The Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI's notorious agent turned Soviet spy Robert Hanssen died of natural causes on May 6, 2023. He was found dead at the maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado. He was 79 years of age. He worked for the FBI, the domestic intelligence agency of the USA. Before his arrest, he was a respected agent, trusted by the American government. According to the agency, he was one of the most dangerous spies who inflicted considerable damage on the FBI.
On February 18, 2001, Robert Hanssen was apprehended on espionage charges and working for the Russian government. In 1985, Hanssen made a head start on his espionage activities. He held an important position in the counter-intelligence division of the FBI and had access to confidential information. His training as a counter-intelligence officer helped him stay under the radar and pass on information undetected. It was not until the arrest of another agent Aldrich Ames, suspected of espionage, that the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency or the CIA stumbled upon the knowledge that there was a mole at the upper levels of the agencies. Thus ensued a two-year investigation into veteran CIA officers, considered the prime suspects for being the mole.
The Espionage Act of 1917 under the American constitution criminalizes the collection of information and sharing the information with people without the appropriate clearance. Earlier, the information could be military installation and positioning. Currently, it includes any intelligence information. President William Howard Taft signed the act in 1911. The act was approved and signed in the backdrop of the first world war. The objective was to discover and punish any activities deemed disloyal to the American war effort. The punishment ranged from a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 20 years. After Robert Hanssen, Edward Snowden was charged with the act before fleeing to Russia for diplomatic refuge.
Robert Hanssen used analog techniques to pass on information to his Russian handlers. He used the 'dead drop' technique, where an object containing a piece of information would be left hiding in a public area, a park, or a building. The Russian handler would collect the data from the hiding spot that only he and Robert Hanssen knew. Hanssen's appointment from 1985 up to his arrest in 2001 compromised many American officers working in Russia. Several investigations, counter-intelligence techniques, and classified documents found their way to Moscow. After the FBI confirmed their suspicion of Hanssen, they wanted to apprehend him in the act. He was called back from field duties and offered a position in the FBI headquarters.
He did not live a lavish lifestyle or displayed opulence in his demeanor. In exchange for information, he accepted cash equivalent to $1.4 million, diamonds, and bank transfers from his Russian handlers. Under the alias of 'Ramon Garcia,' he passed on 6000 documents and 26 disks containing high levels of sensitive information about American operatives in Moscow. While serving his sentence, he was found unconscious in his cell, and prison officials confirmed he had died of natural causes. He was the subject of countless spy thrillers and the cause of a great deal of embarrassment pointing to the operational failure of the FBI and the CIA. The story of this spy finally came to an end.
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