Connor’s Spy Hall of Fame: Robert Hanssen

Published on December 1, 2010

This week’s entry is actually a member of Connor’s Spy Hall of Infamy. Because even though Robert Hanssen’s espionage activities are amazing, he’s not someone to be admired. He’s one of the FBI’s most notorious moles ever, and is now serving a life sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ maximum security facility ADX Florence, spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Born in Chicago in 1944, Hanssen spent many years studying chemistry, Russian, dentistry and business before joining the FBI in 1976. Just three years later he began spying for the Soviet Union.

Intelligence agents often become moles due to their changing political or religious beliefs. But Hanssen’s motives were purely financial.  He spied on and off from 1979 until 2001 and was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Soviets and Russians.

Hanssen was a very smart man who instituted several clever protocols during his espionage activities. He developed a code to be used when dates were exchanged between him and his Soviet handlers. Six was added to each part of a drop time, so that a date like January 10 at 3pm would be July 16 at 9pm. And instead of using known KGB drops, Hanssen established his own dead drops. It was at one of these drops – a footbridge in Virginia’s Foxstone Park – that he was finally caught.

Hanssen benefited from the FBI’s now-notorious bungling of internal investigations. Considering his own errors in judgment, he should’ve been caught much sooner. He once left $5000 in cash sitting on his bedroom dresser, where his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) discovered it. Another time Hanssen was caught trying to hack into FBI protected files. His explanation? He was only trying to hook up a color printer! Remarkably, his superiors believed him.

Several books have been written about Hanssen and two notable movies have been made: Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story and Breach.

Are you ready for the Spy Alliance?


  1. Posted by Jason Holborn on December 7th, 2010, 11:17

    I think I may have learned a bit about this guy in the Spy Museum in Washington, DC – I had no idea there was a Federal Bureau of Prisons, though. 23 hours a day solitary – that’s hard to imagine….

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