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Apologetic FBI spy Hanssen sentenced to life
( 2002-05-11 14:08 ) (7 )

An apologetic Robert Hanssen, the disgraced former FBI agent considered one of the most damaging spies in US history, was sentenced on Friday to life in prison for selling secrets for two decades to Moscow.

Hanssen, who pleaded guilty last year to disclosing some of the nation's most sensitive secrets in exchange for US$1.4 million in cash and diamonds, stood in court and apologized for his behavior, telling a packed courtroom, "I am shamed by it."

The 25-year FBI veteran avoided the death penalty after reaching a plea agreement with government prosecutors in which he promised to discuss fully with investigators his espionage, which caused at least two Soviet KGB officers spying for the United States to be executed.

Despite some division within the US government over how well Hanssen was living up to his side of the plea agreement, prosecutors and defense attorneys asked US District Chief Judge Claude Hilton to sentence Hanssen to life in prison.

Standing in the courtroom before Hilton, who sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole, the former counter-intelligence specialist said, "I apologize for my behavior. I've betrayed the trust of so many."

"I have opened the door for calumny against my totally innocent wife and children. I've hurt so many deeply," said Hanssen, 58, who waved faintly to someone and looked around the courtroom repeatedly after entering.

"For all this, I stand ready to accept the sentence of this court," he said, looking gaunt in a green prisoner's jumpsuit.

None of Hanssen's family members were in court Friday.

Hanssen's double life stretched into his personal affairs. A father of six and devoted member of the conservative Opus Dei faction of the Roman Catholic church, Hanssen was found to have given some money and a car to a stripper he met at a nightclub.


Hanssen was arrested in a Virginia suburb in February, 2001, after dropping off a bundle of classified material at a park near his home to be picked up by his Russian handlers.

In July, Hanssen pleaded guilty to 15 counts of spying for Moscow as part of the plea agreement with the government. Under the deal, Hanssen promised to discuss truthfully his sale of US secrets and intelligence, first to the Soviet Union during the Cold War and then to Russia. The spying began in 1979 -- just three years after he became an FBI agent.

After more than 200 hours of debriefings, authorities were divided over whether Hanssen had cooperated fully. The deal could have been declared null if it could be proven that Hanssen was not cooperating fully, but prosecutors decided they did not have enough information to do so.

Prosecutors said Hanssen's wife Bonnie had fully cooperated with the investigation and was entitled to a survivor's pension under the terms of his plea agreement.

Investigators have not been able to trace all of the money Hanssen received from Moscow. Some of it was likely used to pay bills and tuition fees at private Catholic schools for his children. Other money went to the stripper.

Prosecutor Randy Bellows noted the courtroom was filled with FBI agents and Justice Department officials. He told Hanssen they were there to see him face justice.

"Robert Hanssen betrayed every one of them," Bellows said. "Robert Hanssen broke every important promise he ever made to the FBI, the government and the American people."

"He was, in essence, the cruelest kind of thief," Bellows told the court. "The kind who steals your most prized possessions -- in this case...national security."

In court filings this week, prosecutors noted that Hanssen, who had broad access to classified computer systems, had passed on huge amounts of sensitive information to Moscow.

They said the "catastrophic impact" of Hanssen's actions included the executions of two KGB officers spying for the United States -- Sergey Motorin and Valeriy Martynov. The two were unmasked to the Soviets by Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, a former CIA agent convicted of spying.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said to put an end to this chapter in US history.

"Robert Hanssen was trained and trusted by Americans and by our American government to sustain, support and secure the safety of America," he said. "He used the training and abused the trust in a way which threatened the safety and security of America and I'm pleased that this chapter in American history has been closed on this day."



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