The Spy Next Door

The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History


By Ann Blackman

By Elaine Shannon

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Two veteran Time magazine reporters present the shocking, fascinating account of one of the greatest espionage scandals of our time — the story of Robert Hanssen, one of the most mysterious traitors in American history.


Copyright © 2002 by Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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First eBook Edition: December 2008

ISBN: 978-0-316-05559-8



Bob Hanssen started the morning of February 18, 2001, much like any other Sunday. His wife, Bonnie, had fixed scrambled eggs to serve with glazed Dunkin' Donuts, Bob's favorite. With the two youngest of their six children, the family had piled into their aging beige Volkswagen van in time to join other worshipers for the 10:30 mass at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, Virginia. The Hanssens were serious about their faith. Instead of attending services at their local parish, they made the weekly eight-mile trip because St. Catherine's was the only church in the Arlington diocese that still held a Latin mass. Their son Mark had been an altar boy there for several years.

Arriving just in time, the Hanssens took their usual seats in the third-row pew, directly in front of the large wooden statue of the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Sorrows. Before sitting down, each genuflected, then knelt in prayer. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, father of nine, was sitting a few rows back and to the left. FBI Director Louis Freeh, father of six, also a member of the parish, had been to an earlier mass.

As the thunderous sound of the Rodgers electric organ signaled the start of the Mass, voices of the choir rose in unison singing "Lord of All Nations, Give Me Grace." The Reverend Franklyn Martin McAfee followed the processional to the altar, the creases of his ornate green chasuble glittering in the reflected light of candles being carried by the altar boys. Shaking a silver canister back and forth, McAfee waved nonallergenic incense (it was lily-of-the-valley that week, other times rose or geranium) over the altar. Then, turning to address the parishioners, he chanted in his familiar baritone: "In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti." In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. His listeners joined in the ritual by responding: "Dominus vobiscum." The Lord be with you.

Most of those who attend St. Catherine's live in the Virginia suburbs, just outside of Washington, D.C. Some church members are very affluent, arriving for mass by limousine. The church population is largely white and traditional. Many have Ivy League educations and are influential in government and industry. On an average Sunday, the St. Catherine's church collection plate brings in about $15,000, and donations to the poor box, which are distributed to various charities, add a bit more. Church members are requested to put their weekly donation in envelopes marked with each family's name and address so the church can keep track of its roster. It is church policy that members from outside the parish, like the Hanssens, always list their particulars, and they are frequently reminded about it. Yet the Hanssens rarely used the envelopes. Church officials said that the family contributed some money to the parish, but not much. And when he did offer something, Bob Hanssen seemed to prefer cash with no indication as to the donor. Since the highest form of charity may be that of the anonymous donor, Hanssen may have considered this a high-minded gesture.

At the end of the ninety-minute mass on this Sunday, Father McAfee rose from his chair, adjusted his black biretta on his thick white mane, and led his church members in prayer: "O prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen."

"Amen," sang several hundred parishioners in unison.

When Bob Hanssen arrived home at midday, he spent a few minutes on the lawn tossing a Frisbee to the family dog, a friendly black Labrador retriever mix named Sundae. Then he fell into conversation with a weekend guest, Jack Hoschouer, his best friend of more than forty years. At fifty-seven, Jack was as fit and energetic as a Tom Clancy hero, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, living in Germany, where he worked as a sales representative for an ammunition company. The two men were as close as brothers, the kind of old friends who could still laugh over those embarrassing little episodes of childhood that most people try to forget. Bob handed Jack a dogeared copy of a book called The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton, the British journalist and conservative social philosopher best known for his detective stories. Hanssen, an avid reader with a weakness for spy novels, told his friend that this was a favorite tome, and it certainly looked much-read. The cover was torn off, the pages brittle with age and long since turned the shade of steeped tea. Written in 1908, the book tells the story of an undercover spy ring composed of seven men, all Catholic, each one code-named for a different day of the week. They live in a suburb of London called Saffron Park, a place that was "not only pleasant but perfect," call their society the "General Council of the Anarchists of Europe," and pride themselves on being enemies of society. Their mission is to kill the president of France. The gentleman who holds the position of Thursday thinks of himself as a poet and is, in his other life, an undercover policeman.

Hoschouer, who had a plane to catch, didn't give the book much thought before tossing it on top of his suitcase.

