An espionage tale unfolds
The case against an alleged FBI mole shows loyalty may be harder to come by today.
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"The world is a different place today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and there are different social and peer pressures," says Lee Colwell, former deputy director of the FBI and now director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. "The FBI, like all other investigative and law-enforcement agencies, is confronted with the same problems that private organizations are. There's more competition for people's hearts and minds."Skip to next paragraph
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FBI agents, like journalists, tend to work independently, says Mr. Colwell. This makes it all the more important to build in an institutional identity from the first day on the job.
With this in mind, Webster says his main task in looking to prevent future in-house spying is "to minimize the risk without destroying morale or procedures."
Spying in age of Palm Pilots
While there no doubt will be spies and counterspies as long as there are nations with competing interests, the business of espionage is becoming more complicated in an age of hand-held computers and digital cameras. (In one communication with the Russians, the FBI says Hanssen discussed his need for a more-advanced Palm Pilot with Internet capability.)
"One thing's for sure. Technology is getting better at an ever-increasing rate," says Bruce Berkowitz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-author of "Best Truth: Intelligence in the Information Age."
Spying is a deadly serious business, but even though the exchanges were anonymous (at least as far as Ramon was concerned), communications developed a personal tone over the years.
About five years into the relationship, according to the FBI affidavit, the Russians wrote: "Dear Friend: Congratulations on your promotion. We wish you all the very best in your life and career. Thank you and good luck. Sincerely, Your Friends."
At one point, Ramon characterized a $40,000 cash payment as "too generous." Last March he mused: "One might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane. I'd answer neither. I'd say insanely loyal. Take your pick. There is insanity in all the answers."
According to the affidavit, in the same letter (which he now signs "Ramon Garcia"), he reveals that "I decided on this course when I was 14 years old." Writing with evident humor and irony to his Russian contacts, he mentioned that he had read the autobiography of Kim Philby, the Soviet mole inside the British intelligence service.
The escape plan
Despite the precautions, the Russians' prime intelligence asset knew it was highly risky business. "Eventually, I would appreciate an escape plan," he wrote. "Nothing lasts forever." Hanssen always carried his passport, according to the FBI, presumably in order to leave the United States on short notice.
Still, he remained confident in his abilities to continue a long and lucrative relationship as FBI spy-catcher by day and Russian spy at night.
"So far I have judged the edge correctly," the FBI says he wrote. "Give me credit for that." Only for a few more months, as it turns out.
Last Sunday night, about to drop off another plastic trash bag filled with classified information at a park in Vienna, Va., Ramon was surrounded by armed FBI agents, read his legal rights, and driven away to jail.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society