In the world of cloaks and daggers, the cold war is far from over.
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the lessening of superpower tensions, coupled with an increase in industrial and economic espionage, in fact make for a more complicated world of spying and counterspying.
"Espionage is still a thriving, healthy business," says John Beam, a 27-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran. "The Russians never were our friends, and now they need our technology more than ever. And in this fragmented world, they're operating in places we don't want them to."
The arrest Sunday night of FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen, charged with spying for Russia for the past 15 years, illustrates the point. Mr. Hanssen's job was in counterintelligence - ferreting out foreign spies in the United States. He had worked in New York and Washington, including at the State Department. By allegedly providing Russia with information about how the US hunts for spies, including the methods and means of electronic surveillance, Hanssen could have helped create windows of opportunity for Russian spies to avoid US detection.
The damage created by a Russian mole could be considerable, officials here say. According to the FBI, Hanssen also may have confirmed the spy work of former CIA agent Aldrich Ames, whose espionage on behalf of the former Soviet Union in the 1980s resulted in the execution of at least 10 US agents there.
US officials are well aware of the broad problem of responding to a changing world with new ways of spying - and keeping from being spied upon.
Last month, former President Bill Clinton issued an executive order creating a counterintelligence "czar" working under a four-member board including top officials from the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, and the Pentagon. Under executive order CI-21 (Counterintelligence for the 21st Century) the new "National Counterintelligence Executive" is charged with "bringing a forward-looking, post-cold-war mentality in counterintelligence."
CIA and FBI officials announced yesterday that William Webster, who has directed both agencies, will lead a blue-ribbon panel to assess the impact of this latest alleged espionage.
Hanssen's arrest at his suburban Virginia home is unusual in the history of the agency. He is only the third agent in FBI history ever accused of spying.
What's known about the case so far is that Hanssen worked for the FBI for 27 years, most of that time in counterintelligence. The last four years he worked at the State Department, where an electronic "bug" was found in a conference room, enabling a Russian agent to monitor meetings from a car nearby.
One thing officials will want to know is the motivations behind this new alleged espionage.
Was it ideological? Were there financial considerations? Hanssen lived in Vienna, Va., with his wife and six children in a typical split-level home. The family drove to church every week in a 10-year-old van. Neighbors expressed shock and spoke highly of the family.
But officials say they had been tracking his movements for four months, based on information they had obtained from Russian documents. He was arrested after he had been observed making a "dead drop" - leaving a package of classified information at a park in northern Virginia.
Initial reaction from Russian officials was to downplay the incident.
"Every state has an intelligence organization, and every state needs one. It's also quite normal when spies are found out and arrested. It's part of the game; business as usual," says Viktor Cherepkov, a member of the Duma security committee.
"This affair does not mean the old cold war is still going on, or a new one is starting," says Mr. Cherepkov. "This won't disturb relations between Russia and the US. It's just one of those things that happens as states work through these methods to defend their national interests. Everyone does it."
Fred Weir contributed to this report from Moscow.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society