Shortly before four P.M., Bob told Bonnie that he would drop Jack at Dulles International Airport. Hoschouer had a six-o'clock flight to Phoenix to see his mother, and the airport was about a fifteen-minute drive from the house. The two men got into Hanssen's four-year-old silver Taurus. It was a routine they had followed many times before. But when they arrived at the departure terminal, Hoschouer was surprised that Bob did not offer to join him inside for a Coke, which was their usual practice. Then Jack remembered that the Hanssens' eldest daughter, Jane, was expected with her four children for Sunday supper and figured Bob simply had to get home. Jack knew also that Bob wanted to have enough time that evening to watch the Daytona 500. The two friends had been race car fans since high school and were rooting for seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup-winner Dale Earnhardt. A quick good-bye was in order. "It was an uneventful and unremarkable day," Hoschouer recalled.

What Jack did not know was that the FBI had followed Hanssen to the airport. Had Hanssen boarded an international flight, it would not have taken off. Had he boarded a domestic flight, agents planned to fly with him. But Hanssen did neither. Instead, he headed home.

But a few blocks before he got there, he made a slight detour.

The afternoon was cold and somewhat dreary, the clouds gathering in the winter sky like gray goose feathers, threatening rain. At exactly 4:34 P.M., Hanssen climbed out of his car, closed the door, and walked quickly across Crossing Creek Road toward the wooded entrance of Foxstone Park, a narrow strip of tulip poplar trees separating one suburban housing development from another. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a roll of white adhesive tape and placed a small vertical strip on the dark signpost. Both sides of the long, asphalt path were lined with deep puddles, pungent with the smell of moldy leaves. The sun was falling, and he had no time to waste.

Bob Hanssen was a tall man with big shoulders and a thick neck, his dark hair only slightly flecked with gray. He was somewhat stooped, his head jutting so far forward that he almost resembled a question mark. On this day, his stride was quick and purposeful. He was five weeks short of retiring from the FBI and had been angling for a job with a Russian defector named Viktor Sheymov, who had started a small security software company called Invicta Networks, located in Herndon, Virginia. Sheymov had turned him down, but Hanssen was mulling over other ideas for finding a new source of income to augment his government pension, easing the financial pinch that had become a daily worry for a family man with so many children. He wanted to fix up the house a bit. Right now, even the most mundane roof repair seemed like an extravagance.

When Hanssen came to a small wooden footbridge that crossed over a meandering stream called Wolftrap Creek, he reached under the left corner of the structure and slipped an inch-thick package wrapped in a black, taped-up plastic bag over a rusted beam where dirt had eroded from the bank. The bag held a collection of seven FBI documents, classified SECRET, spelling out details of current FBI investigations against Russian spies. There was also a computer diskette containing an encrypted letter that read as follows:

Dear Friends,

I thank you for your assistance these many years. It seems, however, that my greatest utility to you has come to an end, and it is time to seclude myself from active service.

Since communicating last, and one wonders if because of it, I have been promoted to a higher do-nothing senior executive outside of regular access to information within the counterintelligence program. Furthermore, I believe I have detected repeating bursting radio signal emanations from my vehicle. I have not found their sources, but as you wisely do, I will leave this alone, for knowledge of their existance [sic] is sufficient. Amusing the games children play. In this, I strongly suspect you should have concerns for the integrity of your compartment concerning knowledge of my efforts on your behalf. Something has aroused the sleeping tiger. Perhaps you know better than I.

Life is full of its ups and downs.

My hope is that if you respond to this constant-conditions-of-connection message, you will have provided some sufficient means of re-contact besides it. If not, I will be in contact next year, same time, same place. Perhaps the correlation of forces and circumstances then will have improved.

Your friend,

Ramon Garcia

When he was sure the package was not visible to passersby, Hanssen turned and briskly retraced his steps. The walk took about five minutes. All the while, members of the Gees (short for SSG, or Special Surveillance Group), non-agent personnel adept at blending into any environment, lurked in the bushes. They had not been expecting Hanssen this early. In his Palm Pilot, which FBI agents had covertly examined in advance, he had recorded: "ELLIS: 8:00." ELLIS was the code-name the Russians had chosen for the dead drop. The Gees, who had been following Hanssen day and night for a dozen weeks now, were ready. Just as he approached his car, a white Suburban van whipped around the corner and two tall, muscular young agents in "raid jackets," with "FBI" stamped in bright yellow letters front and back, jumped out, followed by two SWAT-team agents toting Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns—counterterrorist weapons—in case Hanssen reached for his gun. Other FBI agents and Gees emerged from cars and the woods, ready to block any effort Hanssen made to escape through the thicket. "Mr. Hanssen, you're under arrest," one agent declared, then recited a Miranda warning. The agents patted Hanssen down, handcuffed his wrists behind his back, and put him in the back of the vehicle, where two older case agents waited. A confidant of the Hanssen family said that when FBI agents slapped on the cuffs, Hanssen looked them in the eye and quipped, "What took you guys so long?"

