DATE December 19, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: David Vise discusses his book, "The Bureau and the
Mole," about FBI double agent Robert Philip Hanssen
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We're going to hear the story of how FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen betrayed
his country and his family. Last July, Hanssen pleaded guilty to 13 counts of
espionage. Over the course of his 25 years with the FBI, he sold secrets to
the Soviets, drawing on his access to classified documents from the FBI, CIA,
National Security Agency, National Security Council and the Pentagon. While
he spied on his own country, he set up surveillance technology in his bedroom,
allowing a friend to spy on Hanssen's intimate relations with his wife.
My guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Vise, is the author of a new
book about Hanssen called "The Bureau and the Mole." Vise is a national staff
writer for The Washington Post. He interviewed more than 100 people,
including current and retired FBI agents and members of the Hanssen family,
but he can't reveal many of his sources because they wanted to remain
anonymous. I asked him to describe the most important secrets Hanssen sold to
Mr. DAVID VISE (Reporter, Author): The most important secrets that Hanssen
sold to the Soviets are, first of all, the continuity of government plan.
That was the super-secret program to ensure the survival of the president, the
Congress and government operations in the event of a nuclear first strike
against the United States. That actually, at least in theory, increased the
risk of nuclear war because the Russians, with that information, believed that
they could win such a war.
He also sold to the Russians information about the existence of a secret spy
tunnel that had been built by the National Security Agency and operated by the
FBI underneath the Russian Embassy in Washington. It cost several hundred
million dollars of taxpayers' money to build, and it was compromised
completely and totally by Hanssen, and rather than gaining information and
insight into what the Russians were doing, they fed misinformation into it.
The other thing that Hanssen did was give up the identities of at least nine
Soviet officials who had been recruited to spy for the United States. Three
of these men were brought back to Moscow and executed after being exposed by
GROSS: Did he actually sell any nuclear secrets to the Soviets?
Mr. VISE: He sold more information than any spy in American history, and he
had a computer expertise that enabled him to sell not only information from
the FBI, but also information from the CIA, the National Security Agency, the
White House's National Security Agency--excuse me, the White House National
Security Council and the Pentagon. And in that mix of things was the holy of
holies: all the confidential information about the budget and plans for the
intelligence community. And he even sold something, Terry, that ended up in
the hands, US intelligence believes, of Osama bin Laden.
Mr. VISE: He sold something called the Community Online Intelligence System
to the Russian government, and the Russian--not the Russian government, but
probably some individual in Russia sold that to bin Laden, who, according to
US intelligence, was able to use the information to evade US efforts to track
and monitor the fugitive terrorist.
GROSS: Is there any way of knowing what other impact the secrets that he sold
to the Soviets had on the relationship between America and the Soviets?
Mr. VISE: Well, I think there is, because there are people now working
throughout government who feel as much as 20 years of their work is out the
window, out the door. The Russians learned about how the US listened in on
their conversations around the world. All of that was shot. The Russians
learned about the sources and methods employed by the United States to recruit
Russians to spy for the United States, and they also learned, remarkably,
about a tremendous amount of what I would call super-secret information that
was classified at the very highest level.
GROSS: David Vise is my guest. He's a reporter for The Washington Post and
author of a new book about Robert Philip Hanssen, the FBI double agent who
sold secrets to the Soviets. His new book is called "The Bureau and the
To understand why Hanssen became a double agent and sold secrets to the
Soviets, it's useful to go back to the very beginning of the story, back to
his childhood. Hanssen's father was a cop. His father abused him. What did
Hanssen's father do that qualified as abuse?
Mr. VISE: Well, Terry, there was both physical abuse and emotional abuse.
When Robert Hanssen was a young boy, his father physically abused him. He
wrapped him in towels and twirled him round and round and round until he
became ill and literally threw up, and physically abused him as well by
grabbing his legs and stretching them apart and giving him tremendous pain in
the groin area. All of that had a tremendous influence on Hanssen's mind and
its development in terms of his ability to trust and his ability to feel a
loss of a sense of control. And there are examples over and over again of his
father berating his son publicly and doing things privately that undermined
his confidence and made Robert Hanssen feel that his father, a Chicago
policeman, was really a corrupt cop.
GROSS: Hanssen wanted to join the FBI. He became a cop first. Now his
father didn't want him to be a cop. His father wanted him to be a doctor, you
report, but he became a cop anyways. And then he joined the FBI, so I guess
his father wouldn't have wanted him to join the FBI either. Do you think that
was part of the whole thing, like intentionally defying his father?
