The Spy Next Door The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Phillip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History by Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman Little, Brown, 288 pp., $25.95 The Bureau and the Mole The Unmasking of Robert Phillip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History by David Vise Atlantic Monthly, 352 pp., $25 The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold The Secret Life of FBI Double Agent Robert Hanssen by Adrian Havil St.
The Spy Next Door The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Phillip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History by Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman Little, Brown, 288 pp., $25.95 The Bureau and the Mole The Unmasking of Robert Phillip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History by David Vise Atlantic Monthly, 352 pp., $25 The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold The Secret Life of FBI Double Agent Robert Hanssen by Adrian Havil St. Martin's, 352 pp., $25.95 WHAT ARE WE to make of Robert Hanssen--loving family man, devout Catholic, and one of the most damaging spies in American history? Three new books about Hanssen have arrived just as his final plea agreement--life in prison without parole, but no seizure of his house or pension--takes effect. The best is Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman's "The Spy Next Door," which avoids the worst excesses of the pop Freudianism that mars all the books. David Vise's "The Bureau and the Mole" is useful for its account of the arrogant FBI culture that allowed Hanssen to go undetected for years. Adrian Havil's "The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold" presents the elaborate process by which the espionage was carried out. Unfortunately, all three books are hurried, their authors all rushing to be first in print. Each does some reporting that goes beyond the original newspaper accounts, but none makes much headway toward explaining the man. To be fair, that's not surprising. Robert Hanssen is a bundle of contradictions: a contented husband who dallied with a stripper, a daily communicant at Mass who habitually betrayed his wife, an anti-Communist who likened America to "a powerfully built but retarded child" and sold state secrets to the KGB for more than ten years. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were prompted by ideology, a sincere identification with America's enemies. Aldrich Ames and the Walker family were greedy. But Hanssen? None of the available answers is satisfying. His hatred of communism was genuine if, at times, a bit over the top, and in his entire career he pocketed perhaps $650,000--a fraction of what the Soviets and later the Russians would have paid for the information he sold them. He didn't live large; his house in Vienna, Virginia, was modest by suburban standards, and when arrested he was driving a three-year-old Ford Taurus. (Aldrich Ames, by contrast, bought a half-million-dollar house and a white Jaguar, and banked $1.6 million, supposedly on a government salary.) HANSSEN IS ALSO distinguished by the extraordinary damage he did to national security. His access to classified documents was astonishing; among other things, he revealed: -NSA reports on flaws in the Soviet satellite communications system, which rendered useless a multi-billion dollar program designed to intercept secure Soviet communiqu s by taking advantage of those flaws. -Two years of the National Intelligence Program, a planning calendar of the American intelligence community's activities for the following year. -The existence of a multi-billion-dollar eavesdropping tunnel beneath the Soviet embassy in Washington. (The Soviets then used the tunnel to feed misinformation to the Americans.) -The FBI espionage investigation of Felix Bloch, a State Department employee suspected of spying who was tipped off and slipped through the bureau's fingers. -The identities of nine double agents within the Russian security apparatus, several of whom were executed. Hanssen also sold the Soviets the Continuity of Government Plan, the highly classified program designed to ensure the president's survival and continued government operations in case of nuclear attack. With this information the Soviets began to devise an offensive nuclear strategy, convinced they could fight and win a nuclear war. We are lucky his espionage didn't precipitate nuclear war. SO WHAT made him do it? A better question, perhaps, is how did he get away with it--the lying, the deceit, the overseas trips with hookers and secret sex life that composed one half of Robert Hanssen's split personality? It's startling that the people and institutions closest to him--including his family, the FBI, and his religious group, Opus Dei--all failed to see his disturbed personality and willfully ignored evidence of his deep flaws. The failures of the FBI are particularly obvious. Hanssen was administered not one polygraph in his twenty-five-year career, even as he was exposed to increasingly more sensitive information. All three of the new books detail how an old-boys culture at the bureau resisted polygraphing. Higher-ups refused to believe that agents who had sworn an oath and often put their lives on the line could possibly