Spycatcher: Bringing Down Robert Hanssen

O'Neill's would also see a different side of Robert Hanssen. We now know that Hanssen reportedly had an obsession with Internet pornography and dated and lavished gifts upon a stripper who told us they never had sex. But, according to O'Neill, the senior agent was a very weird guy to share an office with.

O'Neill recalled one instance when Hanssen asked him to come into his office and see a computer program he had downloaded from the NSA [National Security Agency] Web site. "While he was showing me this," O'Neill said, "I notice that he's physically excited."

O'Neill said he reported this strange behavior to his bosses, but it didn't really advance the case. They needed to know when and where Hanssen would make his next "drop" of secrets to the Russians.

Getting the 'Drop Date'

O'Neill said his colleagues found materials that suggested Hanssen was preparing to do a "drop." The signs were there: chalk to leave a mark telling the Russians the drop was made and plastic bags to protect the documents where they were hidden outdoors. So, O'Neill was given an objective: get Hanssen's Palm Pilot.

O'Neill said the FBI believed that getting access to Hanssen's Palm Pilot was critical to learning about Hanssen's contacts with the Russians. However, according to O'Neill, Hanssen almost never let it out of his sight. So a plan was developed.

Hanssen's bosses would surprise him in his office and invite him to go shooting with them in the basement firing range. That created an opportunity; leaving O'Neill alone and with access to Hanssen's office.

O'Neill said Hanssen was agitated and cursing under his breath as he headed for the range with his bosses. Then, O'Neill received an "all clear" message on his pager. He ran into Hanssen's office unzipped Hanssen's bag, grabbed the palm pilot and data card and ran down one floor to have the information downloaded onto a computer.

It was a good plan until Hanssen abruptly cut the target practice short after just a few minutes. O'Neill received another page indicating that Hanssen was probably returning to his office.

As the data on Hanssen's palm pilot was downloading to a computer, he was on his way back. The download was going slowly, because, according to O'Neill, Hanssen had encrypted the data on his Palm Pilot.

For the FBI, the Palm Pilot was the jackpot. Hanssen had kept copies of the documents he had given his Russian contacts on his palm pilot, and he also had stored a "drop date" on it, according to O'Neill.

The drop would be the smoking gun. Hanssen was followed to a Virginia park, where he allegedly left another packet of classified material, which was then intercepted by the FBI.

The double agent surrendered without a fight. He was arrested, charged with espionage and treason. To avoid a possible death penalty, he pleaded guilty and is now serving a life sentence.

O'Neill, who has not spoken to Hanssen since, said, "If they let him watch 20/20 in prison that I was the one who helped bring him down … he will feel so betrayed."

O'Neill said he thinks Hanssen had no idea about the operation to catch him. "In the end he might say 'I knew all along,' because of his ego," O'Neill said, "but I truly think … he had no idea he was under surveillance, particularly throughout everyday that a ghost was on him."

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