Mr. VISE: I think after the abuse he had received, much of Robert Hanssen's
life was about getting back at his dad. He wanted to go into law enforcement.
Even though his dad had abused him, he respected the work his father did as a
Chicago cop. But, Terry, when he went into the Chicago Police Department, he
joined a special unit called C-5, which investigated corrupt cops. He then
had the opportunity to join the FBI, and I think his dad actually felt better
about that than he did about him serving on the Chicago police force, because
the FBI is recognized as the elite law enforcement organization in the
United States. But once he was in the FBI and he didn't feel he was promoted
properly, he began to view the FBI just like his dad and began to do a number
of things that completely and totally betrayed the trust that had been placed
in him at the highest levels of the FBI and turned to spying.
GROSS: Yeah. You report that he felt underappreciated at the FBI. He
resented the bureau. He didn't like the way the bureaucracy was handled.
What were his criticisms, besides the ego ones, besides the ones like `You
don't appreciate me enough'?
Mr. VISE: He worshiped the ground that J. Edgar Hoover had walked on. He
wished that the FBI still was in the autocratic Hoover era where the FBI men
wore dark suits and white shirts. Hanssen developed the nickname The
Mortician, the Dr. Death because he dressed like the FBI agents did many years
ago. And he felt, really, that it had all been downhill since Hoover left,
and he didn't feel the other agents shared his passion and shared his
commitment. He planned a whole secret raid on the Russians when he was
working in New York, and most of the other guys at the bureau didn't show up
because they didn't want to work on Sunday. So, you know, he didn't really
have the interpersonal skills to be promoted effectively in management. That
was one problem, but he didn't develop the friendships either. So when the
boys would go out drinking after work, they wouldn't ask Bob Hanssen to join
them, and increasingly, within the fraternity built on fidelity, bravery and
integrity, Hanssen felt like an outsider.
GROSS: Yeah. You quote one agent as saying about Hanssen, "He was creepy and
no one wanted to talk in front of him."
Mr. VISE: He had the ability to hide in plain sight, and some people became
reluctant to talk about him, but he made it his business to be inside any
number of meetings and had the kind of personality and demeanor that enabled
him to sit in the room quietly, silently and go unnoticed. And people had
absolutely no idea that this man, who was the top Soviet analyst for the FBI
and who was home for dinner at 5:30 every night with his wife and children,
had this other life where he was selling information to the Russians, where he
was posting information and stories that he wrote about his wife, sexual
fantasies really, on the Internet, and where he had a kind of James Bond
lifestyle that provided him with an escape from the pain that he felt at the
bureau and the pain that he had felt since he was a child.
GROSS: My guest is Washington Post reporter David Vise. He's the author of
the book "The Bureau and the Mole" about FBI double agent Robert Philip
Hanssen. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, David Vise, is the author of "The Bureau and the Mole," a
new book about Robert Philip Hanssen, a double agent in the FBI who sold many
secrets to the Soviets.
So Hanssen was the top Soviet analyst at the FBI when he started selling
secrets to the Soviets. How did he make his first contact with the Soviets
offering to sell secrets?
Mr. VISE: He made his first contact all the way back in 1979, not to the KGB
but to the Soviet military intelligence in New York, and he gave up
information at that time revealing the identity of a Soviet in the United
Nations mission who went by the code name Top Hat and who was a very, very
valuable source for the United States of information, and he later was called
back to Russia and executed. Not long after he began spying in New York, he
was sitting downstairs in the basement of his home and his wife Bonnie walked
in on him, and he became very flustered and upset, covered up the papers in
front of him, and Bonnie thought that he was writing a love letter to another
woman, because in the very first week of his marriage, she had gotten a phone
call from a woman who said, `Your husband and I have just made love. He
really wants me, not you, so butt out,' and she was afraid that, once again,
it was marital infidelity. But instead, he said, `No,' he was writing a
letter to the Russians, and he told his wife Bonnie that he was selling them
worthless information and tricking them.
GROSS: And she bought that.
Mr. VISE: Well, she didn't know what to think, and so she said, `What we need
to do is to go see a priest,' and Bonnie was a member and is a member of Opus
Dei, a very strict movement within Catholicism. She is a woman of tremendous
spirituality and a woman of tremendous devotion. So the two of them went to
see a priest in Yew York, and they asked him what to do after explaining the
story. And ultimately, the priest advised Hanssen to give the money away that
the Russians had paid him to the charities of Mother Teresa and to promise not
to do it again and to repent for what he had done. And so Bob Hanssen said he
did those things, promised his wife he would never spy again, and five years
later, he couldn't resist the temptation.
