Robert Hansen: The FBI Agent Who Became a Double Agent for the Soviet Union

In the year 1944, Robert Hansen was born into an ordinary family of clerks in Chicago. His father, Howard Hansen, served as a local police officer. Howard possessed a volatile disposition and enforced stringent discipline upon young Hansen. Physical and verbal maltreatment became commonplace. Beneath the weighty pressures imposed by his father, Hansen grew reticent, and reading became his sole pastime. During his childhood, Hansen developed a particular fascination with a periodical entitled Mad, wherein the “Spy vs. Spy” column held his utmost favor. At the tender age of 14, he also became an ardent admirer of the master spy Kim Philby. Philby’s personal account, “My Secret War,” proved irresistible to Hansen, and it was within its pages that Hansen’s aspiration of “becoming a double agent” took root and flourished in his mind.

In the year 1962, Hansen commenced his studies in chemistry at Knox College. Following his graduation, he secured a position at the esteemed National Security Agency, specializing in cryptography. It was akin to assuming the role of a spy! Alas, the golden era was short-lived, for the government abruptly initiated a large-scale downsizing of civil service positions, and the unfortunate Hansen found himself among those laid off. Nonetheless, Hansen, undeterred by this setback, resolved to pursue further education. In a fortuitous twist, he chanced upon information regarding recruitment by the Chicago Police Department, which promptly seized his attention. Leveraging his father’s connections, Hansen successfully joined the ranks of the Chicago Police Department, gaining entry into a covert law enforcement agency known as C-5. This clandestine organization specialized in investigating and handling illicit cases within the police force.

Indeed, such institutions remained obscure, and the cases themselves proved arduous. However, the fledgling Hansen exhibited tremendous ardor and demonstrated exceptional finesse in his work. Tasks that others shied away from, he resolved expediently. Hansen swiftly garnered recognition from his superiors, particularly John Clark, who hailed him as a “natural-born spy.” In the year 1976, following Clark’s commendation, Hansen officially became an agent of the FBI, thus fulfilling his childhood dream.

Upon assuming his duties as an agent, Hansen initially found himself stationed in Indiana, where he once again captured the attention and admiration of his superiors, prompting successive promotions. In his third year with the FBI, Hansen commenced active communication with Soviet intelligence agencies. On an unremarkable day in 1979, Hansen strode into a trading company located in New York. Ostensibly, the establishment conducted legitimate business affairs, yet covertly it served as a liaison point for the Soviet intelligence agency.

Upon entry, Hansen approached the individual in charge, boldly offering his services to the Soviet Union. His words rang forthrightly: “I desire not excessive pecuniary remuneration, but rather an assurance of my safe departure from the United States should the situation come to light.” The Soviets were taken aback by this unexpected revelation and promptly acceded to his proposition. Thus began Hansen’s prolific supply of intelligence, encompassing intricate details of FBI wiretapping operations and an inventory of suspected Soviet intelligence agents. It was through this wealth of information that Hansen acquired a spy codenamed “TOPHAT.” At the time, “TOPHAT” had clandestinely served the American authorities for a staggering 17 years, his true identity being Dmitry Polyakov, a newly promoted major general in the Soviet Union’s army.

As a novice double agent, Hansen found himself beset with inexperience. Upon learning of “TOPHAT”‘s apprehension, panic ensued, leading to grave errors in his conduct. While handling classified documents, he was unexpectedly discovered by his wife, Bernadette Bonnie. Confronted with his spouse’s inquiries, he ultimately confessed the entirety of his activities. Witnessing Hansen’s sincere contrition, Bonnie swiftly forgave her husband, even urging him to accompany her to church for confession, a means of absolving his tainted soul. Initially intending to persuade Hansen to voluntarily surrender, thus alleviating his guilt, the pastor relented upon Hansen’s promise to contribute tens of thousands of dollars in remuneration to charitable causes. Consequently, the notion of surrender was cast aside. In the ensuing years, Hansen indeed severed all ties with Soviet intelligence agencies, seemingly embracing a life of domestic tranquility as a devoted husband and father.

By the year 1985, Hansen had served nine years within the ranks of the FBI. Within the Bureau, he had risen to the esteemed status of a “senior figure,” with numerous critical pieces of information passing through his hands. While one might expect him to content himself with this existence, dedicating his life to the Bureau until retirement like his colleagues, the harsh realities of life embittered him. As a father to five children, supporting his family proved no mean feat, and the loss of his supplementary income from his clandestine endeavors seemed trifling. The notion of returning to hisprevious life as an ordinary police officer haunted him, and the allure of the secret world beckoned once more.

In 1985, Hansen made the fateful decision to reestablish contact with the Soviets. This time, however, his motivations were driven by financial gain rather than ideology or a sense of adventure. He resumed his role as a double agent, sharing classified information with the Soviet Union in exchange for substantial sums of money. Over the next several years, Hansen’s activities escalated, and his espionage extended beyond the Soviets to include other foreign intelligence agencies, such as the East Germans and the Libyans.

Despite his increasingly audacious activities, Hansen managed to evade suspicion within the FBI. He skillfully exploited his position as an expert in counterintelligence to cover his tracks and manipulate investigations. He even went so far as to volunteer for a task force dedicated to identifying and capturing Soviet spies, all the while continuing to betray his country.

However, Hansen’s luck eventually ran out. In 2001, the FBI launched an investigation into the compromise of highly classified information that led them to suspect an insider spy. The evidence pointed directly at Hansen, who had left traces of his activities that raised suspicions among his colleagues. In February 2001, Hansen was arrested and charged with espionage.

