Plea bargain may help FBI recover from spy incident

In exchange for life in prison instead of possible execution, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen promises to tell the government all about his years as a spy for the Soviets and Russians.

Mr. Hanssen's keeping faith with that agreement, sealed Friday with a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to 15 criminal counts, also is crucial for his wife and family: They stand to get some of his pension and keep the family home and cars.

If the government concludes that Hanssen is not honoring the commitment, it can reopen the case and prosecute him anew.

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

"A lot of the things he gave up are going to cost a fortune for the government to redo," says Paul Moore, a former FBI counterintelligence analyst. "This turns a corner. You get past the finger-pointing and into doing something constructive."

Prosecutors said Hanssen, accused of selling secrets for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds, was motivated by greed. The 25-year FBI veteran gave Soviet and later Russian agents thousands of pages of classified documents detailing some of the nation's most closely held secrets. He disclosed the identities of Russian agents secretly working for the United States, who later were executed.

"His plea of guilty today brings to a close one of the most disturbing and appalling stories of a turncoat imaginable," said US attorney Kenneth Melson.

The government has until Jan. 11, the time of Hanssen's sentencing, to debrief him.

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

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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