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Breaking News

FBI Agent Arrested, Charged With Espionage

Aired February 20, 2001 - 11:00 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: In the next hour, a 27-year veteran of the FBI is due to appear in court on charges that he's been spying for Russia. Sources telling CNN what would make this case potentially devastating to national security is the position that Robert Philip Hanssen held in the FBI. He was in counterterrorism operations, meaning it was his job to catch the spies.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve joining us now with the latest -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, former FBI counterintelligence agents who worked with Robert Philip Hanssen described him this morning as intelligent and well liked. They are expressing absolute shock and anger.

One of them told CNN he felt like he had been punched in the stomach when he heard the news of Hanssen's arrest.

Hanssen has already been transported to federal court in Alexandria, where he will be arraigned in an hour's time and charged with spying for the Russian and Soviets for as long as 15 years.

The FBI was wide to him because of KGB documents which they obtained, which named him a mole. In their midst, they had watched him for four months before arresting him Sunday night in Virginia where he had made a dead-drop of classified information for the Russian to later pick up.

He has been described by neighbors as leading a somewhat unremarkable, modest life in northern Virginia. But FBI officials tell us he was paid substantial amounts of information -- excuse me -- substantial amounts of money for the information which he gave to them.

Bob Franken is at the Justice Department for us.

Bob, news today that a blue ribbon commission is being set up to investigate this. Is that an indication just how serious this case is?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, indeed. This is something where we have a man who, as you pointed out, was way high up in the counterintelligence effort.

He was at the moment headquartered right here. He was assigned to the headquarters here, at FBI headquarters in downtown Washington.

He had also advised the State Department on security protection. You will recall that State has had some severe security lapses over the last several years. And he was involved in that.

This is a man who, in fact, may have been used by the Russians to come up with confirmed information that was provided for them by the CIA superspy, Aldrich Ames. Aldrich Ames, of course, is serving a life sentence.

He was somebody who turned over quite a bit of intelligence information, information that may have resulted in the deaths of some U.S. spies in the Soviet Union. And it is considered a good possibility that Hanssen may have helped the Russians with that one, although it's hard to be specific about exactly which of the agents he might have also put the finger on.

But this is a man who had tremendous expertise in electronic surveillance. It is now believed that the information that he gave to the Russians was information about how the United States conducted electronic surveillance. The information might have been that -- included in that which was part of that pick-up at the northern Virginia drop on Sunday, when FBI agents followed with the arrest of Hanssen.

Hanssen was arrested at his home on Sunday in Vienna, Virginia, a suburb of Washington. he will be arraigned just in a short at that court house in Alexandria, Virginia.

Then at 12:45, FBI director Louis Freeh, 12:45 Eastern, is going to hold a news conference to outline the charges and outline the FBI's version of exactly how extensive the damage is that Robert Hanssen may have done -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Bob, what do we know about the strength of the case against Hanssen?

FRANKEN: They have investigated for four months. The officials here are very careful before they move in on somebody. They will have built a solid case, they say; a case that they will consider virtually airtight.

MESERVE: Bob Franken at the Justice Department, thank you.

As we mentioned, that arraignment coming up in about one hour's time. We will be there and bring you the latest information.

Back to you in Atlanta.

KAGAN: Jeanne, thank you so much.

And we're hoping to get more information in that FBI news conference. Once again to remind you, it is now scheduled for 12:45 p.m. Eastern. As we've been reporting, a number of people will be there, including FBI director Louis Freeh, also CIA director George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, and former FBI director William Webster.

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