The American FBI veteran Robert Philip Hanssen, 56, charged Tuesday, Feb. 20 with spying for Moscow, and the convicted CIA super-mole Aldrich Ames have a great deal in common that the FBI director Louis Freeh did not reveal. As DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources disclose here for the first time, both were recruited to the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (foreign) by the same pair of legendary British super-spies, Kim Philby, who defected to Moscow in 1961, and George Blake who lives in Moscow to this day.
Ames, convicted in 1994 to a life sentence without parole, was a senior counterintelligence officer in the CIA; Hanssen filled a similar function in the FBI. Both climbed high in their services, got away with betraying secrets and double spies for decades before they were caught; their careers similarly straddled the crossover period between the KGB and the post-Soviet SVR; and both caused devastating damage.
A key date in the FBI director’s disquisition on Tuesday was 1985, when Hanssen was said to have been recruited to the KGB. That was also the date cited for Ames’s recruitment in his CIA indictment. Freeh touched on the link cursorily: he said Hanssen came under surveillance after Ames’s discovery as a result of the effort to identify additional penetrations. This comes nowhere near to doing justice to the relationship as it was, but it does indicate the long duration of the Hanssen investigation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources maintain in this world exclusive that it was carried on parallel to the inquiry against Ames. Hence the great wealth of detail on Hanssen’s career as far back as the eighties, as presented to the court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday. Moreover, there is no way he could have kept his identity dark from the Russians; they knew exactly whom they were running behind the codename of “Ramon” and were also aware of the inquiry. What no one knows now is if he will he emulate his boss Ames and stay mum about the secrets of his double life, and in particular, the system of penetrations of which he was a part.
For Ames was indeed the top dog of a whole army of moles, who still burrow unidentified under Western intelligence. He attained this pinnacle of power as head of the covert “Cooperative CIA/FBI Program”, America’s key counterintelligence tool in the eighties for recruiting double agents. As Ames himself put it in 1994 after he was caught: “We were putting together a basic program of establishing the Soviets’ modus operandi… that later built into quite a large program.” As a senior CIA officer, he handled the agency’s spies, double spies and moles in foreign services in the West and East Europe. They believed they served Washington, while being exploited for the KGB and for Ames’s second master, the Chinese MSS.
Hanssen kept watch for the FBI on Russian government embassies and missions in Washington and at UN Headquarters in New York; he performed his assignments on behalf of that cooperative program as Ames’s clandestine operational arm inside the FBI. As such, he betrayed Soviet embassy staff who spied for the US. Two were later executed in Moscow. Hanssen was therefore one of Ames’s super-moles and his vital channel into the US defense establishment.
When the American probe began closing in on Hanssen, Moscow threw out veiled messages to Washington. The US businessman Edmund Pope, convicted as an American spy in April 2000, was pardoned by President Putin in December 2000. That same month, Sergei Lebedev, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence SVR remarked out of the blue that the notorious British Cold War spy George Blake was still working “for the good of Russia”.
Blake, a member of British counterintelligence from 1941 to 1961, was sentenced to 42 years for spying for Russia. He broke out of prison and escaped to Moscow in 1966. Dredging up the name of this 77-year old relic of the Cambridge Ring certainly revived old, uneasy Cold War memories in Washington. The Russians were warning the Americans indirectly: Hands off Hanssen; Ames is still holding his tongue and so will Hanssen. If you expose him, we have Blake to take the lid of a Pandora’s Box that will hurt you and rekindle the old intelligence war.
Moscow was spurred into action shortly after the US presidential election in November – for good reason. In September 1997, ex-president Bill Clinton called off the hunt for Ames’s moles, instructing CIA director George Tenet to draw a line against the past and the damage Ames had wrought US intelligence. But then, George W. Bush, while still president-elect, was asked to decide whether to let the Hanssen inquiry take its full course. He called together a group made up of his father – not only a former president but also a former CIA director – Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condaleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director Louis Freeh, CIA director George Tenet and James Baker. They decided to bring the Hanssen case to its conclusion, on the assumption that he was the tip of an iceberg and his arrest might loosen Ames’s tongue, making it possible to flush out at last the moles still thriving in the system. Hanssen’s arrest and trial and their publication were meticulously prepared, with the focus on cautious presentation of the Hanssen-Ames-Moscow link.
For President George W. Bush, it is important to uncover the links above and below the two men in the hidden chain of double agents and moles that still infests America’s defense system, and finally bring light to the murky events that lent the Reagan-Bush presidential era the epithet of Decade of the Spy.
This is the first expose in a series on the Hanssen case.