go bad. That attitude went straight to the top. Havil notes in "The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold" that FBI director Louis Freeh, in a speech given just days after Hanssen's arrest, warned that "removing someone from a position based on a polygraph can ruin a career." Even without a polygraph, Hanssen's erratic behavior should have sparked the attention of the bureau's internal spy hunters. Former co-workers recount his strange habit of flitting through the halls and insinuating himself into meetings and conversations where he had no business--trolling for information, as it turned out. In 1992, he hacked into his boss's computer and printed out a classified document, ostensibly to demonstrate the porousness of the bureau's electronic security. That the episode did not raise eyebrows is remarkable, especially in light of the strange incident a year later when Hanssen struck a female colleague who walked out of a meeting he was running. Hanssen was reprimanded and docked several days' pay, but the picture should have been clear of someone who was wound much too tight. Mark Wauck, a fellow FBI agent and Hanssen's own brother-in-law, advised his superiors in 1990 that Hanssen should be investigated, after the family discovered thousands of dollars in cash hidden in Hanssen's home. Nothing was done, and Hanssen went on to sell some of his most sensitive information to the Russians in the years to come. MORE DIFFICULT to weigh is the failure of Hanssen's family, especially his wife Bonnie, to penetrate his deceit. Depending on Hanssen as the sole provider for a family with six children, she was in a difficult position. And she has rightfully come in for a great deal of pity with revelations about the vile ways that Hanssen betrayed her--posting nude pictures and pornographic stories about her on the Internet and inviting a friend to spy on the couple having sex. She has also resisted the temptation to abandon her husband and defend herself in the press. She swears never to divorce Hanssen, prays for him every day, and visits him in prison every week. But victim though she is, Bonnie Hanssen is not completely clear of complicity in her husband's destruction. She knew that something was wrong, and she chose to sublimate that knowledge, placing herself and her children at risk. Over time, Hanssen's behavior became increasingly bizarre. He demanded that Bonnie change his pillowcase every day and twice snuck up behind a sister-in-law who was feeding an infant to touch her exposed breast (eventually, the woman refused to be alone with Hanssen). Bonnie was unaware Bob had posted explicit stories about her on the Internet, but she certainly knew Hanssen had sexual secrets. Only days after their wedding, as Vise recounts in "The Bureau and the Mole," Bonnie received a phone call from an old girlfriend of Hanssen's, who "bluntly told Bonnie that she and Bob had just made love and that she was the one he really had wanted to marry." Confronted, Hanssen admitted the adultery--but claimed that he had been entrapped by the woman and that he remained committed to his marriage with Bonnie. Even for devout Catholics who abhor divorce, a betrayal of this kind just days after the wedding would lead most women to walk out. But Bonnie hung on--although she would never trust her husband: Years later, after her children began interning at the FBI, she would grill them about Bob's secretaries, asking whether they were pretty and whether he flirted with them. But nothing points more clearly to Bonnie's complicity than a remarkable incident in 1980, when Bonnie came upon Bob counting out more than $20,000 in cash in the basement. He admitted he had sold information to the Soviets, though he claimed it was worthless "trash for cash." (In fact, he had revealed the identity of a longtime double agent within the GRU, Dmitri Polyakov, codenamed "tophat." Polyakov was later executed.) Bonnie dragged Bob to confession with an Opus Dei priest, Father Robert Bucciarelli, who according to Bonnie's later testimony exhorted Hanssen to pray, made him promise never to do it again, and had him donate the money to charity. Many attacks have been made on Bucciarelli's penance. Shannon and Blackman even imply that Bucciarelli should have turned him over to the authorities, despite the well-known doctrine that Catholic priests cannot reveal the contents of the confessional, even under pain of death. Still, it's true that the priest failed to exercise prudential judgment in the matter. Bucciarelli's answer--pray and donate the money to charity--is laughably naive. But if she and her husband got bad spiritual guidance from Bucciarelli, Bonnie Hanssen also failed to press the matter. It is too much to expect that any wife would turn in her husband. But if anything pointed to the need for a separation of some sort, or at least a serious turn to counseling, confessed espionage would seem to be it. One of the duties of Catholic marriage is, after all, to help your spouse attain heaven. Yet Bonnie, the daughter of a psychiatrist who had worked as an asylum nurse, did nothing. She continued to pretend that her husband's lapses were momentary, and that he was an essentially good man. She would pay a high price for that pretense over the years. By the time Hanssen was arrested, she