During the subsequent trial, the full extent of Hansen’s betrayal was revealed. He had compromised numerous intelligence operations, exposed multiple agents, and jeopardized national security. In exchange for his cooperation, Hansen was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Robert Hansen’s story stands as a cautionary tale of the dangers posed by individuals who exploit their positions of trust for personal gain. His actions not only compromised the safety of his fellow agents but also damaged the reputation and effectiveness of the FBI. Hansen’s case prompted significant reforms within the Bureau’s security practices and protocols to prevent similar breaches in the future.

To this day, Robert Hansen remains incarcerated, serving his sentence in a federal prison, a stark reminder of the consequences of espionage and betrayal.

  After several exchanges of letters, Hansen established a cooperative relationship with the KGB. After that, Hansen, who had tasted the sweetness, lost control and started a crazy leak activity. The most famous of them are the “Government Continuity Plan” and the underground tunnel eavesdropping plan. The “Government Continuity Plan”, also known as the “Protect the President Plan,” has long been regarded as the top national security secret of the United States. Its core is to ensure that the U.S. war machine can continue to operate after encountering a missile attack or even a devastating nuclear strike, so as to prevent key political figures from being “one-sided”. The plan not only details the presidential succession, but also tracks the president and his successor candidates 24 hours a day to ensure they are not in the same place at the same time. After Hansen learned of the plan, he sold it to the Soviet Union for only tens of thousands of dollars. This not only exposed the location of a large number of U.S. security and defense facilities, but also gave the top leadership of the United States an unobstructed view of multiple Soviet military attacks. Once a war breaks out between the United States and the Soviet Union, a Soviet missile can paralyze the military and political system.

Robert Hansen and his family.

The wooden bridge in Fox Park in Fairfax County, Virginia, USA, was also the place where Hansen was last arrested.

  The underground tunnel eavesdropping plan was another top-secret plan betrayed by Hansen. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union prepared to build a new embassy in Washington, DC. However, when the embassy was under construction, the US intelligence agency built a pipeline underneath the embassy, ​​which contained a large number of top-notch eavesdropping equipment. This project costs hundreds of millions of dollars, and the U.S. intelligence agency has high hopes for it, hoping to obtain a large amount of intelligence through this tunnel. In fact, the eavesdropping program did achieve important results at first. The United States can not only eavesdrop on the whispered exchanges between embassy personnel, but also intercept communications between the embassy and external agencies. However, as time went by, the United States discovered that the originally important intelligence gradually turned into trivial matters, sometimes even mixed with false intelligence. This anomaly attracted the attention of U.S. intelligence agencies. At that time, the FBI had successfully captured Aldrich Ames, a spy who had been lurking in the CIA for nearly ten years. However, confidential information in the United States was still being leaked, especially since the CIA to which Ames belonged was mainly engaged in overseas affairs. This secret pipeline does not appear to be within the scope of the business. From this, they concluded that there was a bigger and more powerful “mole” hidden within the intelligence agency.
rat hunt

  After a series of important leaks, the FBI, CIA, State Department and other departments mobilized a large number of human resources and established a joint “rat hunting team” to carry out investigation activities in secret. Unfortunately, the case almost reached a dead end. Just when investigators had no clue, the “Operation Rat Hunt” finally reached a turning point.
  In 2000, after spending $7 million, the Americans obtained the internal recording files of the suspected “Ramon”. After detailed comparison, the investigators confirmed their suspicions that “Mr. B” was their boss – Robert Hansen! However, problems also followed. Hansen could not be arrested based on the recording alone. At this time, Hansen, as an old employee, was about to retire. There was no time to waste and they had to take immediate action. In order to capture “Mr. B”, the FBI leadership immediately decided to “promote” Hansen. At the time, Hansen was working as a Secret Service agent in the State Department’s Office of Diplomatic Missions, an expatriate assignment. In order to closely monitor Hanssen’s operations, they transferred Hanssen back to FBI headquarters and promoted him to a senior executive. Director Louis Freeh also approved a two-year extension of his service. This aroused Hansen’s vigilance, and his excellent counter-detection sense made him clearly realize that he must be under suspicion. However, Hansen believes that even if Moscow leaks the secret, his identity will not be revealed because he has never met the other party, and no one knows his name. In January 2001, Hansen moved into a small office at the FBI headquarters. The room was secretly equipped with various monitoring facilities. His assistants and subordinates were always paying attention to Hansen’s movements. By February, nearly 300 people were investigating and monitoring Hansen.
  On February 18, an ordinary Sunday afternoon, dozens of agents dressed as tourists were randomly scattered in every corner. At around 5 o’clock, a middle-aged man with a simple appearance dressed in black walked leisurely into the park. After carefully looking around and making sure that everything was normal, he quickly threw a package into the hiding place under the wooden bridge. When he walked across the small wooden bridge and bent down to tie his shoelaces, agents lurking around swarmed up and pushed Hansen to the ground. News of Hansen’s arrest quickly caused an uproar. For a time, the name “Hanson” was firmly occupied in the headlines of major newspapers in the United States, and various reports such as “The Perfect Spy” and “The Legendary Spy” emerged one after another. The U.S. Department of Justice stated: “This is the most serious intelligence disaster in the history of the United States.” It is worth mentioning that Hansen’s arrest also led to the breakdown of U.S.-Russian relations. President George W. Bush expelled about 50 Russian diplomats. Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliated in kind and expelled 50 US diplomats. Ultimately, a U.S. federal court sentenced Hansen to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  The legendary spy is also coming to his final chapter. On June 5, 2023, the FBI announced that former agent Robert Hansen died in prison in Colorado at the age of 79. The “legend in the history of espionage” has come to an end.

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