Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Philip Hanssen: The Spy who Stayed out in the Cold

Switching Teams

The Hanssens continued pinching pennies. Summer vacations meant packing five kids into a car and driving to Florida to visit Bob's parents where part of the family would have to sleep on the floor. Bonnie saved by making duvet covers out of bedsheets and limiting the children to just two of her homemade chocolate-chip cookies with walnuts per day.

In Washington, Bob was at first assigned to plan and justify the bureau's multibillion-dollar budget for Congress. In 1983 he was bumped up to the Soviet Analytical Unit. His clearance was raised to a classification above Top Secret. After four years in Washington the family was uprooted again when Bob was reassigned to New York.

Not enough of the FBI's multibillion-dollar budget was going to the agents in those days. Many had to use food stamps to get by. In costly places like New York it was particularly tough. The Hanssens had to move farther from New York City this time; it now could be an hour-and-a-half commute if rush hour was heavy.

Hanssen's new boss, Thomas Sheer, was concerned. He told Washington that a beginning agent in his office made less than a New York City trash collector. His men were vulnerable, he said. If the Russians made a good offer there would be agents who couldn't resist the money. When the bureau ignored the warning, Sheer quit.

But Hanssen didn't quit. Instead, he did what he had been preparing for all of his life. He went over to the other side.

Russian Embassy, Washington D.C.
Russian Embassy, Washington D.C.

On October 4, 1985, Bob Hanssen mailed a letter to Viktor Degtyar, a KGB colonel living in Alexandria, Va. Inside was another envelope which said, DO NOT OPEN. TAKE THIS LETTER TO VICTOR I. CHERKASHIN. Cherkashin headed the Soviet espionage operation in Washington. His letter read:

Dear Mr. Cherkashin:

Soon, I will send a box of documents to Mr. Degtyar. They are from certain of the most sensitive and highly compartmentalized projects of the U.S. Intelligence community. All are originals to aid verifying their authenticity. Please recognize for our long-term interests that there are a limited number of persons with this array of clearances.

As a collection they point to me. I trust that an officer of your experience will handle them appropriately. I believe they are sufficient to justify a $100,000 payment to me.

In his letter Bob named three Soviet KGB officersSergey Motorin, Valeriy Martynov and Boris Yuzhinwho were working as double agents for the U.S. In the next three years, the first two would be executed and Yuzhin would receive a long prison term. He also told Cherkashin that he would never reveal to them his identity or ever meet with his Soviet handlers. He also added a simple code for dates that he asked them to follow.

The die had been cast. Hanssen was calling the shots. He believed he was going to be a master of two worlds.

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