Cover image for The bureau and the mole : the unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the most dangerous double agent in FBI history
The bureau and the mole : the unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the most dangerous double agent in FBI history
Vise, David A.
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Publication Information:
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
272 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
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UB271.R92 H372 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
UB271.R92 H372 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
UB271.R92 H372 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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Robert Philip Hanssen was one of the FBI's most trusted agents, a 25 year veteran, devout Catholic and devoted suburban family man. But as he rose up the ranks, he was leading another life as a devilishly clever spy for the Russian government, selling America's most closely guarded national security secrets. Now, Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist Vise untangles Hanssen's web of deceit to tell the story of how he avoided detection for decades while becoming the most dangerous double agent in FBI history--and how the FBI eventually brought him down.

Author Notes

David A. Vise David A. Vise was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a 1982 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and has earned an MBA from the Wharton School, as well as an Honorary Doctorate of Literary Letters from Cumberland University. A former Wall Street investment banker at Goldman, Sachs & Co., Vise also studied at the London School of Economics. He started his career in journalism at The Tennessean, first as a copyboy and later as an intern reporter. Eventually he became a reporter for The Washington Post and covers the FBI and the Justice Department.

Vise won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for a four-part Washington Post series, "The Man from Wall Street: John Shad's Reign at the SEC," and received the 1990 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, the 1992 Distinguished Alumnus Award from University School of Nashville, and numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association for coverage of the nation's capital city.

He is the coauthor of "Eagle on the Street," a book about the Securities and Exchange Commission and Wall Street's insider trading scandal of the 1980s. He is also working on a movie based on "The Bureau and the Mole", in development from Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Disney's Touchstone Pictures.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The story seems to come straight out of a cold-war spy novel. In February 2001, FBI special agent Bob Hanssen was arrested as a double agent for Russian intelligence in what turned out to be the biggest sellout of U.S. national security secrets in the long history of the bureau. Why would someone spy on his own country? Vise, a Pulitzer Prize winner who broke the Hanssen story in the Washington Post, details how Hanssen did it and how he got caught but also offers a credible psychological profile. Hanssen grew up at the mercy of an abusive father who completely stripped his son of confidence and self-respect. As an FBI agent, Hanssen acted out the results of his boyhood abuse by fanning a growing resentment for the bureau. "His `rage' at the FBI erupted each time he was passed over for promotion," the author reveals. "He fought back by attempting grand, daring feats of espionage. He failed to recognize that his progress at the FBI was inhibited by his [difficult] personality." This dramatic account--one more indictment of the FBI's record of late--is certain to be requested at the circulation desk. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

By the time fellow FBI agents arrested Robert Hanssen in February 2001, he'd been spying for the Russians off and on for two decades. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post scribe Vise attempts to explain why Hanssen did it and how he got away with it in this comprehensive account. Hanssen, says Vise, was a highly intelligent but socially inept loner who felt "overlooked and underappreciated" by his colleagues at the Bureau. Determined to prove he was better than them and eager to profit from his superiority Hanssen decided to begin passing classified documents to his KGB counterparts in exchange for diamonds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also revealed the names of at least nine U.S. spies working in the KGB, several of whom were subsequently executed. But the FBI, Vise writes, was so blind to its own vulnerabilities that it ignored the warning signs even when Hanssen's brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) reported that Hanssen was hiding huge sums of cash at home. Vise adheres to a plain newspaper style in his account, which steals some of the excitement from Hanssen's dramatic spy craft; he also includes long, needless digressions on the career of FBI Director Louis Freeh. But Vise's research and reporting are first-rate and his sources (Hanssen's wife, mother and best friend, as well as other FBI agents and ex-KGB operatives) are excellent. This is a chilling portrait of a man who betrayed his country simply to see if he could. (Jan.) Forecast: This is one of a trio of books on Hanssen, including The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold (Forecasts, Oct. 1), one of which came in too late for review (see note, The Spy Next Door, page 59). The market may be too crowded for Atlantic's optimistic 50,000-copy first printing. