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Breaking News

FBI Agent Arrested For Allegedly Spying For Russians

Aired February 20, 2001 - 7:49 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are following the breaking news of an FBI agent, Philip Robert Hanssen, now arrested and charged with spying. A 27-year veteran of the FBI for more than half that time, he is now accused of working for the Russians.

CNN's National Security correspondent David Ensor, though, has more information on how much access this agent may have had to other information in the government -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just to correct the order of the names; it was someone who called me to correct it. The name is Robert Philip Hanssen. A 27-year-veteran of the FBI. A counterintelligence expert based in Washington, living in Vienna, Virginia.

What's interesting that we've just learned is that he was assigned for the last several years, four years or so, to the State Department. He was supposed to be helping them with their -- with their security.

So it may help explain why there have been so many security breeches and problems at the State Department in recent years. To have -- if, indeed, Mr. Hanssen is guilty as accused of espionage for the Russians; to have a Russian spy helping you with your security issues at the State Department would hardly make or good security over there.

You will recall that not too long ago a Russian agent was found sitting on a -- sitting in his car monitoring a microphone that was found inside a conference room in a -- rather important conference room where secure conversations were sometimes held in the State Department.

There have been a slew of other security problems with computers and so forth.

So the impression was that security was not good at the State Department. Clearly, it would have been much worsened by the fact that one of the key people, an FBI agent assigned to work with the State Department on its security of classified information, was a Russian agent, if, indeed, Mr. Hanssen is found guilty as accused today.

LIN: David, what are your sources telling you about the reputation of this agent within the FBI? Was he well regarded? Was he well liked?

ENSOR: Well, he's a 27-year veteran. And I think he was a respected individual. The agents that are assigned to doing counterintelligence against the Russians in Washington are carefully selected for their abilities and their loyalty. So clearly, at least until recently, he was considered one of their best.

I do gather, though, that they have had him under suspicion for at least a period of time. We should be learning more about that from the FBI as the day progresses.

LIN: Kelli Arena reported from the Justice Department that the FBI has been investigating Hanssen for the last four months.

And, David, she also reported that her Justice Department sources say that Hanssen confirmed information that CIA spy Aldrich Ames had provided to the Russians. Some of that information was about intelligence officers, U.S. intelligence officers based overseas and some of those officers were, in fact, executed.

Are authorities now linking Hanssen with some of those executions of U.S. agents?

ENSOR: To be honest, I don't -- I can't go that far from the sources I have. But you will remember that more than 10 Russians who were working as agents for the United States were known to have been executed as a result of information that the Russians received from Aldrich Ames, from Rick Ames. This would now fill out that picture and explain how the Russians chose to kill those particular 10 individuals. They were given many more names than that by Aldrich Ames, and I understand that some of the names he gave were not correct.

So we now know that if this information is correct about Mr. Hanssen, that the Russians had a way of cross-checking the list of supposed U.S. agents that Aldrich Ames gave them, they could cross- check it with Hanssen.

LIN: Very serious charges.

Thank you very much, David Ensor. We'll give you a break now so that you can continue to work on this story -- Colleen.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Carol, thanks.

So again, Robert Philip Hanssen, 27-year veteran of the FBI, has been arrested on spying charges. We know that he worked for the Russians for over 15 years.

David also pointing out that he had been assigned to the State Department in recent years where there had been a number of glitches in security.

CNN's national correspondent Eileen O'Connor joins us now. She has spoken with the Russian Embassy about this.

Eileen, what can you tell us?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russian Embassy is doing what they traditionally do. And they said that they are officially going to be having no comment on this case.

I spoke to Yuri Zubarev who is the spokesman for the embassy and asked him -- and they knew about the arrest. They had heard about it, actually, through news reports. But he said, We are going to have absolutely no comment on this case.

And so that is all I can tell you. Now they do traditionally have no comment on arrests for spying.

MCEDWARDS: So this is par for the course.

Eileen, tell us more about what a counterspy would do.

O'CONNOR: Well, a counterspy would do as David Ensor has just described to you; would be -- in terms of -- he would be -- if he was at the State Department, would be trying to guard against spying in the United States, in the State Department, doing security measures to guard against that.

And, of course, if he was spying for the Russians, that would be a critical place to be because he would actually be able to tell them what measures we're taking to guard against their spying efforts. Also he would be able to tell them what the United States knew about any of their spying efforts within the United States.

So he was in a very critical position, if what we are hearing is absolutely true and the allegations are correct.

MCEDWARDS: All right, CNN's national correspondent Eileen O'Connor. The Russian Embassy not giving any comment right now, as Eileen suspects is the normal standard of the way things are done in these situations.

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