GROSS: Well, I want to get back to Opus Dei a little bit later, but let's
keep on with this early contact that he had with the Soviets. You reprint a
letter that he sent to Victor Cherkashin, who was his contact when he started
spying for the Soviets. He was a KGB officer in Washington who you say also
handled spy Aldrich Ames. Would you like to read an excerpt of that letter?
Mr. VISE: `Dear Mr. Cherkashin, soon I will send a box of documents to Mr.
Degtyar. They are from certain of the most sensitive and highly
compartmented projects of the US intelligence community. All are originals to
aid in verifying their authenticity. Please recognize for our long-term
interest that there are a limited number of persons with this array of
clearances. As a collection, they point to me. I trust that an officer of
your experience will handle them appropriately. I believe they are sufficient
to justify a $100,000 payment to me. I must warn of certain risks to my
security of which you may not be aware. Details regarding payment and future
contact will be sent to you personally. My identity and actual position in
the community must be left unstated to ensure my security.'
And then Hanssen went on to develop a secret code system so that if any of
their communications were intercepted in the future, people would not know
exactly when and where they planned to do dead drops, where Hanssen would
leave documents at one place, the Russians would pick them up. They'd leave
him cash at another place or the same spot, and he would pick it up later.
And he said, `I want no specialized trade craft.' And this, Terry, is really
what I would call high-concept, low-tech, `I will add six and you subtract six
from stated months, days and times in both directions of our future
communications.' Hanssen did something remarkable, never done before in the
history of espionage in the United States. He spied for the Russians for more
than 20 years, and during that entire period, they never learned his identity.
GROSS: How was that possible? How was he able to keep his identity secret
Mr. VISE: He kept his identity secret from them by giving up extremely
valuable information up front, which proved that he was a bona fide agent who
knew what he was doing; by going to the right man, Victor Cherkashin in the
Russian Embassy; and by employing brilliant trade craft. The Russians cared
most about gaining valuable information, and they were willing to play by his
rules. And so he set up a system of dead drops where the two would never meet
face-to-face and where the letters and other communications he sent to them
were sent under aliases. Particularly, he used Ramon Garcia or B. His KGB
case file was known as B. And so the Russians never knew if he was with the
FBI or the CIA, where he was. And, in fact, his trade craft was so good,
Terry, that years later, even after the FBI, with the help of the CIA, got the
original documents back from the KGB, even they couldn't figure out who it was
when they looked at it. He was an absolutely first-rate spy in terms of his
trade craft, and he turned down all opportunities presented by the Russians to
travel abroad, to meet with them face-to-face. He knew that the biggest
mistake most spies had made was to let the people they were spying for know
their identity and then, one day, they would be given up. Not this guy.
GROSS: So how did Hanssen organize his drop-offs, his method of leaving the
information for the Soviets and letting them know where to find it?
Mr. VISE: He used a system of signal sites and communication sites with the
Russians so they would know when he had dropped something off. He used
masking tape, Scotch tape, high-grade of course, and in return, the Russians
or he would use thumbtacks placed in telephone poles, and the different signal
sites would be marked, indicating that a dead drop was coming, that Hanssen
would be going to a park or a place near his home, take the information that
he was going to sell to the Russians, place it inside a black garbage bag and
leave it under a footbridge, where they could come and claim it. Later, he
would then return, after seeing that the Russians had cleared the site, and he
would then pick up wads of cash that they left for him in return. And...
GROSS: It's so low-tech.
Mr. VISE: It is so low-tech, and I think the reason he was able to avoid even
detection from his own family, for the most part, is that most of the dead
drop sites were within 10 minutes of his home. So you say to the family,
`Hey, I'm going to go pick up a quart of milk at the grocery store,' and on
his way there he might drop off the documents, and on his way back he might
pick up the cash.
GROSS: Did he always name his fee, like he did in that first letter, where he
said, `I think this is worth a hundred thousand dollars'?
Mr. VISE: Not always. In fact, at one point, he said to them, `I don't know
what to do with all of this cash. It's too much money.' And so the Russians
established a bank account for him, probably one of the greatest deals the
Soviet Union ever made economically. They placed about $800,000 in a
Russian bank account, so they told him, in his name and, of course, he never
saw a penny of that.
GROSS: Because he was busted too soon?
