The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History

The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History

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by David A. Vise
     
 

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In 1979, FBI Agent Robert Philip Hanssen began to sell some of America's most closely guarded intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union. Over the next twenty-two years, the massive volume of information he divulged to the Russians from the FBI, CIA, NSA, and White House would compromise decades of espionage work and put the national security of the United States in

Overview

In 1979, FBI Agent Robert Philip Hanssen began to sell some of America's most closely guarded intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union. Over the next twenty-two years, the massive volume of information he divulged to the Russians from the FBI, CIA, NSA, and White House would compromise decades of espionage work and put the national security of the United States in immediate jeopardy. But during the mid-1990s, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh discovered that there was a mole within the Bureau, and he began to set the trap that would expose the traitor within its midst. This is the story of the man who betrayed more of his country's secrets than any other spy in American history -- and of the crime-fighting legend who would bring him to justice.

The Bureau and the Mole takes you into the shadowy world of Robert Philip Hanssen, a twenty-five-year veteran of the FBI who was a devout Catholic and a devoted family man, who attended the same church and sent his children to the same school as his boss, Bureau Director Louis J. Freeh. But as he emerged from a troubled childhood in Chicago to rise to the highest ranks of America's counterintelligence experts, Hanssen was also leading another life -- as a diabolically clever spy for the Russian government. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David A. Vise untangles Hanssen's web of deceit to tell the story of how he avoided detection for decades while becoming the most dangerous double agent in FBI history -- and how Freeh and the Bureau eventually rooted him out. Vise probes Hanssen's personal history to uncover how a seemingly All-American boy concealed a sordid sexual life from his family and ultimately became the perfect traitor by employing the very sources and methods his own nation had entrusted him with. Drawing from a wide variety of sources in the FBI, the Justice Department, the White House, and the intelligence community, Vise also interweaves the narrative of how Freeh led the government's desperate search for the betrayer among its own ranks, from the false leads, to the near misses, to its ultimate, shocking conclusion. The Bureau and the Mole is a fascinating, true spy thriller as riveting as it is unforget-table. It is a harrowing story of how one man's treachery rocked a law-enforcement fraternity founded on fidelity, bravery, and integrity to its very core -- and how the dedicated perseverance of another would finally bring him to justice.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Offering a fresh perspective on the Robert Hanssen spy case, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David A. Vise interweaves the stories of Hanssen's long-running treason and FBI director Louis Freeh's desperate search for the mole within his department.
Publishers Weekly
By the time fellow FBI agents arrested Robert Hanssen in February 2001, he'd been spying for the Russians off and on for two decades. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post scribe Vise attempts to explain why Hanssen did it and how he got away with it in this comprehensive account. Hanssen, says Vise, was a highly intelligent but socially inept loner who felt "overlooked and underappreciated" by his colleagues at the Bureau. Determined to prove he was better than them and eager to profit from his superiority Hanssen decided to begin passing classified documents to his KGB counterparts in exchange for diamonds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also revealed the names of at least nine U.S. spies working in the KGB, several of whom were subsequently executed. But the FBI, Vise writes, was so blind to its own vulnerabilities that it ignored the warning signs even when Hanssen's brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) reported that Hanssen was hiding huge sums of cash at home. Vise adheres to a plain newspaper style in his account, which steals some of the excitement from Hanssen's dramatic spy craft; he also includes long, needless digressions on the career of FBI Director Louis Freeh. But Vise's research and reporting are first-rate and his sources (Hanssen's wife, mother and best friend, as well as other FBI agents and ex-KGB operatives) are excellent. This is a chilling portrait of a man who betrayed his country simply to see if he could. (Jan.) Forecast: This is one of a trio of books on Hanssen, including The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold (Forecasts, Oct. 1), one of which came in too late for review (see note, The Spy Next Door, page 59). The market may be too crowded for Atlantic's optimistic 50,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Hanssen was a smart, elitist counterintelligence expert who had a large family to support and felt bored and underappreciated by the FBI. So he began selling U.S. intelligence and defense information to the Soviets (and then the Russians) who supposedly did not know who their benefactor was. This is an interesting account of how he managed to carry out his betrayal for over 20 years until his arrest on February 18, 2001. Two appendixes include a good summary of the information that Hanssen passed along and the texts of some of his e-mail messages (other messages are included in narrative); the third appendix, which features pornography Hanssen wrote about his wife, is tasteless and disrespectful and unrelated to the basic theme of the book. Adrian Havill's The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold (LJ 10/1/01) is better documented and has more information about Hanssen's pre-FBI life, while Vise's book heavily integrates FBI Director Louis Freeh into the story. What comes through clearly in both books is that the FBI fumbled the ball and let Hanssen continue his traitorous activities. Vise is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the Washington Post. Suitable for both public and academic libraries. Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781587242281
Publisher:
Cengage Gale
Publication date:
06/01/1902
Series:
Wheeler Hardcover Series
Edition description:
LARGEPRINT
Pages:
390

