A former FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, who collected over $1.4 million in cash and diamonds to trade secrets with Moscow, in one of the most notorious spying cases in American history, died in prison Monday.
Hanssen, 79, was found unresponsive in his cell at a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, and later pronounced dead, prison officials said.
He is believed to have died of natural causes, a person familiar with the case told the Associated Press. However, not authorized to publicly discuss details of Hanssen’s death, the official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hanssen had divulged a wealth of information about American intelligence-gathering, including extensive detail about how US officials had tapped into Russian spy operations, since at least 1985.
He was believed to have been partly responsible for the deaths of at least three Soviet officers who were working for US intelligence and executed after being exposed.
He got more than $1.4m in cash, bank funds, diamonds and Rolex watches in exchange for providing highly classified national security information to the Soviet Union and later Russia.
He didn’t adopt an obviously lavish lifestyle, instead living in a modest suburban home in Virginia with his family of six children and driving a Taurus and minivan.
Hanssen would later admit being motivated by money rather than ideology, but a letter written to his Soviet handlers in 1985 explains a large payoff could have caused complications because he could not spend it without setting off warning bells.
Using the alias “Ramon Garcia”, he passed some 6,000 documents and 26 computer disks to his handlers, authorities said.
They detailed eavesdropping techniques, helped to confirm the identity of Russian double agents and spilled other secrets. Officials also believed he tipped off Moscow to a secret tunnel the Americans built under the Soviet embassy in Washington for eavesdropping.
He went undetected for years, but later investigations found missed red flags. After he became the focus of a hunt for a Russian mole, Hanssen was caught taping a garbage bag full of secrets to the underside of a footbridge in a park in a “dead drop” for Russian handlers.
He had been serving a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole since 2002, after pleading guilty to 15 counts of espionage and other charges.
The story was made into a movie titled Breach in 2007, staring Chris Cooper as Hanssen and Ryan Phillippe as a young bureau operative who helps bring him down.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, the FBI has already been notified of Hanssen’s death.
Source: The Conclave
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