The agents who drove Hanssen to an FBI field office suite in Tysons Corner, Virginia, said he had seemed resigned, that he had said little as they cuffed him. Once inside the field office, the agents laid out some of their evidence and played Hanssen a 1986 tape of himself speaking to a KGB agent.

Hanssen asked for a lawyer.

Ed Shaughnessy was an eighty-four-year-old neighbor who lived across the street from Foxstone Park. A little after four P.M., Shaughnessy had tried to back out of his driveway onto Fairway Street, a quiet slip of a road that ends precisely at Foxstone Park. He was surprised to see the street had been blocked off by a large, unmarked van and that cars were being forced to turn around. "I got out to see what was going on and found more FBI agents than I had ever seen in my life," Shaughnessy recalled. "There had to be at least twenty-five of them." Shaughnessy saw a big man approaching a gray Taurus, shoved against the car and handcuffed. He would surely have recognized Bob Hanssen had Hanssen's back not been turned: Shaughnessy saw him every weekday morning at 6:30 mass at their local parish church, Our Lady of Good Counsel. "He always sat in the back on the right by himself," Shaughnessy recalled.

Not far away, in Arlington, other Gees were watching a second drop site code-named LEWIS to see if Russian intelligence officers showed up to reclaim a package that had been left for Hanssen. The Gees had already opened it, counted the money inside—$50,000 in used hundred-dollar bills—taken it to the FBI lab to be photographed and analyzed for fingerprints, then carefully replaced it. Once they received the radio call that Hanssen had been arrested and would not be showing up to collect the cash, they seized it as evidence.

The Hanssens lived in the modest, middle-class community of Vienna, Virginia, about seventeen miles from Washington. Their home, purchased in 1987 for $197,095, is situated on a quiet cul-de-sac at the end of Talisman Drive, a neighborhood of neatly kept houses with basketball hoops and carefully edged lawns that fade into a small woods where children play after school. The headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency is only a few miles away, and it is not uncommon in the community for friends and acquaintances to have jobs related to the intelligence field. Neighbors know to be discreet and generally ask few questions.

At the time of their father's arrest, Bob Hanssen's three sons and three daughters ranged in age from fifteen to almost thirty. Only the two youngest, Lisa and Greg, still lived at home, but all of the children were well known in the neighborhood, with lots of friends who had grown up with them. They all made an effort to be home for the neighborhood block party held each year on Memorial Day.

The Hanssens were respected parents in the private Catholic prep schools that their children have attended: the Heights, a boys' school for grades three to twelve, located in Potomac, Maryland; and Oakcrest, a small girls' school for grades seven to twelve, now located in McLean, Virginia. Barbara Falk, director of Oakcrest, considered Bob Hanssen a perfectly lovely man, the kind of person who would think to fetch her a glass of wine after a drawn-out PTA meeting when she was still surrounded by parents. "If you asked who was the most chivalrous man I ever met, I would say Bob Hanssen," Falk declared. "He is the consummate gentleman. I never even heard him swear."

Falk called the Hanssens an exemplary couple. "In my whole life, I have never seen a better marriage," she said. "Bonnie loves him madly. And I've never seen six kids like theirs. And if you see the children, you will see what successful parents they are."

As they were growing up, the Hanssen children often played street hockey on warm summer nights with other kids in the neighborhood, finishing only when it grew dark. Because no one had an ample backyard, the kids would gather at the end of Talisman, the cul-de-sac eventually taking on the air of a festive town square. Bonnie Hanssen enjoyed these carefree evenings and often brought her grandchildren in a stroller. The children's friends always felt welcome at the Hanssen house. The family's rectangular dinner table had a chair at each end and a bench on either side for the kids. The flowered tablecloths were always fresh and ironed. It was such a friendly neighborhood that the longtime principal at the Wolftrap Elementary School at the end of the block once said that she imagined that when she died and went to heaven, it would be like living on Talisman Drive.

Though the Hanssens had lived in the same community for almost fifteen years, no one was particularly close to Bob. He was considered a loner, an awkward man who discouraged small talk by averting his eyes to passersby, a man who seemed to prefer to take solitary walks with his dog than to chat on the street corner with neighbors. He spoke in a low voice, so people found they had to lean forward a bit to hear him. "I don't think anybody here knew him well at all," Diane Dondershine, who lives at the other end of Talisman Drive, told the Washington Post. Jerry Garrett, who lives next door, agreed: "The rest of the family is outgoing and friendly, but he never seemed to want to talk to anyone."