Read an Excerpt

Alone

Ever since his childhood days in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago, Bob Hanssen had been something of a loner. His mother, Vivian, noticed that whenever something upset him, Bob would head for the safety of his room in their modest, two-bedroom bungalow on Neva Street and immerse himself in books. Bob-an only child born just before the end of World War II-seemed too quiet for a healthy growing boy, and Vivian didn't understand why her son acted the way he did.

At the time, however, Vivian wasn't preoccupied by Bob's taciturn demeanor. He was a dutiful son, his teachers at Norwood Park Elementary said he was a good student, he participated in Cub Scouts at the Lutheran church, and he didn't get into the kind of mischief that led many other boys in the leafy neighborhood astray. Bob walked home daily during the noon break at school. "My son appreciated coming home from school for lunch and having me there. He has told me that time and time again," Vivian recalled. While the pair enjoyed a loving mother-son relationship, Vivian would have been happier if Bob had not turned inward so much. "He was a loner as a kid. He had friends, but when he was home he would be in his room reading or out watching TV with us. But there were never too many deep conversations."

One of Bob's favorite books was The Code Breakers by David Kahn, a thick volume about secret codes and intercepts that fueled his boyhood fascination with the technical aspects of intercepting confidential communications. "If you write the word CLANDESTINE on a piece of paper and think of everything you can imagine, there it is. From bugs to eavesdropping to spying to lock picking to false identities to code breaking to secret messages. Pick up a book on spies, and run through the list, and he had some interest in it," a friend of Bob Hanssen's said. Vivian met Howard Hanssen in 1929, the year of the stock market crash on Wall Street when both of them were working in retail, trying to help their families scrape by during tough times. The two native Chicagoans got to know each other downtown at the city's best-known department store, Marshall Field's, after initially meeting at a much smaller shop that went under. "Howard and I went together for a long time before getting married," Vivian explained. "I was left with my mom, he was left with his mom, and we were the sole support. . . . My mother's husband had died, and she was alone. Earning fifteen dollars a week, or from twelve to twenty dollars a week, doesn't stretch that far."

In 1935 Vivian and Howard wed in a modest ceremony that took place in the pastor's house beside the Lutheran church Howard attended, rather than in the church itself. "We had a small party afterward that my sister arranged at her home, in keeping with the times. It was a desperate time for a lot of people." The couple began their married life in an apartment on the south side of Chicago. Howard was not content sitting behind a desk and considered becoming a cop, a job he believed would be exciting. "It was hard to get on the police force in those days," Vivian said. Decisions about who would get every city job, from trash collector to police officer to health worker, were imbued with the politics and patronage of the Daley machine. But the family had the right political connections for Howard to be hired as a police officer. "He took an exam and passed it and didn't need anything else," Vivian said.

In the early 1940s, with World War II raging, Howard enlisted in the Navy rather than taking the risk of being drafted into the Army and dispatched on a dangerous assignment. "I have friends whose husbands were in that D-Day massacre," Vivian said. "Howard thought the Navy was a little easier than the Army might have been. I imagine he would have gone overseas if he had been in the Army." Instead, Howard stayed far from the battle front, working in the United States as a shore patrolman searching for Americans who had gone AWOL. Eventually, he ended up with a Navy assignment in the Chicago area, permitting him to spend weekends with his bride, who soon became pregnant. "My son was born in April 1944 and that was a good thing," Vivian said.

The Hanssens became a family of three, eligible for some additional benefits from the federal government because of Howard's service in the Navy. "There were allowances for families and we had a little more money," Vivian said. "Things did get better." Vivian devoted herself to keeping house and caring for their infant son. After the war, Howard returned to his job on the Chicago police force, and the couple moved to the northwest part of the city. With the help of the G.I. Bill, they bought a modest home on an L-shaped lot in Norwood Park, a popular neighborhood for police officers and their families. They picked the house, built at an angle to Neva Street, largely because the public schools in the area had a good reputation.