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post, Vise cracks the code on a stellar FBI agent turned Russian informant. Sounds good, so don't wait for the film, due out from Jerry Bruckheimer. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One ALONE Ever since his childhood days in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago, Bob Hanssen had been something of a loner. His mother, Vivian, noticed that whenever something upset him, Bob would head for the safety of his room in their modest, two-bedroom bungalow on Neva Street and immerse himself in books. Bob--an only child born just before the end of World War II--seemed too quiet for a healthy growing boy, and Vivian didn't understand why her son acted the way he did.     At the time, however, Vivian wasn't preoccupied by Bob's taciturn demeanor. He was a dutiful son, his teachers at Norwood Park Elementary said he was a good student, he participated in Cub Scouts at the Lutheran church, and he didn't get into the kind of mischief that led many other boys in the leafy neighborhood astray. Bob walked home daily during the noon break at school. "My son appreciated coming home from school for lunch and having me there. He has told me that time and time again," Vivian recalled.     While the pair enjoyed a loving mother-son relationship, Vivian would have been happier if Bob had not turned inward so much. "He was a loner as a kid. He had friends, but when he was home he would be in his room reading or out watching TV with us. But there were never too many deep conversations."     One of Bob's favorite books was The Code Breakers by David Kahn, a thick volume about secret codes and intercepts that fueled his boyhood fascination with the technical aspects of intercepting confidential communications. "If you write the word CLANDESTINE on a piece of paper and think of everything you can imagine, there it is. From bugs to eavesdropping to spying to lock picking to false identities to code breaking to secret messages. Pick up a book on spies, and run through the list, and he had some interest in it," a friend of Bob Hanssen's said.     Vivian met Howard Hanssen in 1929, the year of the stock market crash on Wall Street when both of them were working in retail, trying to help their families scrape by during tough times. The two native Chicagoans got to know each other downtown at the city's best-known department store, Marshall Field's, after initially meeting at a much smaller shop that went under.     "Howard and I went together for a long time before getting married," Vivian explained. "I was left with my mom, he was left with his mom, and we were the sole support.... My mother's husband had died, and she was alone. Earning fifteen dollars a week, or from twelve to twenty dollars a week, doesn't stretch that far."     In 1935 Vivian and Howard wed in a modest ceremony that took place in the pastor's house beside the Lutheran church Howard attended, rather than in the church itself. "We had a small party afterward that my sister arranged at her home, in keeping with the times. It was a desperate time for a lot of people."     The couple began their married life in an apartment on the south side of Chicago. Howard was not content sitting behind a desk and considered becoming a cop, a job he believed would be exciting. "It was hard to get on the police force in those days," Vivian said. Decisions about who would get every city job, from trash collector to police officer to health worker, were imbued with the politics and patronage of the Daley machine. But the family had the right political connections for Howard to be hired as a police officer. "He took an exam and passed it and didn't need anything else," Vivian said.     In the early 1940s, with World War II raging, Howard enlisted in the Navy rather than taking the risk of being drafted into the Army and dispatched on a dangerous assignment. "I have friends whose husbands were in that D-Day massacre," Vivian said. "Howard thought the Navy was a little easier than the Army might have been. I imagine he would have gone overseas if he had been in the Army." Instead, Howard stayed far from the battle front, working in the United States as a shore patrolman searching for Americans who had gone AWOL. Eventually, he ended up with a Navy assignment in the Chicago area, permitting him to spend weekends with his bride, who soon became pregnant.     "My son was born in April 1944 and that was a good thing," Vivian said.     The Hanssens became a family of three, eligible for some additional benefits from the federal government because of Howard's service in the Navy. "There were allowances for families and we had a little more money," Vivian said. "Things did get better." Vivian devoted herself to keeping house and caring for their infant son.     After the war, Howard returned to his job on the Chicago police force, and the couple moved to the northwest part of the city. With the help of the G.I. Bill, they bought a modest home on an L-shaped lot in Norwood Park, a popular neighborhood for police officers and their families. They picked the house, built at an angle to Neva Street, largely because the public schools in the area had a good reputation.     Bob was exposed to religion as a youngster, attending a Lutheran church on Sunday mornings with his mother, who felt it was an important part of raising her son. "The Lutheran church fit in because I think every child should have that kind of upbringing at the beginning of life," Vivian said. "Every child should have religion and know the Bible and get a good start in that respect. I would go and Bob would go to church, but my husband not as often. He was working or whatever."     On the Chicago police force, Howard Hanssen tackled a variety of assignments, including working for a special unit that hunted down suspected communist sympathizers. Some of his assignments stirred up ill will, but he told himself that was just part of the job. After many years on the force, the truth was he didn't particularly enjoy the work the way he once did, but it paid the bills. And that was one notch up the ladder from his younger brother, Edward, who could not seem to hold a steady job for long. Howard was street-smart to be sure, but his choices for career alternatives were limited severely by his lack of a formal education. So Howard remained a Chicago cop, even after his promotion to lieutenant left him in the type of job he loathed, behind a desk.     But Howard Hanssen did have an abiding passion in life, something that lifted his spirits and kept him going through the day-to-day monotony. He loved to go to the track and bet on the horses. The pastime became the focal point of the couple's social life, and Vivian enjoyed going with him. "That is where we spent all of our spare time, watching the races," Vivian recalled. "Howard had friends who owned horses. That made it interesting. It makes a difference when you know the horses and jockeys."     Vivian emphasized that Howard's affinity for the horses did not mean he was an addicted gambler or an irresponsible bettor. Instead, she described it as an outlet for his energy and a place where he felt comfortable, whatever the town. "We took a vacation once," Vivian said, "and I didn't realize we were hitting every race track in Canada and the East Coast. I didn't realize it until after the third race track. He had planned it out that way. It gives you something to do in strange towns."     Howard Hanssen also had an agenda for his son that Vivian failed to recognize from its inception. Howard spoke of a better life for Bob. He wanted him to go to college, get an advanced degree, and become a doctor. But in the course of raising his son with an extremely firm hand, he succeeded in destroying Bob's confidence. Instead of praising his schoolwork and encouraging him to succeed, Howard Hanssen's approach was to criticize and berate his son repeatedly. It wasn't tough love; it was tough luck. And, according to Vivian Hanssen, her son came to feel emotionally abused by his father.     "Sometimes people make themselves feel better by not allowing someone else to feel too good," she said. "Maybe Howard had been treated that way. Maybe I just looked at things as the way I hoped they were.... I think [Howard] had the idea that if he complimented someone too much, they might get bigger than they should."     Bob was both physically and emotionally abused by his father, according to family members and others.     On at least two occasions, Howard Hanssen physically abused his son while exhorting him to "be a man." When Bob was six or seven years old, his father wrapped him in blankets and twirled him around and around until he became so dizzy that he vomited. Another time, Howard grabbed one of Bob's legs by the ankle, forcefully pulling it into the air and stretching his son's hamstring until he urinated on himself involuntarily. The torture left Bob feeling helpless and humiliated.     "The person you are supposed to trust and identify with is doing everything from hurting to humiliating you, and it is confusing. It creates the beginning of negative feelings about individuals who are supposed to be your protector and authority figures," said Dr. Stephen Hersh, a longtime Washington psychiatrist who has treated FBI agents and many senior federal officials. "He is swung until he gets sick and vomits. Vomiting is a loss of control of your body in the context of extreme distress and fear. This is a child who had repeated experiences that totally destroyed his capacity to identify in a healthy way with male authority figures."     When Bob became old enough, his father took him to get his driver's license. Bob was ready for the road test and excited about the freedom and independence driving would bring. But his father had other ideas. He bribed the official administering the test to fail his son. Bob was aware of what his father did, and it left him feeling that the world was crooked and set up to deny him any sense of control over his own destiny. "I didn't approve of it," Vivian Hanssen said. "[Howard] thought Bob was too cocky and thought he believed he was too good a driver."     Although they could do little or nothing about it, some of the parents of students in Hanssen's grade school were mortified by the way Howard publicly belittled his son to anyone who would listen. "My mom would apparently run into Mr. Hanssen in the grocery store shopping," one classmate recalled. "Howard Hanssen used to say terrible things about Bob."     The problems were exacerbated, Vivian Hanssen said, because her son never raised objections with her about the way he was treated. And so the pattern of abuse, of being rebuked and put down again and again, continued throughout his childhood. Bob suffered enormously, but quietly. "He wouldn't come out and say anything to his dad about it, and would harbor that inside, and it gnaws at you," she said. "That was the kind of thing Howard did that I didn't notice enough of. I thought that they were far enough apart and isolated incidents. I didn't know they were so important to [Bob]. He must have brooded on them."     Vivian caught a glimpse of Bob's resentment of his father one day, when Howard received the results of an exam he had taken. "Howard took a test for something, and he was not a real educated man," Vivian said. "His grade was not too hot and Bob, when he saw that, he laughed and said, 'Look at that,' as if he had been told to get good grades and Howard hadn't done so well himself."     While growing up, Bob did find some joy at home. Vivian remembers holidays as special times around the Hanssen household, especially Christmas, when her relatives from Indiana often visited. A neighbor regularly dressed up as Santa Claus when Bob was young and the house would be alive with festive decorations. After his paternal grandparents moved in, Bob also found some companionship with them. Having divorced years earlier, his grandparents stayed in separate makeshift bedrooms. The attic was converted into a bedroom for Bob's grandmother; his grandfather, at times, stayed in the basement. Bob spent time with his grandfather, an engineer, playing with a train set and learning how to put things together and take them apart. He also enjoyed using a ham radio with his father and grandfather.     Bob's serious and melancholy nature can be seen in his 1962 yearbook from Chicago's Taft High School. Most of the graduating class members had glib or light remarks beside their photographs. Beside Robert Albert Heroux: "If I ever became rich with too much green, I would pledge to build a monument for the late James Dean." Beside Carolyn Marie Hinds: "Of all 57 varieties, this 'Hinds' is the best." Beside Anthony Gutilla: "Leader of men, follower of women." Beside Robert Philip Hanssen: "Science is the light of life."     The few high school classmates who remember Hanssen recall an extraordinarily quiet boy, awkward in his interpersonal skills, unusually bright in science, and talented in the nuts and bolts of how things work. "My chemistry teacher looked out at him and said, 'There is old slipstick Hanssen,' and Bob was using a slide rule," a classmate recalled. "He was always on the cutting edge. In those days, slide rules were cutting edge technology. He seemed to automatically grasp things like that, the guy who sees relationships very quickly and clearly in a scientific way. I'm not so sure he has it down sociologically."     Others had recollections of Hanssen participating in the ham radio club, talking to operators from around the world even as he remained quiet amid his fellow students. Tom Kozel, a fellow member of the club, said Hanssen enjoyed the four-member group immensely. Yet there is no photo for the ham radio club in the school yearbook--Hanssen's photo appears only in his official graduating class portrait. "We were kind of considered geeky, the ham radio guys," Kozel said. "That's probably how our friendship starred. That was a common interest and then it branched out into other areas, an interest in cars, girls, careers."     