needed a shot of NyQuil every night to get to sleep. Bonnie's first words upon hearing of his arrest are telling: "He did it, didn't he?" ROBERT HANSSEN'S membership in Opus Dei is one of the things that makes his case so curious. Latin for "Work of God," and colloquially known to members as "The Work," the group is an organization of lay people founded in Madrid in 1928 by Monsignor Josemaria Escriva, who will be canonized a saint this summer. Escriva's insight was that faith need not be divorced from everyday life, and that ordinary people living in the world have as compelling a call to sainthood as members of the clergy and can sanctify their daily life of work and family. The group sets a high standard, calling on members to pray and attend Mass daily and engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In the United States, it runs a number of schools, after-school programs, youth camps, and inner-city programs, as well as about sixty centers where members come to receive spiritual training. Opus Dei members who live at the centers are called "numeraries"--celibate, non-ordained men and women who usually have normal professional careers. Married members who live outside the centers, like the Hanssens, are called "supernumeraries." (There are also a small number of Opus Dei priests, "associate numeraries," and "cooperators," non-members who donate money and draw from the group's spiritual resources.) With perhaps eighty thousand adherents worldwide, it is a relatively small group, but its influence far outweighs its size. Accusing Opus Dei of exercising a dark, behind-the-scenes influence within the Catholic Church, its opponents call the group secretive and cult-like. The ascetical practices endorsed by Opus Dei are particularly disturbing to secularists, for whom the idea of taming the body through mortification is completely foreign (unless, of course, it involves gym membership and a Stairmaster). As it happens, the dark fantasies of Opus Dei's critics do not square with the actual lives of most members. The idea that the group is a front for some sort of twisted, religious-fascist Spanish plot to seize control of society is laughable. Unable to draw any direct connection between Hanssen's membership in Opus Dei and his espionage, the spy's biographers resort to a kind of bait-and-switch: The worst accusations against The Work are presented with the implication that in some unspecified way Hanssen and Opus Dei were drawn to each other--like to like, the spy and the cult. Adrian Havil, by far the most irresponsible of all the authors on the subject, even repeats the bizarre canard that the group assassinated the short-lived Pope John Paul I in order to elevate their man, John Paul II. BUT THE FAILURE of Shannon and Blackman's "The Spy Next Door," Vise's "The Bureau and the Mole," and Havil's "The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold" to understand the group's spirituality still leaves us the question: How does Opus Dei fit into the story of the various lives of Robert Hanssen? A number of Opus Dei members, after Hanssen's arrest, proposed the simple answer that he used the group to distract attention from himself. Shannon and Blackman flirt with this idea, referring to Hanssen's religious life as "perfect cover" for his espionage. But almost everyone who knew Robert Hanssen testifies that he seemed sincere about his faith. James Bamford, an investigative author who befriended Hanssen, once joined the spy at an Opus Dei meeting. Bamford later wrote in the New York Times, "Hanssen was in his element. He reveled in that close society of true believers like a fraternity brother exchanging a secret handshake. Even today, despite all the allegations against him, his faith seemed too sincere to be a ruse." Hanssen faithfully kept the external disciplines of a member, going to church every day at 6:30 in the morning and attending the required meetings and retreats. Twice a month, members meet with a spiritual director to plot their "plan of life," a pattern of devotions, sacrifices, and spiritual activities. The conversations are wide-ranging and extremely intimate. Frequent confession is encouraged, and members participate in a number of retreats and "circles"--classes on doctrinal and moral matters--every month. Informal social bonds reinforce this systematic closeness. Members know each other, socialize together, and attend the same schools and churches. A child born into an Opus Dei family can move from play groups with children of other members, through Opus Dei schools, into a college that has an Opus Dei presence, and finally into activities for adult members, always nestled comfortably within the confines of The Work. To members of Opus Dei still smarting from the betrayal, it's comforting but too easy to think Hanssen was deceptive through and through. Compartmented and compromised as Hanssen's religious faith was, it was sincere on some level. He undoubtedly misled his spiritual advisers much of the time. But he managed to exist within a close-knit, spiritually oriented organization for years without anyone realizing that he was mired deep in sins that were about to rip his family apart and send him to prison for the rest of his life. AMONG Opus Dei members who knew Hanssen, the almost universal recollection is