Bob was exposed to religion as a youngster, attending a Lutheran church on Sunday mornings with his mother, who felt it was an important part of raising her son. "The Lutheran church fit in because I think every child should have that kind of upbringing at the beginning of life," Vivian said. "Every child should have religion and know the Bible and get a good start in that respect. I would go and Bob would go to church, but my husband not as often. He was working or whatever." On the Chicago police force, Howard Hanssen tackled a variety of assignments, including working for a special unit that hunted down suspected communist sympathizers. Some of his assignments stirred up ill will, but he told himself that was just part of the job. After many years on the force, the truth was he didn't particularly enjoy the work the way he once did, but it paid the bills. And that was one notch up the ladder from his younger brother, Edward, who could not seem to hold a steady job for long. Howard was street-smart to be sure, but his choices for career alternatives were limited severely by his lack of a formal education. So Howard remained a Chicago cop, even after his promotion to lieutenant left him in the type of job he loathed, behind a desk.

But Howard Hanssen did have an abiding passion in life, something that lifted his spirits and kept him going through the day-to-day monotony. He loved to go to the track and bet on the horses. The pastime became the focal point of the couple's social life, and Vivian enjoyed going with him. "That is where we spent all of our spare time, watching the races," Vivian recalled. "Howard had friends who owned horses. That made it interesting. It makes a difference when you know the horses and jockeys."

Vivian emphasized that Howard's affinity for the horses did not mean he was an addicted gambler or an irresponsible bettor. Instead, she described it as an outlet for his energy and a place where he felt comfortable, whatever the town. "We took a vacation once," Vivian said, "and I didn't realize we were hitting every race track in Canada and the East Coast. I didn't realize it until after the third race track. He had planned it out that way. It gives you something to do in strange towns."

Howard Hanssen also had an agenda for his son that Vivian failed to recognize from its inception. Howard spoke of a better life for Bob. He wanted him to go to college, get an advanced degree, and become a doctor. But in the course of raising his son with an extremely firm hand, he succeeded in destroying Bob's confidence. Instead of praising his schoolwork and encouraging him to succeed, Howard Hanssen's approach was to criticize and berate his son repeatedly. It wasn't tough love; it was tough luck. And, according to Vivian Hanssen, her son came to feel emotionally abused by his father.

"Sometimes people make themselves feel better by not allowing someone else to feel too good," she said. "Maybe Howard had been treated that way. Maybe I just looked at things as the way I hoped they were. . . . I think [Howard] had the idea that if he complimented someone too much, they might get bigger than they should."

Bob was both physically and emotionally abused by his father, according to family members and others.

On at least two occasions, Howard Hanssen physically abused his son while exhorting him to "be a man." When Bob was six or seven years old, his father wrapped him in blankets and twirled him around and around until he became so dizzy that he vomited. Another time, Howard grabbed one of Bob's legs by the ankle, forcefully pulling it into the air and stretching his son's hamstring until he urinated on himself involuntarily. The torture left Bob feeling helpless and humiliated.

"The person you are supposed to trust and identify with is doing everything from hurting to humiliating you, and it is confusing. It creates the beginning of negative feelings about individuals who are supposed to be your protector and authority figures," said Dr. Stephen Hersh, a longtime Washington psychiatrist who has treated FBI agents and many senior federal officials. "He is swung until he gets sick and vomits. Vomiting is a loss of control of your body in the context of extreme distress and fear. This is a child who had repeated experiences that totally destroyed his capacity to identify in a healthy way with male authority figures."

When Bob became old enough, his father took him to get his driver's license. Bob was ready for the road test and excited about the freedom and independence driving would bring. But his father had other ideas. He bribed the official administering the test to fail his son. Bob was aware of what his father did, and it left him feeling that the world was crooked and set up to deny him any sense of control over his own destiny. "I didn't approve of it," Vivian Hanssen said. "[Howard] thought Bob was too cocky and thought he believed he was too good a driver."

Although they could do little or nothing about it, some of the parents of students in Hanssen's grade school were mortified by the way Howard publicly belittled his son to anyone who would listen. "My mom would apparently run into Mr. Hanssen in the grocery store shopping," one classmate recalled. "Howard Hanssen used to say terrible things about Bob."

