For nearly two decades, FBI agent Robert Hanssen's job was to recruit Russian spies to work for the United States.
Now Hanssen — a 27-year veteran of the FBI — stands accused of being one of the most notorious double agents in U.S. history.
At a hearing Tuesday in a federal courtroom outside Washington, an expressionless Hanssen was formally charged with espionage and conspiracy. He is accused of selling secrets to Moscow in a 15-year campaign of treason — much of it while he worked as a counterintelligence agent.
FBI Director Louis Freeh says Hanssen's alleged actions caused "exceptionally grave" damage to U.S. counterintelligence operations.
Hanssen, a 56-year-old agent in the FBI's counterintelligence department, was arrested Sunday night after he allegedly dropped off a package of information for Russian intelligence agents in a suburban Washington park.
Investigators say Hanssen is "Ramon," the double agent who has been turning over American counterintelligence information to first the Soviet Union and then Russia.
Hanssen was charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., with passing classified documents to the Soviets on March 20, 1989, and with turning over to the KGB the names of three KGB agents who were working for U.S. intelligence.
If convicted, Hanssen could face up to life in prison or the death penalty on each count, and could be fined up to $2.8 million, or twice the amount he is believed to have earned from his alleged activities.
His lawyer, Plato Cacheris, who previously represented convicted spy Aldrich Ames, said Hanssen would plead not guilty. Hanssen, a married father of six, said nothing during his court appearance Tuesday. He was ordered held without bond and is to appear in court next on March 5.
Outside the courthouse, Cacheris said he knew little about the case. Authorities "always talk like they have a great case, but we'll see," said Cacheris, also known for representing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "Do they in this case? We'll see."
According to the charges, Hanssen began spying for the Soviets in October 1985, and since then has received $1.4 million for his activities — including more than $650,000 in cash. Another $800,000 had been set aside for him in an overseas escrow account, investigators said.
Freeh said the payments were Hanssen's "bread and butter for many, many years."
"The criminal conduct alleged represents the most traitorous actions imaginable against a country governed by the rule of law," Freeh told an afternoon news conference.
President Bush said he was deeply disturbed by what he called "extremely serious" allegations against the veteran agent.
"Allegations of espionage are a reminder that we live in a dangerous world, a world that sometimes does not share American values," Bush said.
Senior law enforcement officials also said late Tuesday that they are investigating whether Hanssen had any involvement in the case of the laptop discovered missing from the State Department in January 2000. It is believed the computer held high-level classified information.
A Dead Drop in a Park
A major break in the case came about four months ago when the FBI and the CIA came across a treasure trove of KGB documents. The papers did not name Hanssen, but spoke of an American working on U.S. soil.