Mr. VISE: When he was arrested, that money was still in Russia in the bank,
if it was ever there, and he had asked them about an escape plan and `Would
the money be waiting for me there in Russia?' and they assured him that it
will--or that it would. But over the years, the Russians got all that
information, deposited $800,000 they told him, in a secret bank account there,
and the money went right back to the Russian government.
GROSS: Now let's talk about Hanssen's religion. He belonged to Opus Dei.
How would you describe that group spiritually and politically?
Mr. VISE: Opus Dei is a very powerful movement within the Catholic Church,
not large in numbers, about 80,000 adherents worldwide, but very conservative
movement. And Opus Dei is very rigorous. When you are a member of Opus Dei,
as Hanssen was--his wife had gotten this from her mom, and she encouraged him
to join. When you're a member of Opus Dei, you pray a certain number of times
a day, you go to meetings. The men meet one night a week, the women meet
another night. You devote your life to spirituality. Opus Dei also has
another side to it, Terry. Many people within the church and others feel that
it's sort of cultlike and that a lot of people who are taken into the movement
are brainwashed. They give up their material possessions. They give up their
independence and decision-making. They adopt a monastic lifestyle.
One of Hanssen's children is devoting her entire life to Opus Dei and she'll
never marry. She's always willing to go anywhere and do anything to help
spread the--Opus Dei in Latin means `work of God,' to spread the work of God
and the Word of God. And it also requires her to do a number of things that
seem out of touch to most people, I would think, with the way modern American
life is anyway--sleeping on a wooden board at night, not seen in public alone
with any individual. And so we're talking about a very, very strict,
conservative movement within the Catholic Church and a truly unique operation.
Louie Freeh's brother is a member or was a member of Opus Dei as well. And so
it is one of the least-known most powerful movements around. People in
high-ranking positions in the Vatican are members of Opus Dei, and one of our
Supreme Court justices, Scalia, is a member of Opus Dei. And it becomes your
social life and social fabric, as it did for Hanssen and for his wife Bonnie.
GROSS: David Vise is the author of "The Bureau and the Mole." We'll talk
more about Robert Philip Hanssen in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
Unidentified Man: As Andy said, `Why don't you write a song about Edie?' so
we did, and it's called "Femme Fatale."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a three-CD set of 1969 Velvet
Underground concerts, and we continue our discussion about FBI double agent
Robert Philip Hanssen.
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Here she comes. You'd better watch your step.
She's going to break your heart in two. Whoa, it's true. It's not hard to
realize, just look into her false-colored eyes, she's going to play you for a
fool. This is true. Does anybody know...
Group of Singers: She's a femme fatale
Unidentified Man: ...the things she does to me?
Group of Singers: She's a femme fatale.
Unidentified Man: She's just a little tease.
Group of Signers: She's a femme fatale.
Unidentified Man: See the way she walks, hear the way she talks. You know
you are written in her book. You're number 47. Have a look.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Washington Post
reporter David Vise, author of "The Bureau and the Mole," the story of FBI
double agent Robert Philip Hanssen. In July, the 25-year veteran of the
bureau pleaded guilty to 13 charges of espionage. He sold national security
and intelligence secrets to the Russians. When we left off, we were talking
about his membership in the Catholic movement Opus Dei.
How would you explain Hanssen belonging to a very conservative form of
Catholicism and at the same time violating every moral code, both in terms of
the secrets he sold, sexual codes, family codes. You name it, he violated it.
Mr. VISE: That's a great question, because Opus Dei, among other things, is
extremely anti-Communist. Robert Hanssen had an incredible ability to
compartmentalize in his mind. At some level all of us compartmentalize a
little bit; we go to work, we have jobs, we have relationships outside of work
with family, with friends and other things. He developed the ability to
compartmentalize at the extreme. He wasn't merely living a facade, putting up
a facade to conceal his spying. And so, Terry, he could totally embrace Opus
Dei and Catholicism, and when he was in church, when he was at Opus Dei
meetings, he was sincere and totally committed to that movement and to the
church. When he was at home and flying the flag on the Fourth of July, he was
as proud to be an American as anyone at that moment.
At the same time, the spying gave him a sense of power. The spying made him a
player. He went to being an overlooked analyst, he felt, at the FBI, to
someone who was communicating directly with the head of the KGB in Moscow.
And so I think he could do these things, Terry, because he could
compartmentalize, and he could do them because he had a fractured ego seeking
recognition. And he got it. The Russians validated his importance and played
on the lack of friends that he had in his life by coming across in their
communications with him as a true friend.
