Today's Papers

Federal Burrow of Investigation

Everybody leads with the FBI’s announcement yesterday that it had arrested one of its own agents, Robert Hanssen, on charges of spying for the Soviet Union and then Russia since 1985.

The papers all have the highlights of the case information the government made available yesterday: Hanssen, a specialist in the FBI’s spy-catching branch, made his original unprompted contact with the KGB via mail. Shortly after that, he established his bona fides with the Soviets by sending them the names of three Russians who were actually spying for the U.S., names they already had gotten independently from CIA spy Aldrich Ames. The three Russians were all caught and tried for espionage, and two of them were executed. (Because of the executions, the papers explain, if convicted, Hanssen might get the death penalty.) It also appears that Hanssen tipped off his handlers to the U.S.’$2 1989 investigation of State Dept. officer Felix Bloch, suspected of spying but never charged. In return over the years, Hanssen received about $600,000 and some diamonds in hand with the promise of about $800,000 being put aside for him in an overseas account. The U.S. is still assessing the damage allegedly done by Hanssen, but yesterday FBI Director Louis Freeh said it was “exceptionally grave.”

According to the coverage, intercepted materials reveal some contempt on Hanssen’s part for the FBI’s ability and his claim that he was inspired as a 14-year-old to become a spy after reading legendary British-spy-for-the-Soviets Kim Philby’s memoir. They also show his considerable pride in his spy skills. And indeed, the papers explain that what helped Hanssen evade arrest for so long was his careful avoidance of the FBI’s spy-catching techniques. For instance, he routinely ran his name and address and the word “dead drop” through the FBI’s own computers. The New York Times lead points out that although the FBI system would have noted this, Hanssen’s usage was never questioned. Also, Hanssen never told his handlers his real name or who he worked for, and he never agreed to meet them either in the U.S. or overseas. As an excellent Washington Postfronter by Vernon Loeb and Walter Pincus explains, Hanssen knew the agents he would likely meet are often under FBI surveillance and also that foreign trips would draw suspicion. The story also says that he refused to accept any spy hardware such as radio transmitters. And unlike Aldrich Ames, he seemed to recognize the dangers of excessive compensation, at one point telling the KGB not to send him too much money. (But he did want an escape plan eventually.) The Post story goes on to explain that once under surveillance (probably not until late last year), Hanssen proved to be a little careless–he was observed driving past certain roadside landmarks repeatedly and once was seen walking into a store while a known Russian intelligence officer was out front.

The FBI is being low-profile about how it got onto Hanssen, but the coverage suggests that it has extensive evidence. An Los Angeles Times fronter even runs a chunk of a tapped Hanssen phone call. The papers strongly suggest that he was turned in by a Russian source(s). The USA Today lead says that once tipped, investigators secretly entered Hanssen’s suburban Virginia home and copied his entire computer hard drive, which included letters he’d written his Russian handlers. The coverage observes that Freeh did not explain what took the FBI so long, but it notes a couple of likely factors. There is much mention that the Bureau doesn’t routinely polygraph its agents although the NYT points out that this is done for those (like Hanssen) who handle highly sensitive information and intelligence matters.

A WP op-ed by a former U.S. senator and the former CEO of ADP concludes that “a remarkable 70 percent” of the $300 billion defense budget is devoted to overhead and infrastructure, with only 30 percent being spent on things that directly help combat forces. That’s like, say the authors, a police department having seven out of every 10 police officers in desk jobs.

The NYT reports inside that an international narcotics monitoring board is releasing a report today finding that legal drug consumption is up considerably in the better-off countries. But not all rich countries legally drug in the same way. The report finds that drugs for controlling anxiety and insomnia are used three times more in Western Europe than in the U.S. while the use of drugs for dieting, building muscles, and Ritalin and Viagra is 10 times more widespread in the U.S. than in Western Europe.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the budget of the Senate chaplain, the Rev. Lloyd John Oglivie, has nearly doubled to more than $300,000 recently, including tens of thousands of dollars from a Christian nonprofit, some of which has been used to buy books he’s written. The story implies that before the Journal looked into this, Oglivie was receiving royalties from these sales although he’s quoted saying that’s not his intention and he’s now “asked his publishers for an accounting.” The story says that Oglivie’s total annual earnings, including royalties, a church pension, and his Senate salary, approach $200,000.

Back to the spy arrest for a nano. The coverage is laced with descriptions of the colorless, socially awkward, unimpressive demeanor of Hanssen, a former accountant, who was called “the mortician” behind his back because of his penchant for dark, unstylish suits. Just once, Today’s Papers wants to read a day-after quote like, “I always thought that guy was a spy!”