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Notorious Cold War Spy Dies In Prison

Robert Hanssen behind bars in ADX Florence, Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Micaela Burrow, The Daily Caller Foundation | June 5, 2023

Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, regarded by historians and the U.S. intelligence community as one of the most dangerous spies of the Cold War, has died in prison at the age of 79, CBS News confirmed.

Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison at the federal supermax in Colorado after pleading guilty in 2001 to charges related to selling classified material to the Soviet Union and later Russia, according to an inspector general’s report released after his sentencing. Prison wardens found Hanssen unresponsive and sought to restore him, Bureau of Prisons Director of Communications Kristie Breshears told CBS News in a statement.

“Staff requested emergency medical services and life-saving efforts continued,” Breshears said, according to CBS News. “The inmate was subsequently pronounced dead by outside emergency medical personnel.”

Hanssen served in key Soviet counterintelligence roles during his 25-year career in the FBI from 1976 to 2001 and in positions at the FBI and State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., that gave him privileged access to troves of sensitive military and counterintelligence information, according to the OIG. For most of that time — from 1979 to 1981, 1985 to 1991 and 1999 to 2001 — he was actively undermining U.S. national security interests by selling thousands of pages of classified information and computer disks to the KGB, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

The information he gave away included “U.S. strategies in the event of nuclear war, major developments in military weapons technologies, information on active espionage cases, and many other aspects of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Soviet counterintelligence program,” according to the report. Hanssen’s espionage identified dozens of U.S. human sources and led to the execution of at least three.

The inspector general’s after-action report found that Hanssen displayed strong technical skills but was an overall “mediocre” agent who enjoyed significant amounts of time unsupervised. In addition, his careless attitude toward classified materials raised red flags the agency failed to identify.

As Hanssen fell into financial ruin, he became increasingly reliant on money obtained through selling secrets to the KGB.

The FBI finally determined Hanssen was spying for Russia in late 2000 and brought him back to FBI headquarters. When Hanssen left a package for the KGB at what he believed to be a secret location on Feb. 18, 2001, the FBI arrested him.

The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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