Nancy Cullen, who has known the family for fifteen years, often saw Hanssen on her morning walks. He parked his car on the street. His hours were extremely regular. By all appearances, he was just another guy going to work each day, fighting the good fight and all that patriotic stuff.

It's not that Hanssen was antisocial. Not exactly, anyway. He attended neighborhood events, made the right small talk, and never had much to drink, but his focus was always on Bonnie. At fifty-four, she was still beautiful, with shoulder-length auburn hair, clear porcelain skin, and large, soft brown eyes that always seemed to suggest she was thinking of something else. She was petite and well proportioned, with that same schoolgirl figure that had attracted him in the first place. Bob thought she looked a lot like the sexy actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. He loved the fact that other men still found her attractive. "You could always see that Bob adored his wife," Cullen said. "He was besotted by her. He would just gaze at her." Bob also loved his kids. When they were little, he read them bedtime stories, and as they grew older, he made a point of trying to attend their soccer games. He took particular pride in their academic achievements, often bragging about them to the guys at work. (They were all smart—like their father, of course.) He drew them into conversations about ethics at the dinner table, but he also took it in stride when they teased him, usually about his love of computers. He was always showing off new gadgets. But Bob was not one to engage other parents in conversation. "You approached him; he never approached you," said Cullen, an executive with the National Association of Broadcasters. "If you didn't say 'Hi' to him first, he might not even notice you."

At family gatherings—a recent Thanksgiving in Chicago, the wedding of his daughter, Jane—Hanssen often seemed detached, as if he were there yet not there at all. Gathered in Rome in 1999 for the ordination of Bonnie's brother, John Wauck, the entire family posed for a picture in front of a church. Hanssen stood to one side, his arm protectively around the attractive woman next to him, as if she were his wife. But she wasn't; the woman was Jeanne Beglis, Bonnie's sister. Bonnie was standing behind Jeanne in the back row, barely visible. It was as ifHanssen had forgotten where he belonged.

In sharp contrast to her husband, Bonnie Hanssen was liked by everyone who knew her. Neighbors, friends, and colleagues all described her as an optimistic woman, sunny by nature, and with a good sense of humor. Despite her devout Catholicism, she could laugh at an off-color joke and lapse into the occasional profanity. Everyone knows married couples in which one partner is good company, the other a dud. With the Hanssens, Bonnie was the fun one, Bob the bore, always turning the conversation to the Linux operating system or religion or abortion politics and then putting everyone to sleep.

In fact, Bonnie had a moralistic streak in her, too; not as strong as Bob's, but it was there. She liked people to think she was beyond reproach, that she did everything according to the Good Book, that she was above sin. And she always talked about Perfect Bob, how smart he was, how hard he worked, what high ethical standards he had. She said these things even though she knew they hadn't always been true, that at least once he had been tempted by the devil. Maintaining the façade wasn't always easy; it took a nightly dose of Nyquil to get Bonnie to sleep. And many times when Bonnie smiled, she didn't really look happy. Her face seemed to reveal that as hard as they tried to be good Catholics, as often as they went to mass, as much as they followed the rules, she never thought they really measured up. Nobody ever does, of course, but it seemed to weigh on Bonnie.

She and Bob could also be very judgmental, always reinforcing each other about the right choices they had made in life while criticizing others, from politicians to neighbors, sometimes with rather unchristian remarks. Driving to St. Catherine's on Sunday mornings, Bonnie would complain about people who were jogging instead of being in church. But this was the private Bonnie, a side that most people never saw. Among the women in the neighborhood she was much admired—especially for the ease with which she seemed to raise her six children. The neighbors would ask themselves why they couldn't seem to bring their families together for a big pot roast dinner on Sunday evenings, why they couldn't turn themselves into the model wife and mother that Bonnie seemed to be. "And most of us did not have six kids," noted Nancy Cullen. Bonnie somehow managed to be frugal without seeming to sacrifice.

But this Sunday was different. When Bob failed to return home by dusk, Bonnie grew worried. He had not been looking after himself physically in the past year, and his weight had increased. He hadn't really been himself for months. He didn't seem to engage in conversation. Sometimes he just sat in a chair, looking morose. Bonnie was concerned about what would happen if Bob didn't take his heart medication on time. He also suffered from kidney problems and complained to friends about what a nuisance it was to have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. As darkness fell, Bonnie called her mother, Fran, and her sister, Jeanne, and asked them to pray for Bob. Finally, Bonnie could stand it no longer. She got in her van and drove to Dulles. A friend went with her for moral support.