GROSS: Is this what psychiatrists told you about him?
Mr. VISE: Yes. What I did, Terry, to try to really understand him was try to
talk to his family members and friends and classmates over the years and
fellow FBI agents; gather as much information as I possibly could about every
aspect of his life, and then go to psychologists and psychiatrists and experts
in forensics and human behavior to explain how this could take place. I
wanted to have expert input to help me understand the motivation and
personality of the most complex man I've ever encountered.
GROSS: You write about Robert Philip Hanssen's private life as well as his
spying life. And his private life was pretty crazy. In fact, he set up a
system so that a friend of his could basically spy on him and his wife, could
watch Hanssen and his wife having sexual relations. Why don't you describe
the system that Hanssen set up in his house so his friend could watch him
Mr. VISE: Hanssen had a buddy from childhood named Jack Hoschouer, and he
looked up to Jack a great deal. Jack went to Vietnam and fought in the war.
Jack really became, I think, a substitute father figure in Bob Hanssen's mind.
And so this all began before the video system. When Jack was in Vietnam, he
began sending him naked photographs of Bonnie Hanssen. And Jack said, `Wait a
minute, you must be doing something wrong, or have made a mistake. I didn't
want you to send these here.' And Bob said, `No, I want you to see how
beautiful Bonnie is, how ravishing she is.' And Jack was there in Vietnam,
and I suppose got to the point of saying--he was a man in Vietnam on his own
happy to look at pictures of a beautiful woman.
One thing lead to another--and this was always at the invitation of Robert
Hanssen, to validate his manhood, I believe. He did something without his
wife's knowledge. He put a closed-circuit video camera in the bedroom of
their Vienna, Virginia, home, and when his friend Jack Hoschouer came to
visit, Jack watched in the other room via closed-circuit television as Bob
Hanssen and his wife had sex.
And Bob did this--set this camera up in a way that would enable Jack to watch
it without anyone else in the house knowing. And he even did it as recently
as just a few years ago. And so this was not something that happened in the
early years of marriage or in adolescence. It was something that went on and
on. Bonnie Hanssen always had a sixth sense that she felt uncomfortable
around Jack. She didn't like it when Jack, who lives in Germany, would come
to visit and stay at their home, but she didn't know why. She didn't know
what. And she certainly didn't know, as Robert Hanssen wrote in one of his
Internet postings, that she was an unwitting porn star.
GROSS: Yeah, that's the thing, like it wasn't enough for him to be watched
having sex, watched by his friend while he had sex, he had to write about it
on the Internet in a chat room. I mean, it's like a double layer of voyeurism
that he needed to know was going on. In fact, would you like to read an
excerpt of that posting just to give us a sense of how his mind worked?
Mr. VISE: (Reading) `At a security show, we bought subminiature video cameras
designed for surveillance purposes. We bought two which could relay the
signals from the cameras in place in our bedroom down to our den. After some
experimentation while Bonnie was out of town for a few days, we set up a great
system. Jack could sit in our den when he visited and see everything up in
the bedroom. This proved no end of fun during his visits. Often now he'll
stay five or six days, doing things like research on his PhD thesis at the
various libraries here. On recent trips in the mornings, he sits and watches
Bonnie on the large-screen TV in our den as she gets showered and dressed.
Bonnie still fixes her hair while nude each morning. At night, he watches the
nightly sex scene, or once Bonnie modeling her Victoria Secret white nylons,
sheer bra and heels for me before we'--expletive deleted. `That really got us
GROSS: Do you know how his wife, Bonnie, reacted when she found out that
she'd been videotaped, that he'd written about her naked on the Internet?
Mr. VISE: I do. That information was actually transmitted to her after Bob
Hanssen's arrest by a psychiatrist who visited Bob in prison. Bob told him
what he had done, and the psychiatrist persuaded Bob to allow him to let
Bonnie know. And Bonnie was really upset, as any woman would be, as any
person would be. But, Terry, you have to understand, Bonnie Hanssen is a
believer in Catholicism who also is a forgiving soul. Some people would say
she's naive. Other people would say she is completely and totally devout.
She reacted at first by becoming extremely upset, by trembling, by crying, by
doing all of the normal things that you and I would do. But then, she comes
back on the rebound as a loyal spouse, not only standing by her man, but
telling her children that she doesn't want to hear about all this sexual stuff
and all the martial infidelities, that her husband, Robert Hanssen, is a good
man, that he was a good husband, that he's been a good father to their six
And he, I believe, manipulated her over the years into believing that she was
truly in control of the house and truly in control of their lives while he was
really doing all this stuff. And there are some who say that even from his
prison cell, he's continued to manipulate her.
