Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent who took more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds to trade secrets with Moscow in one of the most famous spying cases in U.S. history, died in jail on Monday.
Hanssen, who was 79, was found unresponsive in his cell at a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, and was later declared dead, prison officials said. A person who knows about the situation told The Associated Press that he is thought to have died of natural causes. The person was not allowed to talk about Hanssen’s death in public, so they spoke to the AP on the condition that they could remain anonymous.
Since 2002, when he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and other charges, he had been in jail for life without the chance of parole.
Since at least 1985, Hanssen had shared a lot of information about how the U.S. gathered data, including a lot of information about how U.S. officials had tapped into Russian spy operations.
He was thought to have had something to do with the deaths of at least three Soviet soldiers who worked for U.S. intelligence and were put to death when they were found out.
He gave highly secret information about national security to the Soviet Union and then Russia in exchange for more than $1.4 million in cash, bank funds, diamonds, and Rolex watches.
He didn’t live in a way that was obviously lavish. Instead, he lived in a modest house in a Virginia town with his wife and six kids and drove a Taurus and a minivan.
The tweet below verifies the news:
Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who spied for Russia and the former Soviet Union, was found dead in his prison cell. The FBI calls him “the most damaging spy in Bureau history.” https://t.co/CcbU2WjNDy
— The Hill (@thehill) June 6, 2023
Hanssen later said that money, not theory, was what drove him, but a letter he wrote to his Soviet handlers in 1985 explains that a big payoff could have caused problems because he couldn’t spend it without setting off alarm bells.
Authorities say that under the name “Ramon Garcia,” he gave his handlers about 6,000 papers and 26 computer disks. They told me how to listen in on conversations, helped figure out who Russian double spies were, and told other secrets. Officials also thought he told Moscow about a secret tunnel the U.S. built under the Soviet Embassy in Washington so they could listen in on conversations.
He went years without being caught, but later probes found warning signs that were missed. Hanssen was caught putting secrets in a trash bag and taping it to the underside of a footbridge in a park as a “dead drop” for Russian managers after he became the target of a hunt for a Russian mole.
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In 2007, the story was turned into a movie called “Breach.” Chris Cooper played Hanssen, and Ryan Phillippe played a young FBI agent who helped catch him.
The Bureau of Prisons says that the FBI has been told about Hanssen’s death.
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