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Jim Ohlson

My Friend, the Spy

An FBI colleague on the life of Robert Hanssen

On the morning of February 20, 2001, my phone began to ring early in the morning and continued without letup throughout the day. The callers were colleagues from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from which I had retired only six months before. One of the special agents who had attended my retirement party to wish me well had graduated from my high school, Taft in Chicago, only a year before I did. I had worked closely with him during several assignments in Washington, D.C., and New York City and I considered him a close friend. Among all of my colleagues at the Bureau, I had always been impressed with the devotion this agent showed for his family and with his deep commitment to the Roman Catholic Church. To say I was stunned when friend after friend called on February 20 to make sure I knew that Bob Hanssen had been arrested as a spy is the great understatement of my life.1

You can gauge the impact of a spy case by the number of authors who rush to write about it. In the two years since Hanssen's arrest, there have been five books and, recently, a made-for-TV miniseries scripted by Norman Mailer. By comparison, it has taken nearly eight years for five books and a TV movie to be accumulated about Aldrich Ames, the notorious CIA spy arrested in 1994. In 1963, Kim Philby escaped to Moscow after decades of spying for Russia within British intelligence. Over 220 books have now appeared about Philby and the other "Cambridge Reds" with whom he was associated. But no modern spy has been the subject of as much attention so fast as Robert Hanssen. From my perspective, as someone who thought he knew Hanssen fairly well for quite a few years, the books and movie have done a very mixed job at answering the essential mystery. To show why, it will be helpful to address a series of questions.

What did Hanssen give away?

Or what is the damage he caused?

The affidavit in support of Hanssen's arrest had been approved two days before it occurred. The affidavit was made public immediately ...

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