In one of his letters to the Russians he wrote about wanting an escape plan, a
way to get to Moscow. And when Bonnie and others asked him about this
recently in prison, he said, `Oh, I never considered leaving you, Bonnie. I
love you. You are everything to me. You are what makes life worth living.'
And she prays for his soul each and every day. Visits him in prison regularly
and still feels as though they are husband and wife.
GROSS: My guest is Washington Post reporter David Vise, author of "The Bureau
and the Mole." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is David Vise, author of "The Bureau and the Mole" about FBI
double agent David Vise--I'm sorry, Robert Philip Hanssen, who sold secrets
to the Russians. He pleaded guilty to 13 charges of espionage in July.
What was the collapse of the Soviet Union like for Robert Philip Hanssen?
Here he was spying for the Soviets, and then the whole Soviet system falls
Mr. VISE: When the Soviet system fell apart about a decade ago, Robert
Hanssen became very concerned that he might somehow become detected. And so
after spying from 1985 until 1991, he cut off his spying activities. He was
extremely disciplined, Terry. This was a mole who knew how to avoid
detection. He saw that a KGB delegation on a friendly basis came to the FBI,
and he feared that he'd know one of them or that somehow someone would figure
out who he was. And so he had the self-discipline, after spying for six years
and giving away hundreds of thousands of pages of sensitive, classified
intelligence, to stop spying in 1991. And he did not resume his spying
activities until 1999 when a new regime came to power and there was a move
back in the direction of the old guard in Russia.
GROSS: In March of 2000, he sends a letter to his Soviet contact that you
describe as revealing his fragile emotional state. I'd like you to read an
excerpt of that letter.
Mr. VISE: `I have come about as close as I ever want to come to sacrificing
myself to help you, and I get silenced. I hate silence. Conclusion: One
might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane. I'd answer
neither. I'd say insanely loyal. Take your pick. There is insanity in all
the answers. I have, however, come as close to the edge as I can without
being truly insane. My security concerns have proven reality-based. I'd say
pin your hopes on insanely loyal and go for it. Only I can lose. I decided
on this course when I was 14 years old. I'd read Philby's book. Now that is
insane, eh? My only hesitations were my security concerns under uncertainty.
I hate uncertainty. So far, I have judged the edge correctly. Give me credit
for that. Set the signal at my sight any Tuesday evening. I will read your
answer. Please at least say goodbye. It's been a long time, my dear friend,
a long and lonely time. Signed, Ramon Garcia.'
GROSS: What inspired this letter? Why was he complaining that his only
response had been silence from the Soviets, from the Russians?
Mr. VISE: He was complaining because he had resumed contact with them in
1999, and rather than being nurtured along as a friend, in the way that they
did in his earlier contacts, they were not responding to him in the same ways.
The communications were cold. They were almost lists of information that the
Russians wanted. And he had indicated in three letters he wrote to the
Russians that he had a desire to begin spying anew. And in some instances,
he was not receiving responses to his communications. And after leaving
signal sights--I mean, a vertical mark of white adhesive tape eight
centimeters in length left on a signpost in Foxstone Park--you know, and after
leaving other communications for them--you know, a white thumbtack he bought
at CVS drugstore on an electric utility pole, the Russians didn't respond, and
so he felt that they had left him.
I mean, they had written him a letter that said, `Dear Friend, welcome,' when
he came back to spying in 1999. `Dear Friend, welcome. He express our
sincere joy on the occasion of resumption of contact with you.' So here's
this man carrying around this tremendous secret of being a spy, he resumes
contact after eight years, he gets a letter that says `dear friend,' and he's
ready to resume a friendship, only the other party isn't willing to be the
same kind of friend it was before.
GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about how the FBI discovered that Hanssen was a
double agent and that he was giving secrets to the Russians. First of all,
his brother-in-law, who was also an FBI agent, an agent based in Chicago,
sense that something suspicious was happening, and he talked to the FBI in
1990 and said, `Look, my brother-in-law might be a spy.' And what did the FBI
Mr. VISE: The FBI blew it. FBI agent Mark Wauch, Hanssen's brother-in-law,
went to the bureau, said, `You ought to investigate my brother-in-law for
spying on behalf of Russia. He's got too much cash around the house. He's
spending money too freely. Something is wrong.' And the FBI didn't follow
up. And it was a colossal failure reminiscent of the information that came in
from Minneapolis recently where the Minneapolis field office reported to
headquarters that there were people there that wanted to learn how to fly
planes, but not how to land them.
