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.
FBI officials said they tried to figure out who was in a position to know as much as the Russians knew. Hanssen fit the description. They quickly began around the clock surveillance, including wiretaps.
Authorities said Hanssen was arrested Sunday night after he made a drop in Foxstone Park in Vienna, Va., the town where he lives. Officials said Hanssen walked into the park at around 5 p.m. and went to a footbridge, where he deposited a package allegedly containing classified information under the bridge.
Nine minutes after making the drop, Hanssen was arrested a short distance from the park, officials said.
At another "dead drop" in the park, agents found $50,000 in cash, apparently intended for Hanssen, Freeh said.
At the news conference, Freeh displayed photographs of various drop-off locations alleged used by Hanssen as well as a photo of a package Freeh said contained a $50,000 payment meant for Hanssen.
Agents who arrested Hanssen said he seemed "shocked and surprised" when he was caught because he thought he had been so careful, Freeh said.
According to a 100-page federal affidavit, Hanssen volunteered his services to the KGB in 1985, when he was working in New York, Freeh said, adding that in the agent's first letter to the Soviets he gave them "several sensitive surveillance techniques."
He said Hanssen also disclosed to Soviet intelligence the identity of three KGB officials who, first compromised by Ames, had been recruited by the U.S. government at the Soviet embassy in Washington. In the letter, FBI officials said, Hanssen promised to follow with a box full of classified documents "sufficient to justify a $100,000 payment."
Using the code name "Ramon," Hanssen over the years provided highly classified information to the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, using encrypted communication, dead drops and other clandestine techniques, Freeh said. Hanssen allegedly provided 20 computer tapes, and in all, more than 6,000 pages of classified information was handed over, officials said.
The FBI says that on more than 20 occasions Hanssen left packages for Soviet, and later, Russian spies at dropoff sites like the one uncovered on Sunday.
"The full extent of the damage done is yet unknown because no accurate damage assessment could be conducted without jeopardizing the investigation," Freeh said. "We believe it was exceptionally grave."
Under Deep Cover
Hanssen worked in New York and in Washington at the heart of the FBI's operation: He caught spies, recruited them and set up phone taps and surveillance. All the while, the FBI charges, he was also passing secrets to the Russians.
He was assigned to diplomatic missions in the two cities, where he was involved in investigating and accrediting foreign diplomats. He betrayed no outward signs that he was supplementing his salary by selling information, which came as no surprise to Freeh.
"He was after, after all, a trained counterintelligence specialist," Freeh said. "The FBI learned of his true identity before the Russians; they are learning of it only now."
He kept under such deep cover throughout his alleged operation as a double agent that until recently, neither side knew the real identity of "Ramon," Freeh said. Hanssen declined overseas postings, and repeatedly refused to travel overseas to meet with his employers from Moscow, according to the FBI director.
FBI officials believe, however, that Hanssen had been working for the Soviet Union and then Russia over a 15- to 20-year period ending in 2000. Hanssen has been under investigation for several months.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spoke at the same news conference with Freeh, said former CIA and FBI Director William Webster will conduct a thorough review of the Hanssen case and of FBI procedures in general to see if there are any lessons that can be learned.
The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, in Moscow refused to comment on the arrest.
Link to Ames Suspected
Ever since the 1994 arrest of Ames, a former CIA counterintelligence agent, on spy charges, officials have been searching for another suspect in the case. They were further convinced Ames had an accomplice because all the classified information seen in KGB documents could not be traced back to Ames. The information pointed to Hanssen, officials say.
Ames headed CIA counterintelligence against Moscow while secretly working for the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Officials say Ames gave the Soviets the names of at least a dozen high-level moles inside the Soviet government who were providing information to the CIA.
It is believed that Hanssen confirmed the information that Ames gave the Soviets regarding U.S. agents, officials say. Many of those agents were arrested and executed.
Cacheris said Hanssen's case is not directly connected to the Ames case, but there is "relevant material."
Law enforcement officials said it is believed Hanssen may have tipped off Felix Bloch, the second-highest ranking diplomat in the American Embassy in Vienna, Austria, that he was suspected of passing secrets to the Soviets.
The State Department fired Bloch in 1989 after he was videotaped passing a briefcase to a Soviet spy, but he was never charged with any crime. Bloch denied he passed secrets to the agent.
ABCNEWS’ Pierre Thomas, Beverley Lumpkin, Ed O'Keefe and John McWethy and ABCNEWS.com's Dean Schabner contributed to this report.