What Bonnie did not know was that FBI personnel had been watching their movements from inside a house across the street. The government had secretly purchased the property almost three months before, just after Thanksgiving, not long after they put Hanssen under surveillance. It had been put on the market and sold abruptly. The couple who owned it had no children and moved away without even saying good-bye. For the past six weeks the blinds had been pulled tight and folks were beginning to wonder why no one moved in. Nor did anyone ever see people come or go. One neighbor said she should have realized something was up when a lineman remarked that the phone company was installing eight new lines.

The FBI may have fooled some of the neighbors, but had they fooled him? Neighbors say that after the telephone company put the lines in, the FBI failed to remove all those little red flags that the utility company used to mark the gas lines to the house. (Talk about a red flag!) Did they think Hanssen wouldn't be suspicious when the house directly across the street sold and yet appeared uninhabited? Not likely.

Another time Hanssen noticed that when he drove into the FBI parking lot, something in his car made a distinctive "ping." Was there a tracking device attached to his vehicle to monitor his movement? Well, yes, there was; and the FBI put it there. But bureau officials insisted after the arrest that their device would not have made any noise. If the ping existed, they said, it did so only in Hanssen's increasingly paranoid imagination.

Hanssen had also believed that unusual transmission bursts were affecting his new, Global Positioning System, the electronic navigation device that pinpoints one's exact position on the earth via satellite. Nothing pleased him more than to be driving north and having his GPS say he was driving north. But every few minutes it would fly off kilter and then correct itself. He knew something unusual had to be causing it, that he was probably under surveillance. He assumed the transmitter that the FBI was using to track him was somehow interfering with his GPS unit. It pissed him off. On the day before his arrest, someone in the neighborhood saw Hanssen marching up and down his street for twenty minutes, directly in front of the house purchased by the FBI, holding his new yellow GPS gadget and watching for transmission bursts. Later, the onlooker wondered if he was giving the FBI the finger.

Some wondered if Hanssen really did know what was up, or whether his claims were simply boasts, attempts to show that he had once more outsmarted his colleagues—the FBI had not caught him, he had caught himself. He had willingly walked into the arms of the arrest team because he wanted his years of espionage to be over. But if that were true, FBI officials said, why hadn't he just walked into the field office and given himself up? Why put his wife and children through the shame of a public arrest near their home?

The FBI certainly made its share of mistakes, but its agents did know how to tail a target. Two Gees followed Bonnie to the airport. When she pulled into the parking lot, they approached her, identified themselves, and told her that her husband was fine, he had not been hurt. But there was a problem—an agent arrived next and told Bonnie he had some bad news. Would she accompany him inside the airport, where they could talk privately? Bonnie nodded numbly and followed the agent to a room borrowed from airport management. There he broke the news to her: her husband of thirty-three years was under arrest for espionage. When the agent was satisfied that Bonnie's shock was sincere and unrehearsed, her bewilderment too deep to be feigned, he drove her home.

Bonnie Hanssen was not under suspicion. FBI officials considered her and her six children victims. But in case she had any useful information to pass on—and for the family's physical safety, as well—two agents spent the night in the Hanssen home. They listened as she telephoned relative after relative, including Bob's eighty-eight-year-old mother in Venice, Florida. At some point, Bonnie was permitted to speak to her husband. Their conversation lasted less than a minute. Hanssen told his wife that he was very sorry and would always love her.

But now came the hardest part. How in the sweet name of Jesus was she going to break this news to the children? It would be easier to explain if he had died in a traffic accident—tragic, of course, but those things happen. In many ways, this was worse. All of a sudden, like a brutal whack in the head, life as they knew it would be forever changed. Daddy, the tall, strong voice of morality and authority, the guy who set the example, laid down the rules, got them all in the van for Sunday mass…in jail, for the rest of their lives? It was unimaginable, a nightmare. Surely Bonnie would wake up in the morning, tell Bob about this wretched dream, and they would shake their heads the way married couples do, wondering what it was they ate for dinner that could have caused such a terrible, awful night.

But there was no shaking it.

The next day, realizing that the house would soon be surrounded by television trucks and curiosity-seekers, the FBI offered to put Bonnie, Lisa, and Greg up in a hotel for a few days. They accepted.

The voices of Bonnie's friends said it all.

Later, those who had the courage to talk to her spoke not in the warm tones of sympathy reserved for death and dying, but with words of pity (Oh, poor Bonnie…), those well-meaning but sickening comments that are hardest of all to bear. Bonnie, the woman who never drew attention to herself, who reveled in anonymity, was suddenly at center stage. And a hushed, if hackneyed, line of inquiry began to be heard: What did she know and when did she know it?


On Sale
Dec 14, 2008
Page Count
256 pages