GROSS: So how did the FBI finally pick up on the fact that Hanssen was
Mr. VISE: In the fall of 2000, someone with the KGB actually turned the
Hanssen file over in Moscow to a CIA agent. And it was the original case
file. That file made its way to the FBI, they got the original documents
back, and they still didn't know who he was based on that. And, in fact, they
misidentified and went after someone who works for the CIA initially, earlier,
who was wrong.
But in any event, they had that file, they went back to the Russians and they
said, `Is there anything more you can give us?' And they sent a black garbage
bag that Hanssen had used to store documents that he had given to the
Russians. The FBI lifted fingerprints off that black garbage bag. That led
them to Hanssen. In addition, the Russians provided them with a tape
recording. Others thought they heard Hanssen's voice, and so they put Hanssen
under surveillance--bought a house across the street from his, watched him 24
hours a day, and began to close in.
GROSS: So the Russians sold him out.
Mr. VISE: One of the Russians sold him out, that's exactly right. Someone
gave up his file.
GROSS: What was the motivation?
Mr. VISE: I would venture to guess, not know for certain, that it was a
combination of factors. Someone received a lot of money for that file.
Someone also received the ability to, I'm told, leave Russia and live
elsewhere in more of a lifestyle that he sought. So I think the motivation
was a combination of things to give Hanssen up. I don't think the person who
turned the file over even knew who he was giving up when he gave the FBI that
file. All he knew was that he was giving up the file of the FBI agent who had
turned into the most notorious spy ever for Russia.
GROSS: Hanssen wasn't tried. There was a plea bargain. What was the
Mr. VISE: The outcome was that, instead of the death penalty, Hanssen got
life in prison without parole, and his wife got the survivor's portion of his
GROSS: You know, one of the things that I thought a lot about reading your
book is how much the FBI had to deal with at one time, dealing with the
Russians, dealing with--I mean, the year that Hanssen is busted for spying,
you know, this is right after the FBI has thwarted the millennial terrorist
attacks. And you describe this secret--like this bin Laden room that the FBI
had that's just totally devoted to investigating bin Laden--this was in the
year 2000--with a poster of bin Laden on the wall saying, `The face of evil.'
Mr. VISE: `The face of evil' is right. There was a lot going on--there was a
lot on Louis Freeh's plate at the time that he was investigating Hanssen. And
remarkably Freeh was a man who immersed himself in the details of cases, so he
often went inside the nerve center of the FBI and into the bin Laden room to
find out what they knew, what bin Laden was up to, where he was, and at the
same time he had a secret meeting with the new attorney general, John
Ashcroft, to tell him about the Hanssen case. And when the day came, they
needed to catch Hanssen red-handed, because you can't make a case effectively
in court for espionage, because who are you going to call to put on the
witness stand. So they had to wait.
They didn't want to do a sting, and they waited until Hanssen made contact
with the Russians. They were listening to his conversations, intercepting his
communications, and they were waiting in Foxstone Park. And Hanssen, after
dropping off his friend, Jack Hoschouer, at the airport, went to Foxstone
Park, placed classified documents underneath the foot bridge. On his way
walking back to the car, FBI agents swarmed upon him, pulled their guns and
shouted, `Freeze!' He looked around them. He wasn't impressed. He wasn't
surprised. And he said, `What took you so long?'
GROSS: Well, David Vise, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. VISE: You're welcome, Terry. Thanks. It's a pleasure to be on the show.
GROSS: David Vise is the author of "The Bureau and the Mole." Vise is a
national staff writer for The Washington Post.
Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a new box set of Velvet Underground concert
recordings from 1969. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Velvet Underground recordings from 1969
TERRY GROSS, host:
One of the most respected guitarists on the New York punk scene of the '70s
was Robert Quine. He played guitar with Richard Hell and The Voidoids and
later with Lou Reed. But in the late '60s, he was just another law student at
Washington University in St. Louis, and a devoted Velvet Underground fan.
In May of 1969, he decided to record his favorite band when they played
several shows in St. Louis, and later that year when they played in San
Francisco. He managed to preserve on tape the best few hours of those shows.
Now those tracks are collected in a new three CD set called "The Velvet
Underground Bootleg Series, Volume 1: The Quine Tapes." Milo Miles has a
(Soundbite of guitar chords)
Mr. LOU REED (The Velvet Underground): See what I mean? Imagine 100 guitars
doing that at once. ...(Unintelligible).