The problems were exacerbated, Vivian Hanssen said, because her son never raised objections with her about the way he was treated. And so the pattern of abuse, of being rebuked and put down again and again, continued throughout his childhood. Bob suffered enormously, but quietly. "He wouldn't come out and say anything to his dad about it, and would harbor that inside, and it gnaws at you," she said. "That was the kind of thing Howard did that I didn't notice enough of. I thought that they were far enough apart and isolated incidents. I didn't know they were so important to [Bob]. He must have brooded on them." Vivian caught a glimpse of Bob's resentment of his father one day, when Howard received the results of an exam he had taken. "Howard took a test for something, and he was not a real educated man," Vivian said. "His grade was not too hot and Bob, when he saw that, he laughed and said, 'Look at that,' as if he had been told to get good grades and Howard hadn't done so well himself."

While growing up, Bob did find some joy at home. Vivian remembers holidays as special times around the Hanssen household, especially Christmas, when her relatives from Indiana often visited. A neighbor regularly dressed up as Santa Claus when Bob was young and the house would be alive with festive decorations. After his paternal grandparents moved in, Bob also found some companionship with them. Having divorced years earlier, his grandparents stayed in separate makeshift bedrooms. The attic was converted into a bedroom for Bob's grandmother; his grandfather, at times, stayed in the basement. Bob spent time with his grandfather, an engineer, playing with a train set and learning how to put things together and take them apart. He also enjoyed using a ham radio with his father and grandfather.

Bob's serious and melancholy nature can be seen in his 1962 yearbook from Chicago's Taft High School. Most of the graduating class members had glib or light remarks beside their photographs. Beside Robert Albert Heroux: "If I ever became rich with too much green, I would pledge to build a monument for the late James Dean." Beside Carolyn Marie Hinds: "Of all 57 varieties, this 'Hinds' is the best." Beside Anthony Gutilla: "Leader of men, follower of women." Beside Robert Philip Hanssen: "Science is the light of life."

The few high school classmates who remember Hanssen recall an extraordinarily quiet boy, awkward in his interpersonal skills, unusually bright in science, and talented in the nuts and bolts of how things work. "My chemistry teacher looked out at him and said, 'There is old slipstick Hanssen,' and Bob was using a slide rule," a classmate recalled. "He was always on the cutting edge. In those days, slide rules were cutting edge technology. He seemed to automatically grasp things like that, the guy who sees relationships very quickly and clearly in a scientific way. I'm not so sure he has it down sociologically." Others had recollections of Hanssen participating in the ham radio club, talking to operators from around the world even as he remained quiet amid his fellow students. Tom Kozel, a fellow member of the club, said Hanssen enjoyed the four-member group immensely. Yet there is no photo for the ham radio club in the school yearbook-Hanssen's photo appears only in his official graduating class portrait. "We were kind of considered geeky, the ham radio guys," Kozel said.

"That's probably how our friendship started. That was a common interest and then it branched out into other areas, an interest in cars, girls, careers." Hanssen, who was not athletic himself, attended many of Taft High School's football games but usually didn't socialize with the kids who were playing sports, either at school or informally, and did not date much. That placed him on the periphery of life at Taft, which had school spirit and a championship football team that included a fullback, Jim Grabowski, who went on to play for the Green Bay Packers.

"WHAT IS TAFT?" Bob Hanssen's high school yearbook asks-"bewildered Freshies? a desperate game? carefree Seniors? college hopes? a rough Chem test? career dreams? safe drivers? 7:30 chorus practice? tears at graduation? Taft is all of these, but, most of all, Taft is friends, the ones you share yourself with."

Hanssen didn't share himself with many of his Taft classmates. Kozel's clearest recollection of Hanssen concerns the way he just went about his business and did things, without boasting. "I remember him as someone who did not brag about things; he just did them," Kozel emphasized. "He did things and showed up with the evidence afterward. And I kind of admired him, because I was not that way and most people were not that way."

Various classmates' memories of Hanssen are mixed, mostly due to his quiet, inward nature. "People would say he is weird," one classmate recalled. "That is just the way he is. I remember a girl I was dating thought Bob was really strange."

Kozel disputed that assessment, saying Hanssen was "reticent" and awkward around people he didn't know, leaving a false impression that he was that way all the time. He said that Hanssen loosened up around friends. Kozel also remembered Hanssen as the "most conservative" member of their clique. And he blamed Bob's parents for being overprotective when they refused to allow him to join Kozel and two other friends on a backpacking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park after high school graduation.