Hanssen, who was not athletic himself, attended many of Taft High School's football games but usually didn't socialize with the kids who were playing sports, either at school or informally, and did not date much. That placed him on the periphery of life at Taft, which had school spirit and a championship football team that included a fullback, Jim Grabowski, who went on to play for the Green Bay Packers.     "WHAT IS TAFT?" Bob Hanssen's high school yearbook asks--"bewildered Freshies? a desperate game? carefree Seniors? college hopes? a rough Chem test? career dreams? safe drivers? 7:30 chorus practice? tears at graduation? Taft is all of these, but, most of all, Taft is friends, the ones you share yourself with."     Hanssen didn't share himself with many of his Taft classmates. Kozel's clearest recollection of Hanssen concerns the way he just went about his business and did things, without boasting. "I remember him as someone who did not brag about things; he just did them," Kozel emphasized. "He did things and showed up with the evidence afterward. And I kind of admired him, because I was not that way and most people were not that way."     Various classmates' memories of Hanssen are mixed, mostly due to his quiet, inward nature. "People would say he is weird," one classmate recalled. "That is just the way he is. I remember a girl I was dating thought Bob was really strange."     Kozel disputed that assessment, saying Hanssen was "reticent" and awkward around people he didn't know, leaving a false impression that he was that way all the time. He said that Hanssen loosened up around friends. Kozel also remembered Hanssen as the "most conservative" member of their clique. And he blamed Bob's parents for being overprotective when they refused to allow him to join Kozel and two other friends on a backpacking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park after high school graduation.     If she could turn back the clock, if she had another chance to raise her son, Vivian Hanssen would do some major things differently. She would take a firmer stance against her husband's heavy-handed treatment. She would take steps to encourage Bob to get more involved with people and spend less time locked away in his room. She would encourage Bob to speak up for himself, rather than letting problems fester. And she would pay more attention to what was taking place all around her as her son struggled to develop his own personality and identity.     As she reflects on it, Vivian Hanssen wishes she would have done more to protect her son from his father. "I had a good relationship with Howard and could have told him to cut out whatever he was doing. I think he would have paid attention." There was another side to Bob Hanssen's personality, a side that scared his friends and was concealed from his parents. It would manifest itself in an instant, leaving Hanssen feeling exhilarated and in control. His friends weren't sure where it came from or what caused it, given his normally quiet and straitlaced approach. Sometimes it was fun, but other times it could rattle them so much that they feared for their own lives. From his friends' vantage point, the hardest part involved its unpredictable nature. "When he got a crazy idea in his head, he was going to do it," one high school friend said. There was no talking him out of it. And Hanssen's friends never knew how, when, or where this other side of Bob would take charge.     On the surface, Hanssen's penchant for taking enormous risks belied everything that surrounded the rest of his personality and demeanor. He never exhibited a need to be the center of attention--to the contrary, he generally seemed at ease with life on the fringe of the social milieu. As he moved through his high school years, he appeared content reading books, especially anything dealing with secret codes, clandestine modes of operation, or deception. Often, he enjoyed getting together with his friend Jack Hoschouer, whom he met during freshman biology class. The two would sit for hours in a room, silently reading and only occasionally exchanging ideas. Together, they delved further into science, teaming up as chemistry lab partners during their sophomore year of high school. But mostly they enjoyed being in each other's company and entering the world of images, ideas, and fantasy that reading provided. In that world, Hanssen felt inferior to no one.     Yet one day Jack Hoschouer also saw the other side of Bob Hanssen. The two were firing Hoschouer's father's rifles at pointblank range into a bullet trap in the basement. Suddenly, Bob took one of the guns, went about a dozen feet away from the trap, and took aim. "I can shoot that!" he shouted. Before anyone could stop him, Hanssen fired the rifle, hitting the wall two feet above the target and sending shards of concrete flying into the air.     