that he was a quiet, respectable man who rarely spoke and never attracted attention to himself. That is not how his colleagues at the FBI recall him. To them, he was intense and arrogant, incapable of the frivolous pleasantries that grease the social skids. It is telling that, with very few exceptions, no one who had a choice associated with Robert Hanssen. His co-workers and colleagues called him "Dr. Death" or "the Mortician," in reference to his dour demeanor and trademark black suits. They didn't invite him to lunch, didn't include him in their socializing, didn't make him part of the team. He had few friends, and those he did have he dropped as he progressed deeper into espionage. Above all, he could not stop talking about his various obsessions: the perfidy of communism, the horror of abortion, and so on. Although they utterly failed in their primary duty to catch a double agent, his colleagues at the FBI and his various professional associates at least understood something about Hanssen the members of Opus Dei missed: that he was a repellently, unnaturally humorless man. There are almost no pictures of him smiling. The few that do exist (including the file photo that accompanied most news reports) show a smile that is painfully thin, sardonic, and inappropriate. His guilt must have been tremendous, and the strain shows in his face. Of course, we do not fully know what passed between Robert Hanssen and his confessors and spiritual advisers. Yet this joylessness, and the spiritual torment it indicates, never registered with his associates in Opus Dei--an organization whose founder once warned his followers, "Long faces, coarse manners, a ridiculous appearance, a repelling air. Is that how you hope to inspire others to follow Christ?" Part of the answer is simple Christian charity, and part is the necessary benefit of the doubt given a fellow member (although Escriva has a maxim that covers that as well: "Faith, joy, optimism. But not the folly of closing your eyes to reality"). But a deeper part of the answer reflects a dynamic common to groups that are small, elite, close-knit, and utterly devoted to a cause. Hanssen's obsessive talk about sin and wicked beliefs would hardly seem out of place within an organization that defines itself against the general currents of a lascivious, secular society. If there was too much zeal in Robert Hanssen--after all, no one, not even the most committed anti-Communist or pro-lifer, talks about those subjects all the time--those eccentricities can be papered over by the force of common belief. The Opus Dei plan of life has a small but, in this case, crucial blind spot: It renders its members unable to see what most people find strange about the life. They would not have been surprised to discover that Robert Hanssen's co-workers didn't like him; from the start Opus Dei has been dogged by the suspicions of people who misunderstood what it was trying to do. Escriva himself exhorted members to disregard the opposition of outsiders: "Don't be upset," he wrote, "when you state an orthodox opinion and the malice of whoever heard you causes him to be scandalized. For his scandal is pharisaical." Members of Opus Dei set out to live with sanctity in the world--to do, as Escriva said (and George W. Bush quoted in his inaugural address), "small things with great love." But members of The Work do not fully fit in this world. And that creates a practical problem: Opus Dei acts as though the world has nothing to teach it, as though the world merely waits for The Work to enlighten its ignorance. In this case, the world had something to say about the character of Robert Hanssen that should have troubled the spiritual elders within Opus Dei who accepted some measure of authority over his spiritual development. That message was not received because Opus Dei never expects to be instructed, even in practical matters, by those it hopes to instruct. ALL THIS leaves the question of why Hanssen did it. His biographers arrive at a range of answers. For Havil, it comes down to ego: Hanssen was a profoundly self-centered man who was determined to show an unappreciative FBI how easily he could put one over on them. Shannon and Blackman blame his emotionally abusive father, who devastated the teenage Hanssen by denigrating his masculinity and resolve. For Vise, Hanssen was, beneath the withdrawn exterior, a risk- taker who sought out the riskiest deed he could imagine. And everyone agrees that while money was not Hanssen's primary motive, it certainly made things easier for a man with six children to feed and educate. All these factors were in play, and probably more. The final answer to the question of motivation remains locked inside Robert Hanssen, who is locked inside a federal penitentiary. It seems likely we will never fully know why he did it and probable that he himself does not completely understand his reasons. There is, of course, something mysterious about sin and the dark regions of the heart from which it springs. But that mystery does not let us off the hook. The effects of sin are also written on our faces and in our actions. The challenge is to have the wit to see it and the courage to confront it. Justin Torres is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
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