Robert Hanssen, FBI agent who sold secrets, dies in Colorado Supermax

Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent who sold secrets to the Soviet Union in exchange for cash and diamonds, died Monday morning in the Supermax prison in southern Colorado. He was 79.

Prison staff at the United States Penitentiary Florence ADMAX in Florence found Hanssen unresponsive around 6:55 a.m., the Bureau of Prisons said in a news release. They attempted life-saving measures before pronouncing him dead, the release stated.

No staff or other inmates were injured, prison officials said.

Hanssen has been called the most damaging spy in U.S. history.

Using the alias “Ramon Garcia” with his Russian handlers, Hanssen provided highly classified national security information to the Russians in exchange for more than $1.4 million in cash, bank funds and diamonds.

His intel compromised dozens of Soviet personnel who were working for the United States — some of whom were executed.

Investigators say he gave the Soviets plans for how the U.S. would react to a nuclear attack and shared secret American operations for eavesdropping, surveillance and interception of communications.

Beginning in 1985, Hanssen used “encrypted communications, ‘dead drops,’ and other clandestine methods to provide information to the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR,” according to the FBI. Overall, the FBI agent gave the Russians more than 6,000 pages of documentary material.

With FBI training as a counterintelligence agent, Hanssen went undetected for years.

In a letter to the Russians, Hanssen said he was inspired as a teen by the memoirs of Kim Philby, a British double agent.

“I decided on this course when I was 14 years old,” Hanssen allegedly wrote in the letter, cited in the FBI’s 2001 arrest affidavit.

A former FBI agent who knew Hanssen told CNN in 2001 that Hanssen’s goal was “to play the spy game better than anybody’s ever played it before. He wants to be the best spy ever.”

The FBI and CIA realized in the 1990s that they had a mole within the intelligence community. It began with the 1994 arrest of Aldrich Ames, a CIA case officer who was passing secrets to the Russians with the help of his wife.

In 2000, the agencies made a breakthrough. They had original Russian documentation of an American spy who appeared to be Hanssen. With the agent set to retire, the intelligence apparatus wanted to catch him in the act.

On Feb. 18, 2001, FBI agents followed Hanssen to a park in Vienna, Virginia. The 56-year-old double agent was clandestinely placing a package under a wooden footbridge — a pre-arranged “dead drop” site for pickup by his Russian handlers, investigators said.

Hanssen was arrested and charged with espionage.

“This kind of criminal conduct represents the most traitorous action imaginable against a country governed by the rule of law,” FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said at the time.

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Hanssen pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy. In May 2002, a federal judge sentenced him to life without parole, sparing him the death penalty.

“I apologize for my behavior,” a gaunt Hanssen told the court. “I am shamed by it. Beyond its illegality, I have torn the trust of so many. Worse, I have opened the door for calumny against my totally innocent wife and our children. I hurt them deeply. I have hurt so many deeply.”

Since July 2002, the former FBI agent spent his days inside the notorious Florence prison known as “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” The nation’s highest security prison holds some of the country’s highest-profile offenders, including El Chapo, the Mexican drug kingpin; Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski also was previously housed at the Colorado facility.

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