After Hanssen studied the physics of Grand Prix auto racing in high school, he would climb into his 1962 Dodge Dart and test its limits by trying to find out the maximum speed his car could reach when turning a corner. "We would challenge guys to races," said a high school friend. "Not drag races. We would find twisty, turny streets and challenge someone to follow us through them. We were screaming through a residential street and went around the corner with two guys following us in a Buick. They ended up in the middle of some guy's front yard." Bob did not stop to ask his friends if they minded taking wild rides whenever his daredevil streak overcame him. Instead, he would get the impulse to act and just take off. "It scared the crap out of me a couple of times," one said.     Hanssen's tendency to push things to the edge didn't reveal itself much at Knox College, a small liberal arts school in Illinois. Bob respected his father's job and thought he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. Police work had an unpredictable element that kept things interesting and fresh. "I think Bob was proud of Howard's job," Vivian Hanssen said. "He liked having a policeman for a father." But his father pushed Bob to take premed courses, along with math and Russian. After a while, Hanssen's resentment began to build to the point where he did not want his parents, especially his father, to visit him at college. Bob feared the kinds of things his father would say to his professors and friends. Living on his own, Hanssen was feeling somewhat better about himself, dating a bit and relishing the freedom he had out from under his father's day-to-day control.     Hanssen's fears were confirmed when his parents came to see him at Knox. His father sought out Bob's professors and undercut him. His mother Vivian said: "I'm afraid Howard wasn't the best one to come to college and visit. You are on your own, and if a professor likes you, that is great. But if somebody belittles you just a bit, that is going to hurt. Howard would say, 'He has good grades, but next time, he won't be so hot.' He had the idea that Bob would work real hard and then slide." The more accurate description of Bob's work habits was that he was naturally bright but didn't focus much on subjects or courses that didn't interest him. "Some things he didn't care about, he didn't worry about," one former college classmate said.     Despite the anger he felt toward his father, Bob stayed on the premed track at Knox and worked during his summer break from college as a recreational therapist at a state mental hospital in Chicago. Bob found the job intriguing; the work involved interacting with mental patients and trying to get them outside for games and activities on the grounds, including volleyball and badminton. "[In addition to] the student nurses, he enjoyed dealing with the people and trying to figure out what made them tick and understand them," a coworker said.     One of the student nurses Bob met in the summer of 1965 was an attractive, vivacious woman named Bonnie Wauck, who admired the way he carried himself and made the patients feel comfortable. "She was very much impressed at how effective he was with the patients," recalled her father, Leroy Wauck. "He was very effective, very nice and kind and considerate." Bob's relationship with Bonnie played a pivotal role in the decisions he made in the years immediately after they met. Their courtship proceeded slowly, with exchanges of letters and holiday visits in Chicago. Bob was attracted to Bonnie's friendly, outgoing manner, and with her light brown hair and big brown eyes, Bonnie reminded him of the actress Natalie Wood. The second oldest of eight children, she had grown up in a large family, often caring for her younger siblings in their 1920s four-bedroom, Dutch Colonial house on Vine Street in Park Ridge, one of Chicago's northern suburbs. The daughter of a psychology professor at Loyola University and a deeply religious homemaker, Bonnie had had a happy childhood, which included summers living on a private lake with her family where they enjoyed canoeing, sailing, bike riding, gardening, and just spending time together. "Bonnie was perfectly normal," said her mother, Fran Wauck. Bonnie attended a Catholic high school in Evanston, Illinois, and then went on to college tuition free at Loyola, majoring in sociology at the Catholic university. After returning to Knox College, Bob thought about Bonnie often. (Continues...) Excerpted from THE BUREAU AND THE MOLE by David A. Vise. Copyright © 2002 by David A. Vise. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
A Note to the Readerp. xi
Prologuep. 1
1 Alonep. 4
2 Mad Dogp. 20
3 A G-Manp. 28
4 A Charitable Contributionp. 40
5 The Pizza Connectionp. 51
6 Betrayalp. 66
7 Controlp. 86
8 The Fbi's Blunderp. 96
9 The Bossp. 99
10 The Stripperp. 107
11 The Unwitting Porn Starp. 115
12 Friendsp. 129
13 Independence Dayp. 142
14 Respecting the Russiansp. 151
15 Double Troublep. 158
16 The Case Agentp. 168
17 Clashing With Clintonp. 178
18 A long and Lonely Timep. 193
19 Watching and Waitingp. 203
20 What took You so Long?p. 211
21 Freeh Fallp. 217
Epiloguep. 224
Appendix I The Betrayals of a Spyp. 239
Appendix II The E-mails of a Spyp. 247
Appendix III The Sexual Fantasies of a Spyp. 257
Sourcesp. 267
Acknowledgmentsp. 271