OK. So this is a song called "Rock and Roll." It's about somebody whose life
was saved by rock 'n' roll. One, two, three, four.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. REED: (Singing) Sheena(ph) said, when she was just five years old, there
was nothing happening at all. Every time she put on the radio, there was
nothing happening at all. Then one fine morning she put on a New York
station. She didn't believe what she heard at all. She started dancing to
that fine, fine music. You know, her life was saved by rock 'n' roll. It
took no computations to dance to a rock 'n' roll station. It was all right.
It was all right.
MILO MILES reporting:
Lou Reed has just left The Velvet Underground when I heard the band's records
for the first time. I thought I had missed out on the glory days. Rock 'n'
roll did not look back then, and the group showed every sign of becoming
nothing more than a once notorious obscurity. Who would have thought 30 years
ago that the most exciting concert tapes released in 2001 would not be by The
Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix or The Who, but by The Velvet Underground?
Only a few crazies back then imagined that The Velvet could contribute as much
to the sound and attitude of rock as any of those '60s stars.
The counterculture judgment on Lou Reed and his gang was clear. As one
wise guy said, `No matter how you feel when you play The Velvet Underground,
they'll put you in a bad mood.'
Mr. REED: This is a song called "White Light/White Heat."
(Soundbite of guitar chords)
Mr. REED: ...(Unintelligible).
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. REED: One, two, three.
(Soundbite of music)
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White light.
Mr. REED: White light. Goin' messing up my mind.
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White light.
Mr. REED: Don't you know it's gonna make me go blind?
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White heat.
Mr. REED: Yeah, white heat it tickles me all down to my toes.
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White light.
Mr. REED: Lord, have mercy, white light have it goodness knows.
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White light.
Mr. REED: Oh, white light is lighting up my eyes.
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White light.
Mr. REED: Don't you know it fills me up with surprise?
VELVET UNDERGROUND: White heat.
Mr. REED: Yeah. White heat it tickles me all down to my toes. Lord, have
mercy, white light have it goodness knows. ...(Unintelligible).
MILES: But nowadays, The Velvet's bad mood sounds just like a party. By the
time the Quine tapes are recorded, the two artiest members of the band, Nico
and John Cale, had left, and Lou Reed's rock 'n' roll machine was in full
effect. It was really his last stand with the group.
Robert Quine documented these shows with an early cassette recorder that might
as well have been steam powered. But really, only the version of "Sister Ray"
recorded in Washington University's gymnasium has bad, boomy and blobby sound,
and the tapes have a couple surprises.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. REED: (Singing) I'm waiting for my man. Got $26 in my hand. Gone up to
Lexington 125. Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive. I'm waitin' for my
MILES: The best previous Velvet Underground concert album, "Live 1969,"
showed that the band wasn't just into long, abrasive freak-outs, but also
wanted to jam, not unlike The Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers. Quine
tapes also shows the group doing surprisingly folky treatments of songs like
"I'm Waiting for the Man." And throughout, there's Lou Reed being sarcastic
and philosophical, hammy and a rock star to the bone. Maybe it's the
spontaneous, unpolished performances, but it's clearer than ever before on
this set that Reed was not spewing out the most shocking scenarios he could
imagine. Well, not always. Sometimes he was just telling tales about friends
and lovers, like every other pop musician of the time. It was just that the
Andy Warhol club only accepted members who couldn't join anywhere else.
But we've all met The Velvet Underground characters in the years since. By
now "Duck and Sally," "Margarita" and "Femme Fatale" are as regular as "Johnny
Be Goode" and "Mack the Knife." The Quine tapes presents them in their rough
and rowdy youth. It's a gift from the past, wrapped up and preserved by a
GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge. He reviewed "The Velvet Underground
Bootleg Series, Volume 1: The Quine Tapes" on Polydor records.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. REED: It's a story about somebody named Duck and Sally and Cecil, Miss
Rayon and Miss Rosy and other assorted friends of ours. And the late, dearly
lamented, sadly deceased and quite demented sister.
(Singing) Duck and Sally inside. They couldn't put out the town fire. Who's
staring at Miss Rayon? She's busy licking off her pigpen. Me, I'm searching
for my man light. Said he couldn't, couldn't, couldn't hit it sideways. Said
that I couldn't hit it sideways, Jim. Aw, just like Sister Reece(ph).
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