by Gregory P. Teixeira
A former FBI agent who was convicted of being one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history, was found dead in his cell on June 5, 2023, at the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP’s) “supermax” U.S. penitentiary (USP) in Florence, Colorado.
Robert Hanssen, 79, was serving a life term after pleading guilty in 2002 to spying for over two decades for the former Soviet Union, later the Russian Federation. BOP staff discovered Hanssen’s unresponsive body and initiated life-saving measures that were unsuccessful. No cause of death was disclosed.
Hanssen joined the FBI in 1976 and began selling classified information in 1985 to the former U.S.S.R. By the time of his February 2001 arrest, he had taken compensation worth more than $1.4 million in cash, financial certificates and diamonds. In exchange he provided compromising information on numerous intelligence sources and techniques, including classified U.S. documents.
“The FBI trusted him with some of the most sensitive secrets of the U.S. government, and instead of upholding that trust, he abused and betrayed it,” the FBI said, emphasizing that Hanssen utilized his experience and training to remain undetected for years.
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh described Hanssen’s actions at the time of his arrest as the “most traitorous action imaginable” against the U.S,
FBI investigators dedicated years to identifying a spy suspected within their ranks. The investigation and surveillance weeks leading up to Hanssen’s arrest involved some 300 agents. An arrest team apprehended Hanssen after catching him in the act of making a “dead drop” of classified materials in a suburban Virginia park.
In exchange for a plea agreement and cooperation with U.S. intelligence agencies, the government did not to pursue the death penalty against him, a decision then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called “a difficult one.”
Freeh, 71, left the FBI to found a law firm and then a consultancy with a rogue’s gallery of clients, including former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, 69, who has been serving a 12-year prison term since 2020 for helping himself to $10 million from the state treasury, which he claimed to believe was a personal gift from the Saudi royal family; fugitive Romanian real estate developer Gabriel ‘Puiu’ Popoviciu, 64, who has evaded a seven-year sentence since 2017 for corruption and fraud in a Bucharest shopping mall project; and Israeli-French diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, 67, who lost his last appeal in Swiss court on April 5, 2023, to a bribery conviction in connection with Guinea mining rights.
Ashcroft, 81, has appeared recently promoting the candidacy of his son, Jay, for the GOP nomination for Missouri governor in the 2024 elections. The younger Ashcroft has announced himself a fan of book bans who opposes same-sex marriage.
USP-Florence holds 325 high-security federal prisoners, most in single-man cells where they spend 23 hours a day alone. Given the potential for self-harm, British courts refused to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. without assurances he would not be held in “supermax” conditions. The 51-year-old’s latest appeal was denied on June 10, 2023.
Sources: al-Jazeera, AP News, CNN, Daily Mail, Romania Insider, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Times of Isreal
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