If she could turn back the clock, if she had another chance to raise her son, Vivian Hanssen would do some major things differently. She would take a firmer stance against her husband's heavy-handed treatment. She would take steps to encourage Bob to get more involved with people and spend less time locked away in his room. She would encourage Bob to speak up for himself, rather than letting problems fester. And she would pay more attention to what was taking place all around her as her son struggled to develop his own personality and identity. As she reflects on it, Vivian Hanssen wishes she would have done more to protect her son from his father. "I had a good relationship with Howard and could have told him to cut out whatever he was doing. I think he would have paid attention."

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The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I happened to read 'The Bureau and the Mole', by David A. Vise just after reading 'Last Man Standing', by David Baldacci. Rarely do you find that the truth is better and more entertaining than fiction. However, in this case Vise proves that the truth is WAY better than fiction. Hanssen the FBI agent, family man, devout Catholic, spy, pornmonger and traitor, shows that things are not always as they seem. The reader is treated to psychological insights, photos, KGB letters, and sexual fantasies of the most damaging person in US espionage history. Vise, a reporter by trade, truely delivers on this one. A great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I went on vacation in August, and as always, I need a good book to read wherever I am. This was no exception. The Bureau and the Mole was a non-stop thriller, and kudos to the author...I only wished it took the reader deeper into the thoughts of this very intelligent super-spy, Robert Hanssen. There is one question that kept popping in my head as I read this book, 'how many other 'Hanssens' are out there?' Washington DC is littered with bureaucrats trying to get ahead by cheating the country's honor. I have never admired such an outstanding per son as I have in Louis Freeh. He deserved more credit than he got while serving as the Director of the FBI...I wish more leaders like he had the integrity, honesty, and moral character that he possesses. I would love to write to Mr. Freeh and tell him how wonderful he is. Anybody out there know if he accepts emails? I have read another book, 'WITSEC' and Mr. Freeh was mentioned in that reading too, and I have nothing but just great admiration for him. So, Mr. Vise, the author of the book, and Mr. Freeh, keep fighting for your beliefs and keep writing about them, because, it's people like you that are America's true heroes! Thank-you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book just captured me i could not bring myself to put it down a wonderful cross between true crime/mafia and how the government works/fails us at times. It is a must read if you like knowing what the government thinks we should not
Guest More than 1 year ago
This fascinating tale would not be believed if it were fiction. The smoldering evil of Robert Hanssen is juxtaposed with the dogged endurance of FBI head Louis Freeh. My respect for Freeh has grown enormously, and my contempt for Hanssen knows no bounds. His traitorous acts deserve the ultimate punishment. This fascinating book robbed me of sleep; first to finish its gripping tale, and later as I pondered that such evil can live undetected in our midst. My gratitude to Freeh for devotion to his country, and my thanks to Vise for a riveting book.
board More than 1 year ago
This book is at least as much about the FBI and its erstwhile director Louis Freeh, if not more so, than the spy* Robert Hanssen. (*Despite the author’s continuing misuse of the term “double agent,” that’s not what Hanssen was; he was a spy.) The discussion about Freeh and the Bureau was interesting, but except for the agency’s missteps in dealing with the spy in its ranks, it was not particularly germane to the ostensible subject of the book. Regarding Hanssen himself, the reader learns about his upbringing, background, and full salacious details of his sexual fantasies and proclivities, but I never felt I had a clear understanding of why he decided to betray his country and so many of the principles that he seemed to hold. Even more disappointing to me as a student of Soviet espionage and counterespionage in general was the almost total lack of information about why he came under suspicion and how he was finally unmasked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading the whole book, I found this to be an excellent rendition of the Hanssen story. The facts are in line with other books I've read on the Hanssen case and "Bureau..." adds details from the FBI side as well. Allen Weinstein, who helped unmask Soviet spy Alger Hiss, praised this book. That's quite a recommendation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
It was good in the beginning how Vise told the history of Hanssen growing up and then how Freeh is tried in with Hassen, but then all of sudden Hassen is caught,Vise doesn't explain that is done and this the weak point in the book.So this how I come to my conclution
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the chapter provided, I found this book to be nothing more than 'poor little me' and wouldn't read the rest of it if it were free. (Unfortunately zero stars was not an option.) If I hear of any more people blaming their wrongdoings on their childhood and not taking responsibility, I think I will puke without ceasing for the rest of my life!