noted that Hassen was doing many trips to the nearby Foxstone Park, where the information for money exchanges were taking place with the method of the dead letter box.
Hanssen noticed being guarded, the radio of his car and his home phone were not working well and uttered strange hissings. On February 18, 2001, after being in church, Bob went to Foxstone Park for a final exchange with the Russians. In fact, in addition to Top Secret documents he had prepared a farewell letter to his auditors. He wrote of a suspected surveillance against him and that, given a transfer to another office, he no longer had regular access to secret documents. He suggested to reconnecting the next year hoping for the best of circumstances, and signed the letter Ramon Garcia, one of his code names.
As he was placing the package of secret documents ten FBI agents surrounded him and placed him under arrest. The first thing he said was: “Why did it take you so long?”
His wife was arrested too, but immediately released and exonerated because she was unaware of the activities of her husband. During the trial Hanssen argued that his whole family was not aware of his work as a spy and that his trade of secret documents for cash was only to ensure maintenance of his family.
On May 10, 2002 Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life and assigned to the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.